‘The cat with nine lives is waiting to go back to work’

Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh
Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh

I am a cat with nine lives. Of the nine, I have completed seven. I have come back from the point of death seven times. It does make me feel like an immortal, someone who could not die.

I am 44 now, and my most significant memories are of illnesses right from the age of two. As much as I remember the horror of going through one ailment after the other, I also look back at my childhood, my time spent with my brothers, sister and cousins with fondness. My parents, mother in particular, has ensured that I look back in wonder.

Every parent has an idea about how to bring up his or her child. So did my parents, even though they had a very different approach towards my upbringing. On one hand, my father was pragmatic and wanted me to make my own decisions, small or big. He never told us what to do or how to do things. His only advice was, “Don’t worry about things you can’t change.” My mother, on the other hand, wanted us to “count our blessings” and never “complain”. There are always people who are much worse off than you are, she would remind me every time I was distressed. A lesson I have never forgotten.

The most significant part of growing up with my mother was her determination that I would not die. Her singular focus was to treat me like a normal child, someone who would never have to feel sorry about herself. She often pushed me to do things that my sister and brothers would do regardless of my frequent tryst with illnesses. No special concessions just because I wasn’t well.

When a child has diarrhoea 25 times a day for years, she doesn’t grow much and often looks like she is not just going to pass out but pass on. And when the same child goes to school, she learns to live with the humiliation of sometimes dirtying herself. She learns to run from classroom and playground to the toilet.

Following my mother’s instructions, I forced myself to believe I was normal. I learnt to play at school with friends. Back home, I began to play in the garden with my cousins and family. We played hopscotch, rode swings, played with chicks, goats and cows since we did not have toys. I learnt to fish and pluck feathers from the very ducks I ate. This lent a certain normalcy to my childhood.

With time, my family, too, developed a sense of humour about my condition. They learnt to laugh at me, and laugh with me because every time I fell sick, it turned into a high drama for the whole extended family. For instance, I had an appendix surgery and our relatives were ready for the funeral by the second day.

At the age of 17, the gastroenterologist warned me that I would need a liver transplant in the next 15-20 years. I went through college, an MBA, work, marriage and having a child, determined not to worry about the future. I couldn’t stay in a hospital bed for 15 years waiting for the tragedy to strike me. At the age of 33, I had the cadaveric transplant. And by the time, I was 39, doctors told me that I might just have colon cancer. I am still living in the belief that I won’t have to remove the colon.

Over the last year alone, I have had a brain clot and a brain surgery. A part of my cranium was carefully kept in a container in the hospital for a year before it was put back and as this piece goes to press I am in a wheelchair after a seizure that caused a muscular damage and led to a fractured arm. The hepatologist now thinks I will need another liver transplant in a few years.

Never a dull moment so to speak. But the cat with nine lives continues and is waiting to go back to work.


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