Friday, August 01, 2008
The Perils of Old Age
Rukku patti is 80 years old. Her story is similar to some other aging people, but is also different in its own way. Her husband passed away a few years ago. From the time she got married as a young girl, she lived with her husband in some places in North India and eventually came back to Chennai. Her husband didn't earn a steady income due to lack of being in one job for a significant amount of time. As a result, she always had to manage with the meager earnings and did a commendable job running the household on that. Sadly, she and her husband didn't have any children. Over the years, one of her sisters who was wealthy enough to own a posh house in Chennai, allowed her and her husband to live in a small side portion of the house for free. The portion consisted of a small room with a small kitchen and a bathroom outside behind the well of the house. Rukku patti was a strong-willed woman, she was very religious, had her daily routine carved out (visiting the Mupathamma temple and reading Lalitha Sahasranamam were part of that routine) and was a good wife who cared for her husband taking care of him in his old days.
Rukku patti and her sister weren't always on the best of terms. It was always a challenge for the two old women to get along and each of them, though living without their husbands in the same house, but in different portions, lead their lives separately. Rukku patti's sister's son and his wife and daughter lived in their own house within the same compound wall behind their house. The sister's son and daughter-in-law took tremendous care of Rukku patti and also financially supported her. After the death of her husband a few years ago, her health started failing her slowly, but steadily. Several slips in the bathroom, tripping while walking etc. led to her being diagnosed as having acute osteoporosis which cannot be cured given her age. Her mobility was restricted to having a walker around the house. Her most recent fall in the bathroom, led her to the hospital where she has been for the past 20 days. She is unable to walk anymore. Her sister's son and daughter-in-law who are also older people in their 60's with their own health issues attended to her sanitary needs during this condition and literally took care of her like a child. There are adult diapers, each diaper costs Rs. 270 or more which are used, since even the hospital staff prefer to use this rather than having a bedpan and also given the patient's age and inability to hold. But, given all practical situations, she cannot function independently once she returns from the hospital and it has become most difficult for those around her to continue to help her on a daily basis with basic life functions.
As a result, her sister's son under who has become the primary caretaker consulted with her brothers who are also older people and the rest of her family and has decided to admit her in an old age home. The monthly expenses for the home will be paid primarily by the sister's son and the other family members will also pitch in. It is not an easy task finding an old age home in Chennai these days, most homes admit people with several conditions, one of them being, the person must be independently able to walk to the bathroom, dining area etc. It is so hard to get a hired helper to attend 24/7 on one aging adult, when they have a home full of old people in different stages and conditions. Not to mention that the monthly charges and non-refundable fees are also expensive and additional charges must be paid if a helper is needed.
Rukku paati will be going to a home several miles away from Tambaram on Monday. She is my paati's sister and my parents are the one who have been helping her. I talked to her on the phone at the hospital yesterday and she was courageous to tell me no to worry about her going to a home and fully believed that she is grateful for the support and help my parents have been doing for over the past 30 years and realizes that she can't be a burden to them anymore.
But, it is indeed sad for both my parents and me to see her go. She was part of the home I grew up in and often always had a quick hot tiffin for me in the afternoons and was another paati to me, though I call her Rukku chitti, just like my dad. She would never be without giving me some small money gift on special festivals and occasions telling me that this was what she could afford and I should save it up and buy one dress and tell her that i got a dress with the money she gave me. Sitting in a far away country, all I can do is to think about those memories and tell my dad that I too will help pitch in for her old age home costs, just like the rest of the family.
I only wish and pray that Rukku paati has a smooth transition and continues to live the rest of her life with the pride, strong-will and dignity that she always kept.