One of my closest friends, Ro, arrived from Sydney last week with 8-month old twins in tow. I was excited about meeting the new mum who I hadn’t seen in three years. And of course, the handsome TWINS!
I called the day after she arrived. Her sister said, “Ro is feeding little K. She’ll call you in two hours.” It seemed like an inordinately long feeding time. I didn’t hear from her so I tried again the next day. “Ro’s suctioning little K. She’ll call back,” I was told.
I could understand Ro’s inaccessibility. Twins can be a handful. And when one of them has a rare dysfunction of the vocal chords, a preoccupied mom is but natural.
The twins were a few weeks premature. J had no problem adapting. K however hit a rough patch. Like most kids, he bawled as he made his entry. But unlike most kids, no sound issued from his throat. What followed was a battery of tests and a tracheotomy to insert a tube into his lungs. The tracheotomy also meant he had to be fed through a tube in his nose.
“Lee!”, she yelled delightedly when I visited her yesterday. Her ‘telephone-wire’ curls were the same. The warm smile hadn’t changed. Only the dark crescents under her eyes were new. Little J was waiting to be introduced. I gazed at the cuddly ball with cheeks that spilled out over his shoulders. He flashed me a toothless smile and then gave an almighty yawn. I was in love.
K, an equally gorgeous but less plump version of J, was vigorously kicking his tiny feet in the air. It seemed like he was doing an airborne marathon. The tube in his nose was held firmly on his cheek with adhesive tape. The tracheal tube stuck to his neck like an amulet. And from it, his breath issued with a rasping sound.
I then understood why Ro never came to the phone. She sat with a box of tissues wiping the secretion from K’s throat. When he couldn’t cough it out, she had to suction the tube with an apparatus. She had to watch that his restless fingers didn’t dislodge the tube from his nose. And she had to hold and cuddle him when he cried tearfully but soundlessly.
I watched the feeding ritual. The formula was poured into a syringe attached to the nasal tube. The feed was drained in half an hour. But K had to be held for an hour and a half after that, to ensure that he didn’t throw up, since there was a danger of the reflux entering his already-weakened lungs. This procedure had to be repeated at each of the four daily feeds. Sometimes by the time they finished one feed, it was almost time for the next.
Ro’s dad laughingly told me of how they’d sometimes find her asleep, her head resting on little K. Once, her aunt found a way around that by tying her head to a cushioned bedpost.
“How’re you holding up Ro?” I asked her.
Without a trace of sorrow or self pity, she replied, “I’m taking one day at a time. I just want K to be well.” Doctors had given her mixed opinions. One said it was almost certain that K’s cords would recover by themselves. Another callously and decisively told her to give up hope. But she tenaciously believed that a miracle could and WOULD happen.
“I’m so grateful that my parents were with me all this time”, she said over and over. “And I’m so lucky that J and K are such adorable, peaceful, un-fussy babies”, she said looking at them fondly. Grateful? Lucky? Earlier, she’d mentioned the tubes irritating K’s trachea, causing him to cough up blood. What lay ahead – endless visits to paediatricians, multiple opinions, see-sawing hopes. But here she was using words like grateful and lucky.
I looked around at the room filled with baby things and half-unpacked suitcases. I wondered where the half-finished manuscript would be. Ro, a gifted writer, had been one of 6 people (and the only Indian) in Sydney who’d been selected for a Writing Mentorship Programme. She’d completed the first draft of a book – her FIRST book - before the twins changed her world. Now, she and her family are back in Mumbai, to start afresh. One day at a time.
International Women's Day? It's really a year long celebration.