I have never visualized what my father’s brain might look like. At some point, I learned to draw and name the structures of the human brain, the cerebrum, the cerebellum, and the medulla, and all the major nerves that emerged from it. I even learned to classify people as brainless, brainy, brainwashed, brain dead, and brain pickers. However, I never stopped to imagine what his vital organs would look like.
Tragedy happened all around me. Other’s fathers suffered massive heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, and neural dysfunctions. I sympathized, I felt sad, I even consoled. But I realize I never really empathized. How could I? I had never seen death or suffering closely. My grandfather died when I was 11 (and he was old and ailing anyway). I wasn’t around my grandmother when she died. Death was like news that came, not a visual display of the physical manifestations that happened, someone stopped functioning, or someone I saw everyday was no longer visible. The living members of my family have never been seriously sick. Childbirth, indigestion issues, or removal of kidney stones did not count. A distant uncle of an even more distant cousin once had a hepatic inflammation. All we ended up saying is how careful he should have been with his alcohol intake habits.
So it came as a surprise when father complained of severe headache. He jokingly blamed it on my mother’s nagging habits when she nagged him into seeing a doctor. Before we knew, there were talks about high blood pressure, cerebral hemorrhage, multiple blood clots in the brain, and an arrangement made for immediate surgery. One morning, I called home to be told he had a headache. 2 mornings later, he was recovering in the ICU. And all I could do, like a helpless nincompoop, too busy to battle courses and stay put in the American soil was, listen. Listen helplessly as I saw images of my father in a hospital, his head bandaged, strongly fighting cerebral strokes. This is not what I imagined would happen to him at his age. For the first time, the possibility of my parents dying occurred to me. And it scared the shit out of me. Not that I ever thought my loved ones were immortals, who would be untouched by death. But some irrational part of me always believed that death and suffering can never happen to my parents. It happened to others, when they grew old, and you were supposed to empathize and wish them well. But it wasn’t going to happen to my parents. Ever.
It’s a helpless feeling, and no amount of convincing can help you. You know you can just take the next flight and reach Kolkata, screw the semester. You haven’t sold your soul to anyone. Yet. And this is what I have been questioning myself. Would my father not come see me wherever I was if I suffered a stroke? Then why am I not doing the same? Because I was greedily waiting for the semester to end, so that I can take full 2 weeks off, even bargain with the advisor to see if I can extend it up to 3 weeks. The irony is, my father would hopefully be back on his feet by then, and not in as much need of seeing me as he is now. Seriously, how naïve I am, that I have never imagined him lying in an ICU, hooked to bottles of IV. Blood clots in the brain, are you kidding me? Those only happened to people in movies.
My stomach churns at these thoughts. I have suffered from a strange physiological phenomenon since morning. I didn’t cry, but my eyes kept shedding tears, not once in a while, but generous amounts of raindrops. It seemed a dam had broken somewhere. I unseeingly stared at the TV. I wasn’t crying, but tears rolled down my eyes in abundance. For the first time, I fear the power of death, and the devastation that mortality leaves in its wake. Morbid thoughts engulf me as I try to think and reason, like I would do with a research problem, how exactly this could happen to my father, who I thought was neither old, not ailing, and who most importantly, I thought would remain unaffected by pain and suffering. He once told me that the day you really grow up is the day your parents die, and not when the day you finish college, get a job, or have children. I am amazed at how the veracity of his words just started to make sense to me.