Michelle Wallace and Urmilla Khanna
Created using Urmilla Khanna’s story (below) as inspiration
Power of Zero
By Urmilla Khanna
It was 2:30 in the afternoon. The senior resident walked into the room. A tall lanky looking fellow, he might have been 32 or 35 years old, clean-shaven with his hair over grown to his neck. He held Kris’s chart in his hand. As he walked in, he glanced at the nurse’s records that were charted on a sheet of paper taped to the door. There was a nod of satisfaction.
“No fever, pulse normal, and the blood pressure steady; that’s good.” He was saying to no one in particular. I was of course very relieved to hear those comments.
He pulled up a chair and sat down beside the bed.
“So you are Kri—shaan Ka-hanna?”
“Yes sir, th-th-they call me Kris” my husband replied in his usual Parkinsonian stutter.
“And you had surgery on your back yesterday. Is that correct?”
“Let us see…. you had a repair of the third, fourth, fifth Lumbar vertebrae”. He ran his ballpoint pen over the scribbled notes of the neurosurgeon. Then, dragging his words, he continued, “They also cleaned a portion of the out going nerve, L-4”. He was talking more to the chart than to any of us in the room.
“How are you feeling today?” Now he made eye contact with Kris as he spoke.
“Have you peed?”
“Have you been able to get out of bed and walk, even if it is with help? I don’t expect you to do any better; it is not quite 24 hours since you came out of surgery.”
“Yes sir, I walked in the corridor with the nurse’s help.”
“And what kind of a house do you have Mrs. Khanna?” The doctor was now looking at me. “Will he have to climb stairs?”
“I have a multi-level split.” I replied. “He will need to handle only five or six steps at a time.”
“I have walked the full flight of steps going up as well as coming down” my husband interjected, adding “with the nurse’s help of course.”
“And, I see here that you are on morphine drip?” the doctor continued as he shuffled through the pages of the chart.
“No I pulled out my IV. It was bothering me.”
“Morphine does not agree with my husband,” I explained. “It makes him very restless, almost delirious. He yanked his IV out as he was thrashing about. The nurse discontinued it awaiting further orders,” I said apologetically.
“Well Kris, on a scale of one to ten, one being no pain and ten being most severe, what would you say your pain would be?”
Kris’s answer was prompt and without hesitation. “Zero.”
“How can you say that? You had surgery yesterday. Besides the neurological pain from the nervous tissue being teased and dissected, there is always pain from the incision and the staples.”
My husband now sat up in bed and asked a question in reverse.
“What is your definition of pain, Doctor? In my opinion, pain is some sort of unpleasant, intolerable sensation. If I can tolerate that feeling whatever it might be, then I do not call it pain. So on a scale of one to ten, my pain is zero.” Without awaiting the doctor’s response he continued, “I can walk, I can climb stairs and I have peed. Now can you give me a release order? I wish to go home.”
“Oh, the pain will certainly get worse as the day goes by. It is not quite twenty-four hours since surgery. I suggest you stay at least another night in the hospital.”
“No, I wish to go home. I fulfill all the criteria for discharge, don’t I?”
When we had gone for our pre-op consultation, the neurosurgeon had gone over the details of the surgery. He had explained that most patients stay three days after such a procedure, and some, where there may have been unforeseen complications during or after the surgery, may need five or more days for recovery. I was optimistic and had prepared myself for at least a three-day hospital-stay. However, Kris was adamant about his demands for an early discharge. He felt he would get back to his routine sooner and manage his Parkinson’s medications much better at home than what the hospital staff was able to provide.
Without further discussion, the resident stepped out of the room, Kris’s records in hand. Walking up to the nurse’s station, he made a phone call presumably to the neurosurgeon. I stood at the doorway and tried to make sense of what might be transpiring between the resident and the surgeon. They exchanged a few words; the resident hung up the phone and wrote a discharge order allowing Kris to be released from the hospital.
Kris’s post-op. recovery was uneventful. Except for an occasional Advil, he did not take any pain medication.
Kris had Parkinson’s disease for over a decade. I often wonder where he got the strength to suffer through all the various symptoms of the disease without a whimper. There were times when I knew he was in tremendous pain. I could sense it, as I saw his calf muscles go into spasmodic contractions that lasted half hour or more. I could almost feel the pain in my own calves.
“Leave me alone,” he often said. “This won’t last for ever.”
Then he would close his eyes and lay back on his armchair. Slowly the furrows from his forehead evaporated and his facial muscles relaxed.
“My batteries have been recharged,” I heard a few minutes later.
On a scale of one to ten, his pain was always zero.
Inspiration piece provided to Urmilla Khanna
Idealism, realism, and the deep crevice of optimism
By Urmilla Khanna
Josephina snuggled up in her comforter, stuffed baby bunny in her arms. Moonlight angling through the part-open window made erratic prismatic patterns across her bed. Soft prints of bunnies and florals stood out in bold relief against the raggedy worn-out background of the comforter. Summer breeze stirred the pastel sheers on the window back and forth just ever so slightly. She cuddled against the softness of her bunny and her comforter, yawning to fight sleep.
Rabbits began to wander all around her room, the baby bunnies staying close to mama and taking tiny bites off the florals.
Her lips quivered as though they were making incomplete sentences. She smiled.
She tiptoed to her closet and reached for the pink wonder-dress. The sequence on the skirt dazzled like little stars in the moonshine. The blouse was made of pinks and gold. She slowly slipped into her wonder-clothes. Holding the magic wand in her hand, she stepped out of her room.
The moon lay low in the sky, casting long westward shadows. The trees were dark and elongated. She herself was distorted into one long shape. She walked down the steps of her cottage and on to the magic path. As long as she stayed on the glazen path she will be safe and will be able to unfold her dreams. Prince Charming will await her in the castle yonder.
She walked and walked until she was tired. She stopped and looked at her shadow. Her disheveled and windswept hair made gigantic patterns on the grey-green grass. She sat on a little wooden bench beside the little wooden bridge and examined her aching feet. They were tired and they were callused. She rubbed the calluses and her feet felt better. She could go on. She did not have too much farther to go. Prince Charming would surely be waiting for her. All she needed was a little determination.
She stood up and stretched her arms as far out as she could. The magic wand almost touched the gates of the castle. A few more steps and the castle gates would open. She began to walk briskly.
With every step she took, the castle moved an inch farther. She reached to touch the horizon. She could not touch it either. That too had moved just an inch or two away. She could smell the daffodils and the early blooming roses in the garden. She could see the dim lights in the upper windows of the castle.
She walked a little farther.
She tripped on a tiny pebble.
She sat up in bed. She rubbed her eyes. She heard the clock strike twelve.
She had traveled from idealism to optimism to realism.
She wiped the tears that had collected in the wells of her eyes.
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