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Cultivate bedside manners

It’s been five days since Dad’s been home. He’s getting better each day, slowly but steadily. He still needs assistance with functions of the throat, so a feeding tube and tracheostomy tube is in place to help with his eating and breathing. Naturally, artificial agents cause irritation and Dad needs help to adjust to them. Recurrent coughing and phlegm generation are part of his routine now and so is a two-hourly nutrient rich liquid diet. This has mostly restricted him to his bedroom, though he does take regular walks around the house. The week long stay at the hospital helped him recuperate but he needs more strength.

In the middle of all of this, Dad has really felt down and often fatigued by the recurrence of the disease and his incapability to control his body. He’s felt cheated, defeated and often let down by the way life has treated him. And that has shown on his face so often. A constant frown in his sleep, a sad face while dozing off under the influence of IV fluids, teary eyes as his elders approach him and recite prayers around him, staring blankly at the ceiling; all have been indications of his state of mind. The constant presence of the disease in his body has affected him physically, but above all has now started influencing him mentally. So when, someone comes to see him and tell him that he’s going to be fit and healthy in no time, it rings hollow. He can see through the lies and naked optimism, and merely respond with a weak smile.

So how does one enable Dad to think beyond the negativity? I believe one thing that has helped him look through the clouds, is a convincing bedside talk. Rather than saying, “you’ll be better in no time”, or “you will be soon be travelling to the States to meet extended family,” etc etc, tell him that he has the capacity to regain nourishment and live a healthier life. Though optimistic discussions liven up the room, they do not really echo conviction, not all the time. However, what is more convincing are real observations on Dad’s improvement. Discussions which enable Dad to really see himself in a better light, and know that he is improving. He needs to understand that if he follows Doctor’s advice, he will feel better.

People should come and say, “good, you’re coughing so well on your own, so you keep your air tract and lungs fully functional,” instead of giving worrying looks as he coughs the phlegm out. People should applaud his getting up on his own and walking small steps, rather than ask him how much does he walk daily. Visitors should acknowledge his obvious irritation, and encourage that behaviour as a sign of alertness. Don’t tell him his coughing will reduce, tell him, he’ll develop the strength to withstand the coughs instead. Don’t tell him that soon he’ll be off medication, but give a clear picture that slowly, these doses will reduce, and he’ll be less reliant on medication. When he looks apologetic for throwing out phlegm, tell him he’s managed to clean his lungs without assistance. When he’s close to tears over excessive fatigue, tell him it’s a matter of a few days and each meal is a step towards him regaining strength. Bit by bit, he needs to see himself in better shape.

In the last fourteen days since Dad’s surgery that’s what I’ve observed, that practical and honest messages have worked much better than false positives. Of course, that does not mean giving brutal information about the disease, that it is still there, indicating a larger source of worry. He knows that already. Repeating such information will not shrink the tumor, but acknowledging his progress with each passing day, will make him stronger to tackle the cancer inside.

Image credit — Google images.

Hi, I’m Mariyam, thank you for reading my post. This is part of my series on finding positivity and decoding the ‘be positive’ attitude as my father fights through aggressive oral cancer.

If you liked it, you can read other posts on

You can also follow me on twitter @MariyamRaza for more. Much love 🙂

Mariyam Raza Haider

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A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer and performance poet in Singapore.
She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree.
Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.

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