The pancreatic diaries: being hospitalised during lockdown

As a rugged individualist, I have never liked following the herd. Which is why, when everyone else was rushing or being rushed to hospital with Covid-19, I decided to be hospitalised for acute necrotising pancreatitis, which is about as bad as it sounds. In a nutshell, it involves your pancreas begging for mercy after years of abuse.

The whole thing was a new experience for me. I had never been hospitalised for anything before. It was a time of many firsts. It was the first time I had ever been put on a drip. Apparently I have delicate veins, like women from aristocratic backgrounds, or supermodels, so each time they tried to insert the needle, it was a voyage of discovery.

By the end of the third day, I had more holes in me than a golf course. But it was all totally worth it, because these tubes were the mechanism through which they delivered pain killers.

After weeks of hugging my wife and promising to be a good boy in future, this proved to be a much better way of dealing with pain. The best part was that the pain killers were supposed to be as per requirement, so all I had to do was look pathetic and ask for more. It was brilliant. My childbearing years are probably over, but in case we have another one, Ketamine Chowdhury will be its name.

Soon after I was introduced to pain killers, I also received my first enema. The first time around, the enema man was quite reserved, but he warmed up as our relationship progressed. On the second occasion, he was quite chatty, inquiring about my family, and asking about my hobbies. I’m pretty sure he would have brought me flowers for our third date, but normal service was resumed soon after round two.

Since I’m in the middle of trying to write a book about Gandhi, this was all very useful. They say you should write what you know, and now, when it comes to enemas, I do. I also had my first ever CT scan, conducted by two men from Lucknow, who were extraordinarily polite. They injected me with blue dye, and kept asking me, with a mixture of concern and hope, whether it was hurting. They apologised repeatedly throughout the process. One of them may have kissed me on the forehead before sending me in, and periodically asked me to hold my breath in the nicest possible way.

During my stay, I was also exposed to different styles of nursing. Most of the nurses were from Kerala. They were competent, confident and multilingual, speaking both incomprehensible Hindi and incomprehensible English, depending on patient profile.

Their contrasting approaches to patient care came out most vividly when the plaster and bandages connecting my needles needed to be removed. Some nurses were gentle and patient, coaxing off the sticky bits little by little, while others used it as an opportunity to strike a blow against patriarchy, yanking it off in one rapid movement, ignoring my high- pitched screams.

“This is what it’s like when women have to wax,” said one of them, which was deeply unfair. I have never asked anyone to wax in my life. Nevertheless, a hospital visit is a strong argument in favour of being nicer to women. You may justify your innate sense of male superiority using a combination of statistics, gut feel and the laws of Manu. But Manu never went to hospital, whereas you almost certainly will. When you do, remember that at some point, you will be alone, in the dark, strapped to a bed, and a woman will be holding the needle. Be nice now, before it’s too late.

Otherwise this is not going to end well. And whatever else you do, be kinder to your pancreas.

[The Hindu, 4 May 2020]

The pancreatic diaries II

So here I am back in hospital again, partly because you can’t keep a good man down, and partly because after paying health insurance for so long, it seemed wrong not to get anything back from it. The policy covered so many ailments, and I never seemed to get any of them. The lack of return on investment rankled deeply.

This is no longer a problem. It turns out that my earlier diagnosis of acute necrotising pancreatitis was wrong, which is a pity, because it sounds so impressive. “Something involving the pancreas or the liver” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. It feels more like an excuse to miss the Monday review meeting.

Either way, I was admitted to hospital again last week, where I am now a valued customer. The security guards salute when they see me.

Events proceeded rapidly after admission. I was supposed to undergo tests on Saturday and Sunday. After reviewing the tests, I was supposed to have a stent put in my bile duct on Tuesday. This was news to me. I had always assumed stents were something you put in hearts, but apparently you can insert them anywhere, like Officers on Special Duty. I have never liked following schedules, so I screamed a lot from the pain on Sunday, and even more on Monday, by which time the doctors all had migraines, and said, ‘Let’s put that stent in right now!’

On Tuesday, I had a liver MRI, where the machine shut me up, because it was even louder than me. On Wednesday, they did an ultrasound, which is like what they did to my wife when she was pregnant, except it was with my liver instead of a baby. Both looked very similar. On Thursday, I had two plastic tubes inserted to remove fluid that I was leaking. I did not scream at all, and the doctor patted my head and said I was a good boy. I am now half human, half plastic, like a budget cyborg.

Throughout the whole process, Medanta hospital has been brilliant, and I’m not just saying this because I’m hoping Dr Naresh Trehan will give me a discount. The place is huge, and full of people. They never leave you alone.

About three times a day, for example, a nurse comes into the room, stares at everything, and walks out again. The other day, three of them came in and did it together. I expect even larger viewing groups in the next day or two. They are also very helpful when it comes to bowel movements. They do not rest until they get results. Just the other day, I managed to have a dump after several days. The output was like the results of an archaeological dig. Various layers from various eras were visible. However, I have been blocked again for the last few days, and sense the shadow of the enema man lurking.

Nevertheless, surrounded by experts, I remain confident as my adventures continue. Will I be meeting the enema man soon? What will my first sponge bath be like? Should I be making a will? Does the striped hospital clothing make me look like a prison inmate, or is it just my imagination? And what language are the nurses all talking to each other in? These are some of the questions I have to consider in the near future.

[The Hindu, 25 May 2020]

Truth Digger: The Best of Shovon Chowdhury

Excerpted with permission from Truth Digger: The Best of Shovon Chowdhury, edited by Urmila Chowdhury and Sandipan Deb, Aleph Book Company.