Lose a loved one – gain respect for another one


 It’s 9:02 p.m. on Oct. 18. I’m baking chocolate chip banana muffins for my journalism class, my mom’s cleaning the kitchen and my dad’s watching a documentary about the Obamas. Then the phone rings, and the room goes completely silent.

  A few months ago, my great aunt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. To me, she was Badi Ammi, which means “older grandmother” in Hindi. To everybody else, she was the strong, independent woman with an unbeatable memory. She could remember everybody in the family’s birthdays, when they graduated college and any date you can think of. I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night.

  When I first heard about her diagnosis, I didn’t know what to make of it; I didn’t know that 80 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive less than a year after the diagnosis.

  Our family is extremely close-knit, and whenever a relative is severely ill, it takes a toll on all of us. Luckily, I was able to visit her at the Fremont Kaiser hospital and later at her home a few days before her death.

  Seeing how carefully and thoughtfully she was attended to in the hospital increased my respect for doctors and medical researchers, toiling away day and night in search of a cure for cancer. Thanks to the wonderful team of doctors and nurses who attended to Badi Ammi 24/7 before her death, she passed away comfortably in her own home, surrounded by her loved ones.

    My respect for medical staffers is quite biased – my dad is a cancer surgeon. Not only is he one of the only doctors in his specialty, but he happens to also be the only doctor in the family, which means everybody turns to him with their latest CAT scans or blood pressure reports. It also means that he has to be the voice of reason among optimistic relatives hoping for a miracle for Badi Ammi.     

  As much as he wanted to have high hopes for her, doctors are cursed with the ability to see farther into the future than even they sometimes desire, and my dad felt it was his duty to be the bearer of bad news.

  I can’t begin to imagine having to always be the strong, rational thinker in medical emergencies like these. It’s hard enough to tell a patient’s family they’re going to lose a loved one, but when that patient is your family …

  I know getting that call must have been devastating for my father, who loved and cared for his aunt dearly, but, as the calm and composed man that he is, he simply hung up the phone, turned to me and said, “She’s gone.”

  We sat in silence for about 10 minutes, not knowing what to say or do. I was half-heartedly pouring the muffin batter into cupcake liners, stifling tears and sniffles. Yes, it was a sad day, and yes, it was unfair for cancer to take her so early in her life, but it’s thanks to hardworking doctors and medical staff like my dad that she was able to live as long as she did.    

  Some of my friends rant about how heartless and unfeeling doctors are, but I could never be more grateful for the care those Kaiser employees showed Badi Ammi, and I could never be more proud to be Dr. Vikas Mahavni’s daughter.