This is the truth, not an attention seeking title. A 23 hour flight from Mumbai to Miami. The eager anticipation of celebrating our anniversary on the largest cruise ship in the world. Two days later, we drove down to Fort Lauderdale and boarded the ship to celebrate 25 years of togetherness. One photograph and 10 minutes later, my husband complained of a band of excruciating pain gripping his abdomen and back. Despite an indigestion tablet and painkiller, his pain refused to subside. “ I think I have an attack of pancreatitis. I think we should get off this ship.” His face and voice were quivering in pain. Having seen his brother suffer seven years of this chronic, debilitating disease, he was well acquainted with its ugly face. At that present moment, our future looked dismal.
My heart was pounding in disbelief as we went down to the medical centre. The ship had set sail and there was a flurry of excited holiday makers oozing from every inch of visible space. We were a silent paradox to the scene around us. An examination and a panel of blood work showed amylase levels hundred times over normal, damning evidence of his and the doctor’s suspicion of pancreatitis. In a haze, the cruise staff helped me pack and finish paperwork to disembark us at Miami. The largest cruise ship in the world, standing mid-sea, watching solemnly as we were lowered by a crane into a rescue boat, twenty minutes away from land. A waiting ambulance rushed us to Mount Sinai Hospital. I stood in the emergency ward, with no friends or family in the city, on the other side of the world and three suitcases of broken dreams touching my feet. As I filled in the forms, through the corner of my eye, I watched them stabilise his rising blood pressure. I thought I was going to faint. I thought I would never be able to handle this. Alone. In a foreign land. And then I prayed, I prayed for courage. I had nobody to turn to except a God who might be listening.
Acute pancreatitis caused by a single 1.2 cm stone blocking his pancreatic duct. Four days later, he was discharged, exactly one day after we celebrated our 25th anniversary in a hospital room instead of a beautiful island in the Western Caribbean. The next couple of weeks were spent yo-yo-ing in fear of another attack, faith that we would get back home safely to our daughters and determination in following stringent dietary restrictions to prevent a relapse.
We made it home, two nerve racking weeks and 20 hours of flying time later. It was tough. Real tough. Those 15 days. And these. We wait for his inflammation to subside and for the tricky medical procedures to remove the stone which will begin next week. We wait and hope for the best while we wait. Life has changed forever, that we know, and we will deal with it one day at a time. Till then I write because it’s the only way I know of coping. This time I write for myself.
Why am I writing this? Why am I sharing a journey with strangers, a journey I have borne internally so far? Is anybody even reading? I am not going to question anything. “Life is what hits you when you are busy making other plans” “This too shall pass” “Man proposes, God disposes” I have run the gamut of philosophy in my head in trying to accept what happened and the unfortunate timing of it all. I am just going to go with the flow, to stay afloat and recollect all I have learned so far.
Kindness: In a foreign land, under those earth shattering circumstances, each act is to be remembered and acknowledged. They pulled me through. The kindness of those strangers. The doctor who dropped his clinical mask and hugged me, as they disembarked us, reassuring me that this was the best decision for us, not matter how tough it seemed. That young girl working at the hospital who repeatedly dialled the insurance number because my hands were shaking and offered me a tissue to wipe the tears that I did not realise were flowing. That hospital adminstrator who booked me an Uber to our next destination because my international credit card was not accepted. The concierge at the hotel who gave me upgraded theatre tickets after knowing of our harrowing experience. The man at the store who patiently listened to my tale of woe. The friend of a relative, as well as the sister of a distant relative, who contacted us and graciously offered us their home to recuperate, an offer we could not accept but appreciated deeply. In that alien universe, it was only these acts of kindness that were my sustenance.
Be kind. You never know what difference a simple act of kindness makes to lighten the difficult burdens that people carry.
Faith: Why me? Why us? Why here? Why now? Once I had banged my head against the brick wall of all these whys, faith emerged unshattered. This attack could have taken place on that long distance flight a day earlier. It could have taken place a day later when we were at sea, far away from a hospital. It took place in the precise couple of hours that he could get timely medical intervention which probably saved him from life threatening consequences. Not a day more or less. The faith grew stronger as we adjusted to the situation. Someone was watching over us and would see us through.
Keep the faith. The single minded belief in the protection of a higher power gives one the strength to rise again, no matter how broken one feels.
Perspective: Since last year, after the tragic premature demise of my husband’s brother, I had been trying to convince him to take better care of his health, to slow down, to take preemptive medical tests. Ironically, this incident led to a battery of investigative tests which cleared him of any critical illness. Perhaps, this setback is actually a huge leap towards better health in the future.
Clear your vision and look for the half full glass. It is only as empty as you view it. A positive perspective might just attract much needed positive energy.
Marriage: Twenty five years of marriage was not about the celebration we had planned so meticulously. It was about being there for the other. Every vow, through thick and thin, was renewed through this experience. We could not raise a toast, given the circumstances, but we raised our hands in gratitude that we had it made it through the ordeal, together. No holiday could cement us the way this situation had done.
The greatest romance is in being together, in good health, in the easy comfort of years of companionship. In those ordinary moments of a couple’s life, lies the extraordinary, a gift never to be taken for granted.
Feminism, a recurring theme in my blogs, is for me, now, more than ever, about respect for the sisterhood. The stories of strong females, the known and unknown warriors, who undergo trauma far worse than mine and stand tall against all odds. They inspired me to hang in there, till I could bring my husband home. They keep me going. I salute all those women who hold up their crumbling worlds with the steadfast devotion of love, loving in the way only a woman can.
Alisha “Priti” Kirpalani is the author of “A Smattering Of Darkness: Short and Shorter Twisted Tales,” (available on Kindle Unlimited) a collection of short stories of varying lengths encapsulating the grey shades of the human psyche. Her new novel will be published later this year.