On the night of December 25th, 2000 when the entire world was celebrating their ‘Millennium Christmas’, I went into labor. The hospital did not have enough staff to handle the emergencies and there was utter chaos everywhere. However the duty doctor and the nurse on duty tried their best to help me and make me comfortable. It was a very crude and a hurried delivery. At 12.20 am, through the pain, I heard a distant cry of the baby. Yes! That was the first cry of Riya. The doctor announced that it was a baby girl – normal and healthy but a little underweight. Great grandma, grandma, uncles, aunts, cousins all flocked around her just to see her open her eyes. She was very beautiful with glossy skin and fair complexion and a very cute face. She looked like a “pari (fairy)”.
We named the baby ‘Riya’. The name Riya is of Spanish origin which means “river” and the Hindu origin is the other name of Goddess Parvathy which means to have a great voice or a singer. Indeed she was a good singer (which I realized much later in life) !
The first two weeks of life with Riya was just as usual. Everyone only pampered both the mother and the child. Good food, lots of sleep and some good thoughts. Even the smallest sound from Riya brought the entire household to the cradle. Rishab, her brother who was 2 years old, would only want to wake her up. First visit to the doctor was all happy. Being a low birth weight baby, she had doubled her weight in just 2 weeks. Compliments from the doctor! The next week also was uneventful. Then came the dreaded ‘Pulse Polio Day’ – Jan 19th, 2001. Four hours after the polio was administered, Riya developed a slight fever. A local pediatrician was asked to check the baby. He brushed it off saying it was just an ordinary polio fever and nothing serious. The next day passed with the same fever and the doctor with the same comment and then the third day. On the fourth day, baby had the same fever but with convulsions. I had no courage to look at my baby. Immediately the same doctor was called again and he takes his own sweet time to come (even in this emergency). He examines the baby and very casually says “Now you will have to admit the baby to the hospital” without any explanation at all. The baby was rushed to the hospital, wheeled off into the ICU. The diagnosis was the baby had severe meningitis with 40,000 pus cells in the body enough to kill an adult itself. My poor 28 day old baby was suffering all those three days whining in pain and I never understood it. What a mother was I!
The rigmarole at the hospital then begun. I was not allowed to be next to the baby in the ICU and so I was given a ward. Every hour or 2 had to walk all the way to the ICU which was about a kilometer to feed the baby. The Hospital would not give any extra feeds apart from the mother’s milk. Due to the tension around, it was very difficult for me even to give one feed. There were days that my little baby has gone hungry. How could she even revive without enough nutrition? Then there were those heavy doses of antibiotics and to add to that her never ending convulsions. Days passed by with Riya in the ICU, all of us standing out and praying. One fine day, the doctor announced that the baby would be shifted to the ward. Our joy knew no bounds. It was a clear sign that she was getting better. Two days were uneventful. The third day she started convulsing vigorously and the doctors confirmed that there was some unidentified problem too. She was taken back to the ICU, this time with not much hope of returning back. I was often called to sign papers that I could hardly understand.
One such day, the nurse on rounds asked me to sign a bunch of papers. When asked what those papers were, she said the name of the test (which I actually don’t remember). They would insert the syringe into the brain and withdraw the fluid that had accumulated there which was the one of the causes for the convulsions. That day I realized how difficult it was to be a lay person who could not understand any of those tests or terms. My heart crushed to hear the wails of the baby during those numerous tests.
Finally the day arrived when the senior doctor called us for some serious discussion. She explained in detail what exactly had happened and why and the only solution. Her words still ring in my ears – “You will not have a quality baby unless we conduct craniotomy and even after that there are only 20% chances”. Questions were fired from all sides. Decision had to be made. Choice was either I let the surgery happen or keep the baby as it is with all her shortcomings. At that moment it was my life’s most dreaded decision. I would be stuck both ways. Being a single parent, I had to give up on my baby or take care of the baby all her life. I choose the latter. Now when I think back, it gives me immense pleasure that I made a wise decision then. We changed hospitals, doctors and completed her first round of treatment. After 33 days of hospitalization, it was heaven when the doctors asked us to take the baby home. She had fluid accumulation in her sub-Dural but nothing much could be done of it. She would continue having convulsions and I was taught how to manage it. How to turn her to her side, wait for 5 minutes and if it continues to bring her back to the hospital. A regular visit to the hospital was a must.
……….to be contd