I woke up suddenly with a heightened sense of alertness. There was a strange sensation in my ears. I raised myself to look at the clock and a wave of dizziness swept over me. I felt nauseous. The clock said 1 am. I’d been sniffling all day, had little sleep due to the long journey from SFO to Bangalore. I was a little worried about Maya. She had been throwing up since the morning, unable to keep even a glass of water down.
I lay awake considering possible actions should the nausea and dizziness increase. Would I be able to call for help (my friends were sleeping downstairs) ? Would I puke on the floor and make a mess or would I be able to crawl to the bathroom ? Was the bathroom door shut and if so could I reach the handle ? And why was I dizzy and nauseous ? A couple of friends and some other associates had been diagnosed with cancer in the past few months. Was I next ? Was something malignant lurking beneath my dizziness ?
I tried to focus on calming myself and feeling less dizzy. I tried to slow my breathing and be more even than normal. I double checked that my mental acuity was normal. But my mind continued to wander. I wondered if I should wave a white flag, declare that I was foolish to have attempted the trip alone and head back home right away ? Before I left the US, I had learnt that tickets were not available till the 19th or so. What if Maya fell badly ill ? Shanthala was the calm one in the family. Without her by my side, my fears mushroomed. My mind returned to more immediate predicaments. I pictured myself falling on the floor as I tried to go to the bathroom, hitting my head and knocking myself out, Maya waking up wanting to vomit or crap and not finding me, crying and shaking me as I lay on the floor and then puking and cramping all over me and around me. I pictured my friends coming up at daylight to find the mess.
Enough already! I screamed to myself. Stop this nonsense.
Some time had passed, I decided to slowly get up and see how I felt. I felt unsteady, weak. I sat back down wondering if sudden, large movements might make me dizzier. I debated if I should walk to the door and switch on the room light so that I could read the “The Indian Clerk” or if I should stay on the bed and read something on the iPhone. What was happening with my ear ? It was not ringing, it was not any sharp clear sound. So what was it ? I struggled to fond the word to describe my condition. It was a low, almost like white noise. Buzzing. Finally! I had the word.
I switched on the iPhone and googled for “buzzing in ear and dizziness” and read through the entries that spoke of various illnesses from the more common ones such as tinnitus and inner ear damage to stranger beasts such as Meniere’s Disease, dormant herpes virus and so on. What would it be like to be afflicted with a disease named Meniere’s Disease ? And who was this guy Meniere ? As I read through the articles, Maya lay by my side breathing loudly. I wondered if she was getting a cold.
As I sat there reading, realization dawned on me about how difficult the life of a single parent might be, especially one with a small child. The precautions they had to take, the planning they had to make if something should happen, to get help if something happened in the middle of the night, the difficulties in caring for a small child when they fell ill, the pressure and loneliness without a backup right next to them. I sat there on the bed with all these thoughts swirling through my jet-lagged, sleep-addled brain. Some more time passed. I began to feel better, the dizziness seemed fainter as did the nausea. I got up and felt sufficiently steady. I walked over to the end of the room and switched on the light. The worst part of that night was over.
We had landed in Bangalore the previous day at 2 am. The flight had been surprisingly easy. Maya had been an impeccable traveller. She took off her shoes at the security checkpoint before I even said anything to her. She loves the escalator. As we waited to board the plane at San Francisco, she spent almost a half hour walking the same long escalator over and over again. All that exercise coupled with the flight being well underway as her nap time approached, helped her sleep well on the way to Hong Kong. She ate well on board, chowing down the better parts of the airplane meal and filling the rest of her belly with food that I had carried from home. She hardly watched any TV, spending most of the time reading to herself or asking me to read to her or playing with some paint and paper that she got on the plane. She didn’t exhibit even a single sign of frustration despite sitting in the plane for almost 15 hours. I felt like I was travelling with an adult.
At Hong Kong, she insisted on hauling one of the cabin baggages. I was travelling light and so with her help, the transit was a piece of cake. As we walked to our boarding gate for the final leg to Bangalore, Maya spotted a play area and took off. She let loose all her pent-up energy after sitting for so long by running around like crazy. Tired, she slept most of the way to Bangalore. When we landed, she seemed well rested. She even pushed the luggage cart with all our baggage all the way to the car, causing heads to turn and passers-by to express their delight at her energy and strength, even more impressed when told that she was not even three.
I had arranged to stay with some close friends for a day or two since my parents had moved houses well beyond the outskirts of the city to a remote gated community, about a three hour drive from the airport. After travelling for almost 24 hours, I didn’t want to tax Maya’s patience by asking her to sit for another three hours. Also, I was going to my parents’ new house for the first time and didn’t want to risk travelling to an unknown, remote place in the middle of the night. Furthermore, with the remoteness of the location, I worried about easy access to doctors should Maya fall ill as she acclimatised to India. Our old driver, who ran a taxi service now, was there to pick us up and drop us off to our friends’ place (his taxi service license wouldn’t let him cross the state lines, as my parents’ house was in another state).
I was excited to see our friends again and Maya was thrilled that she was finally on firm ground, out of cars and planes. Our friends’ daughter, who had been eagerly waiting for Maya, was awake at 4 am, waiting for us. Maya ate a little, hugged everyone and we all went to bed. The next morning, my friends’ daughter fed her a good breakfast and bathed her. Everyone was having a good time and I looked forward to an enjoyable vacation, one that matched my expectations. And then god said ha!
After her bath, Maya wanted to pee. As she was sitting on the toilet seat, she suddenly threw up. Within a few seconds, she had emptied her belly of all the food she had consumed the past eight hours or so. She seemed a little surprised and upset at vomiting, but otherwise seemed OK. I spent the next twenty minutes cleaning up the bathroom and washing her up.
I was not worried. A simple one-time vomit, I expected. It had happened before, when we first came to India and on returning to the US the last time. Both times, it had happened a few hours after the long flight. But this time, by the afternoon, she had vomited several times, about 20 minutes or so after she consumed anything, including water. So we decided to call my friend’s daughter’s pediatrician. He recommended a non-antibiotic anti-emetic. That helped stop the vomit, but she didn’t eat anything after the first episode of vomiting. Her energy level and spirits seemed normal however. With the jet lag, we both fell asleep by 7 pm. And then I awoke at 1 am to the dizziness and nausea.
The second day was just plain miserable. Maya’s travails continued as did mine. The misery began, just like the first day, soon after her bath.
I had decided to return a few days before the originally scheduled date. Shanthala was leaving for Houston to attend a conference the day of our original return. I didn’t want to miss her for another three days. I was on the phone with Cathay Pacific looking for an earlier return when Maya began to protest and demand that I put the phone down. I told her that it was important that I speak on the phone and went away. She was quiet for an instant or so it seemed to me, before she started calling for me again. I ignored her. A few minutes later, she came bawling. When I looked at her, she said that she had peed in her pants. Worse still, she had also defecated, unable to control her motion due to the severe diarrhea. I immediately whisked her to the nearest bathroom hoping no feces had dropped anywhere. I tried to complete the call as I tried to clean her up, making her wait by herself in the bathroom a few times. She was wailing her unhappiness and at being left alone, but what could I do ? I don’t know why I didn’t drop the call and pick it up later. Was I desperate to head back home sooner ?
I had to clean the bathroom, Maya and her clothes. I bathed her again and dressed her up again. She seemed in a better mood, but I was drained. To make matters worse, Maya was clingy and in a bad mood throughout the day, fussing over the smallest thing and uncooperative. She didn’t play well with my friends’ daughter or her friends. They all seemed quite understanding and willing to accommodate her, but she didn’t want to share toys, she didn’t want to take turns, and on and on. And each such episode started a crying jag that must’ve lasted a couple of minutes. With my own fatigue and illness, I was really frustrated and tired.
In the afternoon, I also had chills, sore throat and a headache. I gargled and got rid of the sore throat rather quickly. Two doses of Ibuprofen controlled the fever. But I was miserable and weak. I spoke to Shanthala’s mom and she asked us to start antibiotics to control our nausea and diarrhea. We both took our first dose and went to bed early again. I woke up around 1 am again, but this time with severe diarrhea. I couldn’t sleep much. Maya at least slept till about 4 am or so.
The next day seemed only a slight improvement over the first two days. Maya’s vomiting and loose motion had both stopped and her appetite seemed better. But my stomach still hurt and felt distended. I had no appetite. Another small blessing was that the cold and cough seemed a distant memory. We found that the cause of our misery might be a tiny leak in the water filter, causing a minuscule amount of unfiltered water to get mixed with the filtered water.
Finally, on the fourth day, we headed to my parents’ house. My father had sent a rather friendly gentleman named Elango to pick us up. He ran a concierge service in Hosur (the town nearest to my parents’ place), part of which was providing a taxi service. My father had requested him to come pick us up personally rather than have his regular taxi driver come pick us up. My father wanted to assuage any fears I might have had about going to a remote, unknown place with a stranger. And Elango proved to be an excellent choice.
We drove close to an hour along the highways that skirted the city now. The drive was smooth and almost congestion free. My spirits began to lift. This was such a difference from the constant stop-and-go traffic endemic to Bangalore now. But, as we approached Hosur, I asked Elango how much farther we had to go. He said we’d make the turn to my father’s place beyond Hosur. I was shocked. I was under the impression, the fault largely mine, that my father’s place was between Bangalore and Hosur, not beyond Hosur. I had hardly digested this information when we turned onto a narrow, rutted road. Its about 6 kms from here, Elango said. My heart sank. The road was untarred in places, a real village road in India. And we traveled for what seemed an interminable time before we arrived at my parents’ place.
The place felt desolate, far removed from civilization and its comforts. There was not a house in sight. I felt like I was on the moon. My parents were thrilled to see us, but I doubt my happiness showed. We ate lunch, with Maya chowing down my mom’s food with as much gusto as she normally did back in the US. I didn’t eat much. I tried to sleep a little. Maya had already slept on the way to my parents’ house and was not sleepy. But she was very cooperative and sat on the bed next to me, reading her books. I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned. How would I keep Maya occupied here ? How would I meet my friends ? How would I, how would I ? The questions strangled any sleep I had. For the first time in my life, coming to Bangalore didn’t feel like coming home. Hardly four days had passed since we had arrived in India and the trip already felt long. A long, strange trip.