Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Moth

She got the head count for the party from her friend. - sambar for twenty people. "This should be fairly easy," she thought. Having routinely made sambar for ten people, she would just double the quantities and be done with it on the day of the picnic.
The day of the picnic dawned, bright and beautiful, after the heavy rains of the previous night. No more rain was in  the forecast for the day.
The dal was simmering away in the pressure cooker and the vegetables being chopped with alacrity, when the pressure cooker decided to malfunction and release steam prematurely. She rushed to remove it from the heat and realign the gasket. Back to the stove, with fingers crossed this time that the dal would finish cooking in peace. Alas, that was not to be. It turned out partly cooked and needed an additional round of steaming in the dubious cooker.
Finally, a good half hour later than planned, the sambar for twenty was done, poured into a disposable roaster, wrapped up in plastic wrap and aluminum foil ample enough to hermetically seal it for a voyage to outer space. Time to head out to the picnic, which was being held in a shelter at a local park.
The shelter was surrounded by large puddles of water,  the picnic tables covered with bird droppings, the remnants of last year's autumn wood fires in the chimney. A solitary chickadee hopped hopefully on the table, chirping as the people made their way gingerly past the puddles and slimy mud onto the concrete of the shelter. Time to get cracking on spreading plastic sheets and setting up the food for the picnic.
Two hours later, the dingy shelter looked transformed. People filled every nook and cranny, chairs were set up in the drying grass nearby, food aplenty on all the tables as everyone brought their offerings to the potluck. The sambar shared space with the onion chutney and idlis, and a few of the younger kids had already started digging into their share of the goodies.
She turned away from her chatting friends toward the food tables when she spied a commotion around the sambar pan and rushed to investigate. She saw a lady gingerly ladling out a scoop of it, and dashing it on the ground near the post. A black and red moth fluttered to the side, and one of the other ladies nearby took it into her head to attempt to stamp on the moth.
The hostess of the party rushed up. " I must discard the sambar!"she declared definitively and loudly.  Sambar-lady looked up in horror. "Oh no, it was barely in the sambar for more than a couple of seconds. After all my effort...", she wailed.
"Oh, but everyone has seen it fall into the sambar! I know, I feel so bad about having to toss out the sambar... but..." pleaded the hostess.
 "But what will the others do when they come to have the idlis. I don't think the chutney will be enough."
"The sambar is almost over anyway", said the hostess.
"No, it's only about a third done. That is a deep pan, so you will be tossing out two thirds of it. Any way, do what you wish", despaired Sambar-lady.
 She turned away, not wishing to see what transpired with her precious sambar and walked off to talk with other friends. A few minutes later, the hostess confirmed, with much apologies that she did decide to toss out the sambar.
"Watch out for the rest of the dishes that are now sitting out in the open. There are bound to be other insects to fall into them, if we aren't careful." tossed Sambar-lady as a final quip.

As to the moth, who knows whether it survived the stomp. Sambar-lady loves to think that it flew away despite the abuse heaped on its little self. And Sambar-lady will offer to only bring bottles of pop rather than slaving away over a stove the next time she appears at a picnic, as she recovers from the tragedy of the lost sambar.

Mystical Mornings

A picture is worth a thousand words...

Mornings, misty and otherwise.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Baby Sparrow

It looked at me and turned its back, busily attempting to munch on the remnants of an oak blossom stuck to our mat. Only the picture window and screen separated us, as I knelt on the carpet about 2 feet away inside the house, while the baby sparrow sat outside on the deck.

I moved up sneakily, every time its back was turned, feeling faintly like the creepy stone angels of Dr.Who. In just three tries, I was practically nose to beak with it.It stood unafraid and continued to chirp silently through the glass, picking at bits of dried leaf now. I could practically hear it accusing me "I'm hungry, give me food!", just like my human kids coming home ravenous after a hard day at school.

"Come here quick!", I called out to M, as she tapped away aimlessly at her iPod. "You have to see this little bird." She rushed and knelt by my side, as I continued my silent communion with the little feathered friend. It chirped some more, preened its feathers. "Look at the line of down around the wings!', M exclaimed. "What kind of bird is it?"

I didn't know offhand, though it had all the markings of a sparrow. I would need to look it up later. Should I rush for my camera or phone to try and capture it, or rest in the moment and just watch it? Decisions, decisions.  The minutes ticked by, and routine called. It was time to continue getting ready for school and work and the morning rush hour.

I stepped away regretfully, and sure enough, a moment later, Baby Sparrow had flown away.

Here is a photo of a baby sparrow, though not the one I saw, just to give a feel for what my encounter was like.  Although I must say, my baby sparrow was immeasurably cuter.                  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Mighty Heart Beats No More

I raced off on an urgent trip to India two weeks ago, my father was in critical condition after suffering a cardiac arrest, right at the hospital door. He had been resuscitated in time and was recovering well, able to recognize and speak with my mother and other relatives.

My sister rushed with her family to Appa's bedside, as did I. We emerged from the planes, apprehensive of what we might hear from the phone about his current condition. All was well, we felt assured, as he responded to treatment in the critical care, and next, intensive care units where he was placed.

I regularly went to see him for the few minutes visitors were permitted twice a day in the ICU.  He was weak, but in good cheer, glad to see us and tending to speak vigorously whenever he got the chance of respite from the silence of the long hours in bed. The nurses hovered around to make sure he wasn't strained beyond what his fragile state would permit.

On the seventh day of his hospital stay, we were to accompany him on a ride to a diagnostic facility, where they would perform a scan of his heart to determine how much viable heart muscle was left, prior to a possible ICD implant for irregular heartbeat. My brother-in-law and I accompanied him, along with a staff nurse, on a harrowing ambulance ride that broke all speed records (Ulloor to Pangode in 7 1/2 minutes flat in rush hour- unheard of!)

It was the last substantial chunk of time that I would spend with him. The nurse and I clutched at his leg for dear life, to keep him from shifting on the stretcher where he rested, as he grimaced and clutched whatever nearby object he could as well. The siren blared deafeningly where my brother-in-law sat next to the driver, while we were shielded inside the ambulance patient transport cabin.

Two days later, just as a date had been set for the ICD implant, he experienced heart failure episodes. When I went to see him at the 4 pm visitors' hour, he spoke little except to ask me to open a tetrapak of apple juice, insert the straw and give it to him. He slurped it up quietly, and waved me to leave in a few minutes.

Later that evening he collapsed with a second cardiac arrest, even as he was talking with the doctor. This time, he was not so lucky. Despite every effort by the hospital team to resuscitate and stabilize him, several hours later Appa ended up with strong heart beat, temporary pacemaker, mechanical ventilation (with no patient breaths) and minimal neural activity.

Every day next, we would take turns during visiting, striving our best to wake him up from the deep sleep of coma. But he did not respond. We called, tapped his arms, pleaded, pinched. My aunts and uncles (doctors with varied specialties) arrived and tried their best as well to elicit a response. But four days later, we sat defeated. There was nothing beyond the strong heart beat. No patient breaths (as his brain stem that controls that had been damaged during the cardiac arrest and loss of oxygen that occurred till they could restore the heart rhythm). No neurological responses beyond some minimal artifacts that were promoted by the mix of dopamine and other drugs they were giving him. Waxing then waning kidney function.

It was time for tough decisions. Would Appa want to continue to live like this for whatever duration, tethered to a machine to breathe for him? We thought not. We made the request to the doctor to discontinue ventilation. But he said he could not remove it, as it would be against hospital policy and tantamount to euthanasia.  We were at a loss as to what to do.

My sister and I asked for a meeting with the doctor, after a hurried conference with our aunts and cousins (doctors all). I asked about the pacemaker, which the doctor assured me was in 'standby mode', only there to support the heart which he said was beating strongly on its own, set to 65 beats per minute.  He didn't think it was doing anything to sustain the current comatose condition. My sister asked about the drug cocktail being given, especially the dopamine. The doctor conceded that since there was no hope of recovery, there was not any point to continuing them. He still seemed a bit unconvinced by our request to have those discontinued, as well as turning off the pacemaker.

Who knows what went on in the doctor's mind? A couple of hours later, he quietly acceded to our requests, ordering the stoppage of drugs and allowing the turning off of the pacemaker. Over the next two hours or so, Appa's heart slowed down, drifting below the 65 bpm that had been programmed for the pacemaker to kick in. He went into bradycardia resulting in a final cardiac arrest. The time was 7:25 pm.

We were outside the ICU when the doctor confirmed his passing. It was a bittersweet moment. We each had our roles to play in easing his passage, difficult though it was for us to say goodbye.

And so the mighty, generous heart that had beat so long, striving to overcome all the weaknesses that beset it, especially over the last few years, beat no more.

Appa, fare well on your next grand adventure. Resting in peace is not for you.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Deep Freeze

Or Polar Vortex, to mimic the media's latest buzzword. It does have a cooler ring to it than merely saying 'It's cold!'

I don't recall seeing these kinds of sub-zero temperatures since the last twenty years. The first time that I did, I was a new mother with a jaundiced new-born, necessitating daily trips by bundled up nurses to test his bilirubin levels. The cold weather left me unshaken, cozy as I was in our overheated small apartment with heaters blasting out a balmy 75 degrees fahrenheit.

Now, it's all I can do to exhort a newly-minted non-teenager to dress appropriately for the sub-zero temperatures as he returns for the 'spring semester' in college.

How do the birds survive this bitter cold, I wonder. The birdfeeder on the deck stands sadly empty, a large hole rusted the bottom out entirely, and I haven't had the time  to go and get a new one. I should do so pronto, maybe even tomorrow, urged on by the tips on this website. Water and high-protein feeds, that's the key to providing the few birds that remain in the area with some sustenance.

Sorry, Deer. You are out of luck the next time you approach the bird-feeder for a snack. I will have replaced the rusted one with a brand new one that will not yield this year to your depradations ( I hope.)
But wait a few days longer and this Polar Hell will be gone, with balmier temperatures in the 20's returning by the end of the week.