By Nishi Pulugurtha
One day in the month of November, some years ago, Amma closed all the doors and windows in our apartment and went out. It must have been after 9 in the morning. That was the time I left home for work. There was nothing amiss about this. Amma often went out after I left for work. She went to the local shop for groceries, to buy vegetables and even to the bank. That day, however, was different. She did not come home that day and we had no clue as to her whereabouts. At about 3 pm, after frantic calls home, calls to the neighbours to look up, I got home. There was no sign of her anywhere. I looked up places she went to and asked about in our locality. No one had any clue about her. We did find her 48 hours after she had left home.
Till date I have no idea as to how she went there, how long she had been there at the place where we found her, what she had eaten, nothing absolutely. We were sure about one thing that she had walked a lot because her legs were aching terribly. That was the only thing she complained about. It took her a couple of days to be alright.
Diagnostic tests followed neuro-psychological testing and visits to the doctor continued till the diagnosis. Alzheimer’s Disease, it was, we were told. Amma could not be left alone at home. She needed constant supervision. She had this tendency to wander off and then forget where she was. Hence, the door had to be kept locked always and the keys were to be kept out of her reach. We had to allow her to do whatever she wanted, except being careful so that she did not wander off. The biggest problem was convincing the carer at home about this.
Apparently nothing seemed wrong with Amma. She did have hallucinations, kept saying the same thing over, but she continued doing all the ordinary things. Amma did not like having someone in the house always, more so because the carer now had the keys to the house. There were times when she got angry with the carer and even tried to snatch the keys away by force. She liked walking in the compound around the apartment and the carer was asked to be with her. I remember getting one frantic call from the carer when Amma dashed off just as the carer was closing the door of the apartment. She and Amma were going out to take a walk. She had no clue which direction Amma went off. But then, thankfully, as she was looking around, she saw Amma coming back. A call from home caused immense panic and made me worry that something was amiss.
I took Amma out. We went shopping, to the movies, and to eat out. In all cases, I had to hold her hand and be very careful. Once I, my sister, my nephew took Amma to Dakshinapan. Amma liked going there. Since her diagnosis, this was one place where I felt it was easy moving about with her as this was an enclosed space. As we went into an emporium, my nephew started playing in front; my sister and I were looking at stuff. Suddenly we looked around and Amma was nowhere to be seen. We jumped up and ran out of the shop to see Amma climbing up the stairs just beside the store. Thankfully she did not venture off far. Incidents like these made me more and more wary. This was a difficult situation to handle. We needed to let her do things she liked doing. At the same time, we ran a risk too. With her around, I had to be on my toes always.
The following summer, on Amma’s birthday, her younger sister visited us. All of us went out to celebrate her birthday at one of Amma’s favourite restaurants. After dinner, we moved downstairs in the same building to pick up a cake. As we stood there deciding on the cake, Amma, who was standing with her sister, suddenly walked away. It took my aunt some time to figure it out. As we rushed out, my first instinct told me that she must have walked out. As we frantically looked for her here and there, I noticed Amma on the escalator within the building, moving upstairs to a higher floor. I rushed to catch up with her. Amma had turned around after she reached the second floor. Looking back, she saw no one. She looked lost. We got back home and realised she was traumatised when she turned back and saw none of us. She was quiet for a long time and went to sleep early.
In spite of such incidents, I did take Amma out. I just had to be extremely careful. I made sure she had an identity card strung around her neck and a mobile too. I accompanied her on long trips to Tirupati with my sister and her family, to Hyderabad so that she could be with her sisters and other relatives, and to Roorkee to be with my sister and her family. It was not only difficult taking her out, it was scary, too. I needed to be always careful. There were times when I walked with my hand across her shoulder. At home, I slept with the house-keys inside my pillow case. I was scared to let them out anywhere else. The house was always kept locked. A door to Amma was just a passage out she look for. When she saw one, she had to use it.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor, Department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College, Kolkata. She is an academic with varied interests and writes on travel, too. Twitter: @nishipulu
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