“In Harm’s Way: Part III. The Doomsday Shot”
(title courtesy of the patient).
India has some of the best doctors in the world. My friend Rajkumar, a cardiologist, like many others here, was trained in the US and in Britain. The most sophisticated procedures are routinely performed. And yet, hospitals the world over can be incubators for all kinds of bacteria and infections, and many studies have tracked diseases caught by travelers in Indian hospitals. So, we were terrified to have to take Aidan to a hospital.
It was 10:00, p.m. He had to have the anti-emetic shot, but we worried they might want to admit him, or to put him on an IV. Fear of the unknown loomed over us.
I called Rajkumar and told him the situation. I asked him which hospital to go to. He said the Jehangir. “Will it be safe?” He said yes, that’s where he sends people. He said, “It’s the best we’ve got.” He said Sumesh, one of the older monks from my guru’s ashram, probably in his 70’s, would accompany us for any negotiations or translation needed.
Okay. We were going. It was the only choice. The most common cause of death among children in the developing world is dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting. Aidan had lost so much food and fluid already. He could hold nothing down. We were scared to death.
Sumesh did not drive. We would have to take a tuk-tuk. Aidan hates tuk-tuks. He’s scared of them. We told him we had to go. He had to get the shot that daddy got so that he could hold down the antibiotic and get better. He was a limp doll. He offered no resistance.
After an interminable time, Sumesh showed up. He had a tuk-tuk, but we needed a second, as well. Jennifer, Aidan, Kellen and I got into the one he had, and we had to wait on a street corner for a long time to flag another. Then, we were on our way
I told Aidan to close his eyes. He had gotten in first, then me. Jennifer had wrapped her shawl around him. I had one arm around him and he lay his head against my chest. I put my other hand over his ear to keep out the noise. Jennifer had one arm around Kellen and one arm around my shoulders.
“Just close your eyes, sweetie. We’ll be there soon. You’re going to be ok. We’ll take care of you.”
It was a long ride. Maybe a half hour. All the way, I hummed Brahms’s “Lullaby,” as we weaved in and out of traffic, bumping and swaying in the sea of traffic, fumes, near-misses, breakings and darting forward. I wasn’t sure he could hear but I hoped he could feel the humming in my chest. I held him and hummed just like when we was a baby. For months when he was little, it seemed we could not put him down. He had colic. He would stop crying only when he was held. So many of my memories of his those days are of walking around the house holding him and humming Brahms’s “Lullaby,” singing “Edelweiss” or “Ave Maria.”
Before long, I could tell we were in Koreagon Park, an affluent, expat area. That seemed good. Finally, we pulled through the gate of the hospital. All I could see was a line of decrepit houses behind a fence, but Jennifer said, “I see the hospital. It looks regular.”
The driver let us out. Of course at the wrong door. Sumesh’s tuk-tuk pulled up. He paid the drivers. We walked around to the ER entrance. It looked okay. We went in. A small reception area with a counter and a few plastic chairs. They took Aidan at once through some double doors. A guard said only one person could accompany him. Jennifer went. Kellen and I watched through the glass doors. Aidan was laid on the first examination table. I wasn’t going to wait outside. I took Kellen and went in. The guard said children were not allowed in, because of infection. Still, I could not stay out. And I wasn’t going to let Kellen wait alone.
“Kellen, don’t touch anything,” I said. “We’re going in.”
There were five or six nurses or aides around the table. Jennifer was explaining the situation. Aidan looked scared. “It’s okay, sweetie.” They wanted to weigh him. They brought a scale. I had to fill out some forms. I worried—after the foreign registration office disaster I’d experienced when I first arrived in Pune—that the paperwork itself would kill us. But it was pretty simple. They told us they had a pediatric resident on call and were going to call him. Rajkuar said they would have one. We waited.
Before long a woman in a white coat and stethoscope came in. She seemed to know what she was doing. We assumed she was the resident. We explained in all again.
Aidan looked up with big eyes and a cry in his voice. “I’m scared.”
Aidan is deathly afraid of shots. Maybe it’s from when he was two and fell and cut the place between his eye and eyebrow. We had to take him in for stitches. He was hysterical as we held him down and the doctor administered the injection above his eye.
“Remember when I got the shot in the hotel room? I said. “It was the easiest shot I’ve ever gotten. I barely felt it. It will be fine. You’re going to be just fine. Don’t worry.”
Then, a young male in a white coat came in. He was the resident. Two syringes were prepared.
“Why two?” we asked?
“One is the anti-emetic, the other is to prevent gastroenteritis [or something], which could cause an accumulation of gas and cause him to vomit.”
Aidan was beside himself.
We said, “No way. We just want to anti-emtic.” He seemed okay with that. He picked one of them up. I was pretty sure it was the right one. It was big.
“Okay, Aidan. Here we go. It won’t hurt.”
The doctor made him turn on his tummy, rather than his side. This was a mistake. The hotel doctor had me lie on my side. On your side if you tense up, you’ll tense inward. On his back, Aidan was going to tense outward, tensing his gluteus muscles and making it harder.
“I’m scared. I’m scared!”
Later Aidan would tell me that he was so scared that his teeth were chattering so fast they could have cut down a tree in nothing flat.
I bent down and held him, my face next to his. And stayed there.
We waited. And waited. Then, he yelled: “It hurts!”
“It’ll be over soon.”
Then, I thought Jennifer said something like, “See, it’s all done.”
But then she said, “What the hell are you doing!?”
I looked up and back. Aidan tried to look up. He buckled in pain. It looked like the need was sticking straight down into one of the cheeks of his bottom and it seemed the doctor was moving the needle around inside. Aidan was screaming. The hypodermic was still half full. I was in a shocked place, a paralysis between wanting to grab the doctor and choke him and wanting to see that hypodermic emptied. So, I held Aidan and watched the plunger go down.
Poor Aidan was crying like a baby.
“What the hell was that?!” I said to the doctor. He didn’t answer. The nurses said stuff like, “They have to learn how to receive shots.” And “Children always react like that.”
I felt horrible. Full or rage. I had spent the whole time reassuring Aidan. It was some kind of botched job. But at least the anti-emitic was in him. That part was over.
I took care of some administrative stuff. Jennifer stayed with Aidan. Paid the bill, which was only about twenty dollars. Got our prescriptions.
We went outside. I told Sumesh that we wanted a regular taxi. He said it would be hard to get one. Aidan said we should just take a tuk-tuk. Okay.
Sumesh had them.
We got in, me first, then Aidan, then Jennifer and Kellen. We rode home, Aidan’s head against my chest, our arms around him. I hummed all the way home.
“Just close your eyes, sweetie. It’s over. The antibiotic will make you better. Just close your eyes.”
Huddled together in the tuk-tuk we all closed our eyes. We wove among the traffic and I felt like we were in a paper boat on a river, tossed this way and that, drifting through the night, at the mercy or forces greater than we were. At least together. I prayed that Aidan would be okay, that he didn’t have something the antibiotic wouldn’t cure. I was getting better. That was a good sign. Jennifer was better.
I thought of my time here in India, how it is my favorite place in the world. But I also thought that perhaps my family’s genetic constitution may just not be right for it. Of course, you don’t have to come to India to immerse yourself in the spiritual life. I noted early how Augustine said that “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference in nowhere.” I feel that Presence at the center of my life, in the center of my heart, and have for many years. Around that center we circled through the night in our little boat.
The jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, the Sangha (the spiritual community), and the Dharma (the teachings). I knew then that my family was my sangha, my first sangha, around which might cluster other spiritual communities of friends and devotees.
For now, we just needed to get our family home. We had had a great trip. In Dharamsala, we had all agreed that two months would be the limit of any trips we took. I wasn’t sure I would return to India, a place I deeply love. But that was okay. For now, we needed to get home.
Two mornings later, we had another scare. Aidan seemed to have a relapse. He seemed very pale. He had not been drinking or eating or urinating. We called the “call a nurse” line in the US that our insurance provides, and when we told him that Aidan had not urinated in 36 hours, the nurse insisted that we take him immediately to the hospital for an IV. He said Aidan needed at least two liters of fluid. He said he could not get it by drinking at this point.
We panicked. I called Rajkumar. In the meantime, Aidan went to the bathroom. We decided to try to get him to drink two liters, a cup every half hour, by noon, and if he had not done that, we would take him in. Luckily, he did it.
Three days later now, he seems just about back to normal. In two days, we board a plane to return home.
Over the course of these days, each of us has said that we will be sad to leave, but happy to be home.