by Sarvani Madiraju, MSIV
"Chai, Chai, Chaiiii!" The cacophonous sounds of a fast-paced salesman carrying burning-hot tea, trains speeding by, the chatter of passengers, creaking signs reading "Hyderabad, India" faded by as my family and I exited the train station to catch the next rickshaw. I looked around to ask my dad if he had the heaviest suitcase. It was an odd thing, amidst all the chaos, to see my dad, sallow-faced, quietly trudging behind me.
Monday, he insisted a fever was merely an "adaptation problem" and he would be okay.
Tuesday, he sheepishly admitted he needed a Tylenol for his "train-lag fever".
Wednesday, I woke to hear him vomiting up his breakfast in the bathroom across the hall. Denial apparently wasn't a great antibiotic.
A week went by and my father made us play medical hide-and-seek as his symptoms grew worse. He had a consistent fever, vomited with eternal nausea, and moved lethargically through his day, every once in a while halted by a case of chills.
What really went unnoticed, however, was his growing limp. My mother finally confronted him, forcing him to lift up his pants. A pungent stench of what smelled like rotting garbage emanated off his swollen, pustule-filled, reddish limb. Hauling my father into a rickshaw, we whizzed by the street vendors and dusty roads to the most reliable hospital the city of Hyderabad had to offer.
As my father hobbled through the hallways of St. Theresa's Church Hospital, I heard prayers echoing from a nearby room. I kept thinking, "Would God help?" I walked back outside to catch a breath of dusty air, watching a fruit vendor cutting open a pomegranate, blood red seeds gushing out.
A blur of white lab coats ran around our patient room, murmuring symptoms and possible infections or diseases. The doctor approached my mother, sister and I, and said, "You are lucky. He has cellulitis. If you waited any longer, the leg would have needed to be amputated."
I saw my father lying on the bed, the weight of this sickness perhaps finally bearing down on him. A memory of him carrying a mini-me on his shoulders came to mind, abruptly interrupted by a grotesque image of my father's leg being cut, like the pomegranate.
Treatment at St. Theresa's was like an eternal run in a dark tunnel. Every day brought a routine of visiting my dad and watching him be continually sick, take constant naps and live off the continuous fluid running into his bloodstream. That routine wasn't meant to last forever either. Doctors' voices dropped in octaves slowly to whispers, while they leaned over my dad. He was laying there with bags under his tired, red eyes as if he were a child again. An astounding role reversal; I was the one who was okay and him, the helpless sick child. I ran over to hold his hand, to give it a reassuring squeeze, and I felt a squeeze back.
Sepsis. The infected leg was now a labyrinth; to find the source and type of infection became a mission. The next couple of days revolved around much more aggressive treatment. My mother was responsible for cleaning his leg throughout the day and keeping him company. I stood wide-eyed next to him in silence, never letting go of his hand unless the nurse pried me off. My little sister insisted crayons were the solution and shoved the brightest colored crayons in his hospital gown pockets. The doctors changed his IV fluids every couple of hours, checked his blood pressure, and injected antibiotics in his already punctured arm.
Slowly but surely, my father's pale skin regained color and his leg lost its redness as the pustules shrank away. He gained some healthy weight, and his smile was no longer coated in fatigue. My observations were interrupted to hear a smiling doctor tell us he would be okay. We could take him home the next morning. This time, my father was lying in bed like he was superman and he knew it would turn out ok all along. The rest of us playing along with his little game.
The sun rose that morning a little brighter. We all held hands that day coming down the seemingly less-musty hallways. My father's hand felt warm and comfortable in mine as I checked peripherally to see his leg, only slightly swollen, resting on the wheelchair he sat in. I heard the prayers echoing off the hospital walls as we exited, all four of us. My little sister, prancing behind me on my right, holding my hand whispered, "I told you the crayons would work."
I smiled and replied, "Every crayon except pomegranate red."