体育投注网平台The call came at three in the morning. My mother, in New Delhi, was in tears. My father, she said, had fallen again, and he was speaking nonsense. She turned the handset toward him. He was muttering a slow, meaningless string of words in an unrecognizable high-pitched nasal tone. He kept repeating his nickname, Shibu, and the name of his childhood village, Dehergoti. He sounded as if he were reading his own last rites.
“Take him to the hospital,” I urged her, from New York. “I’ll catch the next flight home.”
“No, no, just wait,” my mother said. “He might get better on his own.” In her day, buying an international ticket on short notice was an unforgivable act of extravagance, reserved for transcontinental gangsters and film stars. No one that she knew had arrived “early” for a parent’s death. The frugality of her generation had congealed into frank superstition: if I caught a flight now, I might dare the disaster into being.
体育投注网平台“Just sleep on it,” she said, her anxiety mounting. I put the phone down and e-mailed my travel agent, asking her to put me on the next available Air India flight.
My father, eighty-three, had been declining for several weeks. The late-night phone calls had tightened in frequency and enlarged in amplitude, like waves ahead of a gathering storm: accidents were becoming more common, and their consequences more severe. This was not his first fall that year. A few months earlier, my mother had found him lying on the balcony floor with his arm broken and folded underneath him. She had taken a pair of scissors and cut his shirt off while he had howled in double agony—the pain of having to pull the remnants over his head compounded by the horror of seeing a perfectly intact piece of clothing sliced up before his eyes. It was, I knew, an ancient quarrel: his mother, who had ferried her five boys across a border to Calcutta during Partition and never had enough clothes to split among them, would have found a way to spare that shirt.
Then, too, my mother had tried to play it down. “Kicchui na,” she had said: Look, it’s nothing. It was a phrase that she, the family’s stabilizing counterweight, often clung to. “We’ll manage,” she’d said, and I took her word for it. This time, I wasn’t so sure.
体育投注网平台Twenty hours after my mother’s phone call, I landed in sweltering, smog-choked Delhi. I went to the family home from the airport, flung my bags across the bed, and took a taxi to the neuro-I.C.U. The unit was arranged in four pods around an atrium. Part of the floor was being repaired—the polished terrazzo had a gash like a busted lip that exposed the building’s pipes and electrical conduits, and pieces of jagged concrete were strewn across the corridor. If you tripped and bashed your head on the floor, I noted, a neurologist would be waiting conveniently for you around the corner.
My father was densely sedated. I called his name and, for a moment, I thought he swung his head toward me in recognition. I felt a burst of joy—until I saw him swing his head back and forth again, and realized I was seeing an automatic movement, repetitive, rhythmic, patterned. His brain seemed to be slipping down some evolutionary chain, through a series of phylogenetic trapdoors—thud-thud-thud—toward a primitive, reptilian consciousness. Over time, I began to regard that vacant, circular motion as a semaphore that you might send up from the lower reaches of Hell.
体育投注网平台A neurosurgery resident came to see me. He knew that I was a physician; he extended his hand and called me Dr. Mukherjee. He looked about thirty-five, with a pale face, large ears, and an air of confidence. I took an instant, irrational dislike to him.
体育投注网平台“Your father had extensive bleeding into his brain,” he told me. “And with his underlying dementia I’m not sure how much of a recovery we can expect.” He added that my father’s sodium had fallen to 128—critically low, yet another sign of severe damage to the brain tissue.
My anger had the quality of undergraduate indignation: I wanted to tell him that I knew how to read a CT scan and understood what a low-sodium reading was, but I bit my tongue.
体育投注网平台“We’ve got everything under control,” he assured me. “You be the son, and let us be the doctors.” Then he hurried off to see other patients.
A few minutes into my visit, I noticed that my father’s heart rate on the monitor was alarmingly high. I fumbled under the sheets until I found a pulse in his swollen wrist. The rate was normal; the machine had almost doubled it. I called the nurse. She was a small woman with an expressive face, her white coat buttoned over a blue sari.
“Oh, that monitor? It never works,” she said, waving it away casually, as if it were a toy with a snagging wheel. And then, as I watched, aghast, she switched it off. The machine stopped beeping. My father was now officially pulseless. Well, thankfully that problem’s been solved, she seemed to suggest, triumphantly, and moved on to the next bed.
体育投注网平台An hour later, she came to clean my father up. A little pool of spittle, the color and consistency of pond scum, had formed in his half-open mouth. She removed it with a suction catheter. The vacuum pump to which the catheter was connected made a brief humming sound, then collapsed with a loud whoosh, like an elephant sagging to its death. I stood up to look: one of the rubber gaskets that held the tube to the pump had cracked. The nurse shrugged in apology. She looked around perfunctorily for a replacement gasket, but we both knew there would be none.
I left the hospital at eleven that night. A few miles from my house, a motorcycle had overturned on the highway, catapulting a helmetless young man into space. Someone had lit a string of flares around the accident to divert traffic. The windows of my cab had been sandblasted into a sea-glass dullness by the city’s famously abrasive winds, and the scene outside looked weirdly like some kind of celebration—a festival or a wedding party—shot through a foggy video camera. The inversion almost made me want to laugh. Delhi had landed upside down. The city was broken. This hospital was broken. My father was broken.
There’s a glassy transparency to things around us that work, made visible only when the glass is cracked and fissured. Look, it’s nothing. To dwell inside a well-functioning machine is to be largely unaware of its functioning. That’s its gift, and we accept it thoughtlessly, ungratefully, unknowingly. Years ago, as a young doctor trying to make some extra cash, I moonlighted in a walk-in clinic in a down-and-out neighborhood a few miles from Boston. I worked on Saturdays from ten until eight, and rounded off the day, exhausted, with the gordita-and-beer special at a local joint.
体育投注网平台The clinic was run, with cutthroat efficiency on a shoestring budget, by a sixtysomething nurse who had worked there most of her life. One morning, confused about daylight-saving time, I arrived for my shift an hour early. I watched the nurse as she prepped for the day. She stacked the sterile plastic tubing for the oxygen masks by the side of each bed. She reviewed the contents of the “crash cart,” where the emergency equipment and medications were stored. Her final act that morning might have scaled a new peak of obsessive absurdity: she moved from one unoccupied cubicle to the next, smoothed the sheets down, and then, crouching awkwardly in the thin space between the head of the bed and the wall, oiled the knobs for the wall-mounted valves that brought oxygen into the room.