Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The heart of a Mother

In the MICU of our hospital, which is where I've been posted the last couple of weeks, the hardest part is watching people take bad news. A patient we've had for a week was a particularly bad case to handle. A nineteen year old boy, already a regular drug abuser addicted to Fortwin injections, had overdosed and was brought in with severe respiratory depression. His mother was the only one of his family to stay with him, she was literally alone. The father had left her while her son was still an infant, she had worked as a housemaid to put him through school. Only to have him drop out with no prospects of a job and friends who taught him to single out veins in his forearms with more finesse than my internship's taught me.

His breathing normalized in a matter of days but as soon as he came out of his drug-fuelled stupor, we realized he'd had a very alarming psychotic breakdown, a rather scarily common occurrence when one goes cold turkey. His personality had started a strange sort of rapid cycling. He alternated between aggression, abusiveness, even violent outbursts when he threatened us to let him go home, on the one hand and an eerie calmness, accompanied by spells of sobbing and pleading with us for a discharge, becoming moody and depressed on the other.

It was pointless to explain to him how delicate his condition was, that he needed psychiatric help. His mother, who stayed up for days without sleep, rushing to his side every time he called out for her, begged us to save his life, keep him in the ICU till he recovered completely. That he needed to be transferred to a psychiatric ward seemed unbearable to her.

He wud scream at her, abuse her, beat her even, but she was always the same with him. Talking with him affectionately, bringing him sweets whenever he asked for them, even at 2 AM. Tonight he slapped her hard across the face because he thought she was conspiring with us to keep him in the hospital and we had to call in security to help restrain him. She wept, insisted how he was a really good boy at heart, and once he was placed securely in restraints, went up to him, stroked his hair and kissed his hand.

Our registrar looked visibly disgusted at this show of affection and asked her why she simply did not leave her son, when he so obviously was the cause of her misery. The woman looked at the two of us and simply replied, "How can I? He is my son. You two will also understand when you become mothers, yourselves."

I wondered at that last statement. Will birthing a child really turn me into the sort of person who could possibly love an unreasonable, unrepentant boy simply because he was my son? I really doubt that.

I had not thought of love this way before. Love as some kind of malignant disease, which does not allow you to think or reason clearly. It makes you selfless to such an extent that you lose all understanding of self altogether.

As I was getting ready to leave at midnight, my co-intern turned up and we were talking about how a mother's love is unconditional and Darwin's disciple that he is, it turned out he had a slightly different take. "The idea is to pass on our genes, if we did not love those things, those semi-parasitic, annoying, screeching bundles of flesh unconditionally, we'd be tempted to kill them off and the human race would die out. Unconditional love is just a biological imperative disguised as an illusory ideal."

He may be a little bit further from the truth than he believes, I think. As I was walking to the main gate, I passed the Paediatrics ward where a new mother played with a child with Down's syndrome and I watched the little girl laugh and laugh as her mother tickled her. I went in and ruffled the girl's hair. The mother smiled at me as the kid giggled happily, and said, "I know she'll never be like other children, the way I wanted her to be, but the doctors say she'll be a happy child in her short life. And somehow that doesn't sound so bad. I think it could have been much worse."

I left her, realizing that I will probably never be a very maternal person, even if I managed to become a mother. That's alright. But to love so deeply and so truly is not something one should dismiss as mere biological imperative, even when that love brings nearly as much sorrow as joy.


Anonymous said...

hmm! having been through difficult emotional phases i can understand may be 1% what this boy must be feeling...his father left and his mother only has her son! if you look at it rather emotionally, this is life, unconditional love exists in today's world too :)

--Sunrise-- said...

In my humble, useless, medical-student opinion, what the mother needs is counselling or someone to talk to her gently about getting her son psychiatric help. Psychiatry from what I understand, is awfully taboo in India and it is understandable the mother cannot comprehend the idea of sending her son to that strange unknown ward with weird people. Mental health as a health problem does not seem to exist very much in its own rights, especially so with the lower socioeconomical background people I feel, and perhaps it is our duty as doctors to challenge these perceptions what little we can, one person at a time. The mother is simply making this harder on herself by not giving her son the full medical help he needs. Although the kid is the one doing drugs and wasting his mother's hard-earned upbringing, perhaps she is "at fault" (though I hate those words) for "allowing" him to be brought up like this. I love the irony of my statement that you shouldn't judge the child and yet I am 'judging' the mother but I'm really not! Honest! :P I just think it's a shame parents seem to spend so much of their efforts on mainstream education when there may be other more deep-rooted psychological issues to address first. Not that I know anything about this kid or the mother so I can't really say. Oh God I am rambling now... your post was really touching. A recent Spanish movie I saw (The Skin I Live In - it is FREAKY in a psychotic, sick way but if you like that kind of twisted, dark moviemaking an absolute MUST WATCH!) had a dialogue where the irresponsible, good-for-nothing son goes 'You do not have the guts to hurt me, I am your son'.. and the mother goes 'You are not my son, I just gave birth to you.'.. that dialogue fascinated me. Can a mother really distinguish between 'giving birth to someone' and calling them their child? Maybe your friend's Darwinian theory has some merits, as she favoured the intelligent, more-useful-to-society son... :) OK I will shut up now! :-)

Tripthi Battapadi said...

Its really hard to understand whats going on inside a mothers head!
So much love..so much patience..
Hard to come in terms with.

Ninad said...

Just makes me wonder, at 20 how far we are from so many realities inspite of seeing them everyday at the hospital.

Love the way it's written btw. Emotional but without hysteria

Haddock said...

This is touching.
Its not only mothers but any one who cares for others will sacrifice anything. The only thing is there are very few like them who do really care.
The value of life is something very precious.

Kunal said...

As Weird as it may seem..I think..your friend's idea isn't entirely wrong..
But, probably there is no conclusive way of proving it either right or wrong. But, we should be grateful that it is the way it is...I have heard from my parents on few occasions..that I will understand this or that..when I will become a parent myself...I do not know yet..may be yes may be no....but in the present case...its clear that the boy has a problem...emotionally and psychologically...and may be..he needs more support, love and care than ever...

Thank You

mgeek said...

I was reading this the other day while returning from airport. And I came across this sculpture roadside of a mother and a child. (You have seen it, I'm sure). It says "A child gives birth to a mother...".

j. littlejohn said...

i'm not sure i agree with your co-intern's take, that it's a biological imperative, but it is an interesting thought

Unknown said...

"I had not thought of love this way before. Love as some kind of malignant disease, which does not allow you to think or reason clearly."

Well, what else could love be, my friend? Really, I wonder what your earlier notions were.

I love this phraseology - "Now homeward bound. Finally footloose and fancy free."

That's the gist of the whole scheme, isn't it? We're all journeying....and the lighter the backpack, the lesser to fret about. I've always been fascinated by the transition motherhood brings about in a woman. Only 37 days ago did my cousin-sister give birth to a healthy baby boy and frankly, I'm disconcerted by the change that this 'semi-parasitic, annoying, screeching bundle of flesh' has brought about in her.

Now, that might sound devilish, but given that I don't consider my own life a privilege or a blessing to be thankful about, I don't see why people should still be bent on the idea of multiplication, for it makes things worse for everyone.

This NYT article is something which I thoroughly concur with [you might have read it, kk...for I'd shared it on 'Facebook' some time back] -->


May be that my inexperience makes me say all this. For I must confess that being someone who is constantly subjected to the rigours of utter loneliness, I've reasoned that people, in their quest to find a meaning [and nullify that sense of alienation], resort to the easiest available solution - familial bondage.

On any given day, most would prefer the eventful hell over confinement in emptiness, I presume...

Take Care.

Aayushi Mehta said...

Wow. This was one of the best tributes to motherhood I have ever read. Loved this post :)


Very good blog.Keep writing

Sakshi said...

That is motherhood for you!
Very well captured :)

pankaj said...

so poignant as always.

Pankaj said...

i partly agree with rohith. on an emotional level, a deep fear of alienation drives the obsessive kind of love.

swarup said...

lovely karishma..superlike ur post!! wonderful way to convey t sentiments across ....u r probably one of the best writers around kemh so continue the good work...and publish a book someday so that everyone can read t lovely writings!

DocPriya said...

nice post.. new to your blog.. following you right away..!! keep up the good work..!!

Jester said...

to blame the boy, is it right? i think as doctors we need to first not blame the patient, then decide what we do next! can u hold a patient in withdrawal delirium responsible for his actions??