Mom said I was in the Intensive Care Unit for a day. Unfortunately, I have no memory of it. Just when I opened my eyes to discover a few nurses fussing over me, I was moved out to the ward. Too bad – I did not even get time to savour all the attention. The name itself makes one feel important, doesn’t it? Intensive Care Unit. I like the sound of it, though I don’t fancy its smell. The last time I was at the door of the ICU was when my Uncle was admitted. He died a few days later. No wonder I had a host of wide-eyed relatives around me when I woke up.
The doctor, when he came on his rounds, was kind – I had expected him to be harsh; rough, perhaps. But he was not. Maybe he had left all the spanking for later. Not that he is into spanking, though he sometimes looks at me as though his hands were itching for sharp contact. Mom was concerned of course, and ensured that my adventure was short-lived. She was in a hurry to bring me back home. When you are six years old, you don’t have much say in things. I can’t wait to be thirteen – teen world rocks. Not to mention an exciting adult life afterwards.
I heard him ask Mom about the events that led to my appearance at the ICU. She explained the build up to my forty-eight hour, almost-non-stop throwing-up programme. She made it sound very trivial, something one might even look forward to, whereas in truth it was everything but. I didn’t know that the whole body takes such an earnest part in the activity. Even my littlest finger did its share. I don’t know which part of me came up with the idea of a yellow liquid, maybe they wanted to make things a little colourful. Mom said it was called ‘bile’. She was scared when she saw it, and I thought I would die soon. I do not recall much after that, till I opened my eyes in the ICU.
I suddenly realised that the doc was giving Mom an earful about my allergies. “I have been warning you for two years. I am pretty sure this time he has had something his stomach doesn’t agree with. I can see no other reason. He has to throw up till the tiniest grain is expelled from his system.”
“But I did not give him anything, Doctor. However much he yearns for ice cream or curd, I deny it. Mercilessly.” Mom let out a sob at the word.
He turned to me. “What about you, young man? Did you have milk or milk products before this happened?”
There was only one correct answer. “No, Doctor.”
“Do you know that you are not supposed to have milk or curd? That your body is allergic to these?”
“Yes, Doctor.” I can be obedience personified when required. I doubt if the eyes that peered into me over the glasses fell for that act, though. I lowered mine.
The doctor continued to query Mom about items she has been feeding me with, hovering for long over the details of the take-away on Sunday night, even stuff she cooks our food with. She obliged, and went so far as to even name the brands of her chilli powder and cooking oil.
I would have liked to sit there swinging my legs, watching the grilling, but I was bound to the glucose bottle dangling upside down from the tall stand. Besides, I was still exhausted. The last time I found myself as close to this immobility was when I was grounded for throwing stones at the neighbour’s car window, but it wasn’t half as exciting as this. Wait till I show the needle mark to my friends! Even better, I would not have to go to school for at least a week. Mom always fell for theatrics.
The doctor, however, had other ideas. “Give him semi-solids now. Make him eat in small amounts. If he is all right, start solids in the morning. We can discharge him tomorrow if his body retains it. He can get back to school after a day.”
Mom went a step ahead in the conspiracy. “Let me take him home today, Doctor. I will give him solids and will let you know how he takes it. I don’t want my baby to be in hospital one more night.”
Horror of horrors! The doctor looked at Mom with eyes brimming over with compassion, reflected for a while and said, “All right. But bring him back at the slightest difficulty.” Mothers have all the pity in the world. I tell you, six year olds have a tough life.
“Efffff…,” I thought. It came out in a puff of air. I was not allowed to say the word aloud, though I often said it in my mind. It made me feel good. Mother looked daggers at me; she knew what it meant.
Mom and the Doctor were too distracted to notice me squirming in my seat when I answered his questions. Holding it in was too difficult. My inherent truthful, stupid self wanted to spill the whole story.
I was at my neighbour’s place on Sunday evening, supposedly playing with their kids. I do not know why, but my Mom often asks me to go ‘play’ with them, which is the masqueraded term for baby-sitting. Since Sheila Auntie’s twins started crawling last month, my job was to ensure that they do not climb up the walls and disentangle the fan or wires or something. They haven’t figured out their horizontals and verticals yet. I am not allowed to even contemplate a ‘No’ when Mom makes one of them demands. Did I tell you my life was hard?
Sheila Auntie sometimes offers me picture books to look at, which makes me feel like I was one of her babies. Picture books at my age? Lady, I know how to read. I can spell all the alphabets from one of your bulky magazines, upper and lower case. But I browse through them, because that’s what six year olds are supposed to do.
Anyway, as I was saying, on Sunday evening I was there, as usual. She was cooking, and asked me to keep an eye on the babies. An eye each it was, since they crawled in opposite ways, banging their heads on the table and chairs, and merrily unmindful of it. Their eagerness reminded me of the girl in class who always asked for extra homework. I was bored to despair, to say the least.
Sheila Auntie came in suddenly, and I pretended to be holding one of them crawlies and coaxing her to come back to the carpet from where she started.
“Would you like some milk?” she asked. I shook my head. I am allergic to milk, of course.
“Biscuits?” I shook my head again.
“Ice cream, maybe? I made some yesterday.”
Ice cream? Deep sigh. Does Sheila Auntie know? Is she testing me? Will she tell Mom? She looked innocent enough. I stole a glance at the window to see if Mom was spying.
Desire won over honesty. I blinked.
“Yes,” I said. “A little, please. Thank you, Auntie.”
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