"Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them."
- George Eliot.
In my previous post, I wrote about how I spent New Year's Eve with Lalani in a hospital. Lalani's mom, Nu Mahlimi, had mild ulcers in her mouth and complained of a headache on December 26th, and so they admitted her at Aizawl Hospital that same day.
Lalani and I dined together at the restaurant opposite the hospital on New Year's Eve, joking about how romantic our last dinner of the year 2020 was, and we were all in quite a positive mood because we thought her mom would recover and be discharged soon.
Unfortunately, things spiralled down very quickly, and on the morning of 8th Jan, Nu Mahlimi was shifted to the ICU. And then on 14th January, 11:26 PM, she left us.
Just like that, she was no longer with us.
I still find it so hard to believe how everything unfurled so quickly, how the past one month, especially the last 3 weeks, went by like a convoluted nightmare of continuous vigil and trepidation, making us lose our sense of time and reality. Just imagine how shocking the news of her sad demise would be for anyone because it all started with just a headache.
Nu Mahlimi was extremely missed by everyone, as was evident from the turnout at her funeral and the daily visits from many well-wishers, both at the hospital and later at their house.
If I was to say I had shared many great moments with Nu Mahlimi, I would be lying, because I had met her three times before she was admitted in the hospital. But those three moments were more than enough for me to form such a close bond with her.
Lalani reached Mizoram on the 16th of December and was Home Quarantined immediately. I visited her house on the 18th and met Nu Mahlimi for the first time as I introduced myself and gave her some pastries to give to Lalani. She teased me a bit. :)
And of course she already knew about me from her daily long phone calls with Lalani. We didn't talk much though, as I was still kinda shy about meeting the mother of my girlfriend for the first time, especially since Lalani wasn't around because she was locked-up inside her room upstairs due to her quarantine.
And then on 23rd December I went to Lalani's house again, straight from our farm, taking with me fresh mustard leaves and squashes. I met Nu Mahlimi for the second time and instructed her to make the vegetables for Lalani that very night, and to boil the squash with extra care and love. She said she would definitely do that, and we laughed together, catching each other's humour immediately. I was a lot more comfortable than the first time I met her.
On 24th December, Lalani received the message that her RT-PCR sample was negative. She came dancing out of her quarantine room and hugged her mom. That night, she had dinner with her family for the first time since returning home. The next day, Christmas, as I mentioned on this blog update, I booked a cab from our farm to spend the day with Lalani.
That day, I met Nu Mahlimi for the third time. We sat together and had a great conversation, talking about a variety of topics as well as stupid jokes here and there. Lalani even gave her a small piece of the cheese cake I brought with me, as she couldn't eat a large piece due to her diabetes.
As the day began to wane, I bid farewell to Lalani and Nu Mahlimi because I had to head back to our farm at Neihbawih. Nu Mahlimi invited me to stay for dinner, but my family had already invited important people from Neihbawih for Christmas dinner at our farm, and it was crucial for me to be present there. If ONLY I knew that would be the last time I see Nu Mahlimi well and healthy again, I would have gladly accepted her invitation!
Whenever tragedy strikes, we are always haunted by "If only's". If only I had done that or if only I had said that... It is our process of expressing regret and remorse. And to me, thinking about that moment was, and will always be, utmost regretful. If only I had accepted that dinner invitation, I would have eaten with Nu Mahlimi at least once before she departed forever. :(
But even though I had met Nu Mahlimi only three times before she was hospitalized, I felt like I had already known her for a long time. Ever since Lalani and I started speaking to each other, she would always tell me everything about her mother, including all the corny jokes she used to crack. Nu Mahlimi was not just Lalani's mother but her best friend and closest confidant as well. Lalani said our humour lameness levels were exactly the same and that I was more apt to be her son than her three actual children. :D
I was really looking forward to getting to know her better and hanging out with her as I knew it was going to be so much fun... Sadly...
Here's a short account of the events leading up to her sad demise. This was a very difficult and painful post for me to write, especially since I had to relive those memories again, but I owe it to Lalani and her brothers to immortalize the last few days of Nu Mahlimi forever. "Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them."
26th December, 2020.
On the morning of 26th December, while I was packing up at our farm to head back to Aizawl, Lalani messaged me that her brother, Tesawma, was taking her mom to the hospital for a check-up because she had mild ulcers in her mouth and was complaining of a headache. We were just slightly concerned back then, and Lalani was getting ready to visit the Vety campus at Selesih. We were planning to meet up later that day once both of us had returned to Aizawl.
But when Tesawma and Nu Mahlimi returned home from the hospital with news that they had to do a few more tests including a CT Scan, Lalani cancelled her plan of going to Selesih and they all went back to the hospital. It was then that they decided to admit Nu Mahlimi for a few days. Nu Mahlimi was put on IV once admitted. She had her favourite water bottle with her, that she cutely nick-named "tuite".
Meanwhile our family had reached home from our farm, and I left for the hospital immediately. However, on the way, Lalani told me she was with her mom inside their cabin and that the hospital was extremely strict due to CoVid-19 so nobody was allowed inside. Instead, she told me to go to their house directly and help her brother carry their stuff back to hospital as he was staying with Nu Mahlimi for the night.
Back at their house, I helped around as much as I could, and then Tesawma and I went back to the hospital on their scooty, along with all the bedding materials and tiffins. Even at the hospital, Tesawma wasn't allowed to enter inside, and it was only when Lalani came outside that he was allowed to go inside and replace her.
Lalani then drove me back to their house on the same scooty, while picking up dinner from Heman's restaurant on the way, and it was such a coincidence that his sister, Tinie Thapa, happened to be Lalani's close friend. Once we had dinner, it was almost curfew time and there weren't any taxis at Khatla kawn, so Lalani dropped me home on her scooty. :D
27th December, 2020.
27th was a Sunday, so I stayed at home because of the curfew. Lalani went to the hospital and relieved her brother. Later she told me that they had to do an MRI the next day as Nu Mahlimi was vomiting and couldn't eat any solid food. Since Aizawl Hospital didn't have an MRI machine, they had to do it at Ebenezer Hospital. I wanted to help as much as I could. I was supposed to go back to our farm the next morning with mom, but mom told me she'd go with the driver alone and send the car back for me later.
Lalani stayed at the hospital that night with her mom, and had waiwai for dinner from a very cute tiffin box.
28th December, 2020.
On 28th morning, I reached Ebenezer Hospital and waited outside at the parking lot with Tesawma and his friend Mapuia. Only Lalani was allowed to enter the hospital with her mom. Once they were done with the MRI, Lalani came outside wheeling Nu Mahlimi in a wheelchair. Mapuia drove his car to the hospital entrance and we helped Nu Mahlimi sit inside.
That was the first time I saw Nu Mahlimi again since Christmas, and it shocked me so much to see how different she was from the lively and laughing self earlier! I mean, Lalani had been updating me about her deteriorating condition and I should have expected to see her like that, but being told about it and seeing it is two completely different things.
Mapuia drove us back to Aizawl Hospital, and he had to slow down because poor Nu Mahlimi kept vomiting on the way. Back at Aizawl Hospital, again, only Tesawma was allowed to enter with Nu Mahlimi. We said our goodbyes and Mapuia dropped us at Lalani's house, as he lived close by. Lalani and I had coffee, talked for a few more hours, and once I was sure everything was ok with her, Zorema came and picked me up, and we headed straight to the farm.
29th and 30th December, 2020.
I was busy for the next 2 days working at our farm, but I was in continuous contact with Lalani as she updated me with all the news and changes about her mom. Nu Mahlimi had a visit from an ENT specialist as well, and she was prescribed some nasal drops. Her MRI result came out and they detected an inflammation in her head, which explained the headache and numbness on the right side of her face.
Lalani's cousin Baby-i came and stayed with Nu Mahlimi while she and her brother went out to do other tasks.
Lalani insisted on sleeping with her mom on the same bed during the night and Nu Mahlimi told her, "The nurses don't allow that, if they come inside the room, just make sure you spring yourself out of the bed immediately!" :D Awwee that was super adorable.
31st December, 2020.
On the last day of 2020, Nu Mahlimi's headache still hadn't subsided and she was weaker than before. They needed to get an endoscopy done but the facility wasn't available on that particular day at Aizawl Hospital. They called up Ebenezer Hospital only to be told that the endoscopy department would be closed till Jan 3rd and all the other hospitals were too far away for them to approach, especially with Nu Mahlimi's condition, and so Aizawl Hospital opened their facility just for them. Her endoscopy result revealed that her stomach linings were sore and she was given medications for that immediately.
I too left our farm and reached home by 9 AM, quickly showered and left for Lalani's house. From there, we took all the necessary things required and left for the hospital. At the hospital, since Lalani and I were carrying a lot of items and probably because there was a memorial service for Dr. Laltanpuia (such a sad, tragic incident) held at the hospital hall, the nurses allowed both of us to enter inside.
I saw an extremely weakened Nu Mahlimi and my heart melted. I did take a couple of photos of her with Lalani and Tesawma, but I won't be posting those on my blog, out of respect for the family.
For the rest of the details on how Lalani and I spent New Year's Eve, you can read my previous blog update.
1st January, 2021.
On the first day of the year 2021, we started the year quite confusingly - Lalani stood at Khatla kawn by herself with a list of items to buy, scratching her head because there wasn't a single shop open in sight, while I stood at Dawrkawn scratching my head because there wasn't a single taxi in sight. Ahhh New Year's Day in Mizoram, lolz.
I walked for a bit and finally saw an empty taxi at Chanmari. Nu Mahlimi had an appointment with the Eye OPD and had to be carried on a stretcher. Since it was New Year's Day, the hospital could be short on staff. When I reached the hospital and was stopped at the entrance by the nurses on duty, I told them I was there to carry a patient to the OPD, and so they allowed me to enter. :D
Later the doctor informed us that Nu Mahlimi would require blood plasma to increase her platelet count in order to do a few more tests, and so Aizawl Hospital staff gave us this square ice-box thingie along with a permit slip and told us to get the blood from Civil Hospital. Tesawma and I went to the "Blood Bank" of Civil Hospital, and the entire building was eerily deserted.
The lone attendant (who must have pulled the short straw to be on duty on New Year's Day) took our slip and disappeared behind the counter for a couple of minutes, only to reappear and tell us that A+ blood wasn't available! I was a bit frustrated because we could have avoided all that unnecessary errand had the hospital staff just called up the Blood Bank and asked if such a blood group was available or not before sending us on a wild goose chase.
Perhaps the silver lining was that Tesawma dropped me home after that, as there were no taxis that day.
2nd January, 2021.
Lalani and Tesawma took Nu Mahlimi to Trinity Hospital for another MRI and got back to Aizawl Hospital at 1 in the afternoon. There weren't any signs of improvement.
I reached their house at 3 and Lalani deserved to unwind and relax after such a hectic week, and so we watched "The Croods 2" together. It felt so relieving to watch her laugh again after a long time.
Later in the evening, Lalani dropped me at Arie's house, where she hung out with her favourite god-daughter for some time before heading home.
3rd January, 2021.
Sunday, curfew day, so I stayed at home. Lalani went to the hospital and relieved her brother. Nu Mahlimi's second MRI result came out and they detected a vein blockage in her brain, which was causing the headache and nerve paralysis on her face, mouth and eyelids. A little sooner and it could have led to a stroke!
But they also received the good news from the hospital administration that two people were allowed to stay with Nu Mahlimi from that day onwards, due to her serious condition and that it was also difficult for just one person to help her go to the bathroom because of the IVs.
Lalani's cousin Dadini stayed with them during the day and Baby-i replaced her later to stay with Lalani for the night. She apparently came into the cabin with her entire trekking mattress and outdoor gear. :D Jokes aside though, Baby-i stayed up the entire night sitting next to Nu Mahlimi's bed as she couldn't fall off to sleep knowing her aunt was like that.
4th January, 2021.
Monday, blood transfusion day. Right from the beginning of the day, people got into action immediately. Natalia was busy rounding off selected people to donate their blood, while Tesawma was in charge of logistics and planning, and at Civil Hospital Zaii was coordinating the blood donation and plasma processing. The team effort ensured that everything went off smoothly.
The Blood Bank too was swarmed with different activities, in contrast to the empty corridors just two days earlier.
Back at our home too, my mom went to the farm with my niece Mamuani (instead of me) while my sister prepared a hot home-cooked meal for Lalani. Once her tiffin was ready, I rushed to the hospital immediately. I was stopped at the hospital entrance but I told them I had to help out Nu Mahlimi with her blood transfusion, and they allowed me to enter.
Nu Mahlimi's cabin had an unusual heavy traffic as well, with Tesawma and Natalia returning with the blood work, nurses rushing in every 2 minutes to hang new plasma drip, Nu Mahlimi's mom cuddling her on the bed, Wilfred and Mapuii running errands, Nanuii and Tluangtea doing whatever was needful, Lalani's uncle and aunt assisting in whatever way they could, me trying my best to be useful but the only task I could find was spray the toilet seat with disinfectant whenever Nu Mahlimi had to go to the loo. :D And in the midst of all the chaos, the resident deacon came and prayed, which really calmed everybody down.
Finally one of the senior nurses barged into the cabin and chased all of us outside. :D
5th January, 2021.
On 5th morning, I had to head back to our farm as we had a family dinner planned there. The sad part was that Lalani was invited and my cousins were really looking forward to meeting her, but this plan was made before her mom was hospitalized, and everybody understood why she couldn't make it.
Back at the hospital, Lalani's friend LṬi, a physiotherapist, visited and gave Nu Mahlimi some therapy, and surprisingly she was able to drink liquid food with more ease after that.
Tluangtea, one of Nu Mahlimi's favourite nephews, stayed with Lalani at the hospital that night.
6th and 7th January, 2021.
Zira, the youngest sibling, landed in Mizoram on the 6th, after taking a direct flight from Delhi, and was Home Quarantined immediately. Since Nu Mahlimi wasn't showing any signs of improvement even after 10 days, Lalani and Tesawma decided it was best for Zira to come home. His manager understood the situation and granted him leave immediately.
Nu Mahlimi was in pain and had difficulty in sleeping, and so they administered sedatives to her at 9:30 PM and again at 4:15 AM on the 7th of January. She managed to sleep for an hour or so. In the morning, Lalani took her for a stroll on her wheelchair, and Nu Mahlimi could see her parent's house, the house that she grew up in, on the other side of the hill. This is one of the most touching photos I have ever seen. :'(
Nu Mahlimi had to do a few more tests, including a biopsy, since the doctors still couldn't pinpoint her exact ailment, and so she required more plasma to increase her platelet count for those tests. Natalia, Zaii, Tesawma etc got into action once again. Meanwhile Lalani's friends made sure she was well fed so that she would have the energy to continue taking care of her mother. Like, this was one of the tiffins her friend Mimi got for her that night.
Even after the plasma drips, Nu Mahlimi was extremely weak. However, she was happy that Zira was finally home and she kept telling the nurses who came to administer her drips about how much she was looking forward to seeing her baby son once again.
That night, it was really difficult to sleep...
8th January, 2021.
This was the fateful day things turned for the worse. At 4 in the morning, Nu Mahlimi was finding it difficult to breathe and she was administered oxygen. But with no signs of improvement, they wheeled her into the ICU at 10 AM.
As soon as I heard the news, I called up my friend Chhana from "TBC Car Rentals" and he despatched a vehicle for me immediately, as it would take some more time for our driver to get ready and pick me up from our farm. On the way, Lalani sent me a list of items that was required for the ICU.
Luckily for me, I was able to buy all the items from three shops situated next to each other at Chanmari and gave it to Lalani the moment I reached Aizawl Hospital. She in turn handed them over to a nurse.
The scene at the ICU was a bit different than the cabin scene. Nobody was allowed to stay in the corridor outside the ICU because of CoVid-19, and so we all stood outside the hospital. Later a nurse came and told us that we couldn't stand there either.
Since there was nothing much any of us could do except wait, Lalani's uncles told everyone to go home and pray. Lalani and Tesawma too really needed to take rest as they hadn't slept the previous night.
People started leaving one by one, and I still had the car I hired with me, so Lalani and I were supposed to follow the others in that. But... at 3:45 PM, just as her brother and cousins left the hospital gate and my driver was about to reach a few seconds later, Lalani received a call from the ICU, summoning her.
I waited a bit and then at 4:07 PM, I received a call from a crying Lalani, asking me if I could come down to the ICU because her mom had just crashed! All her family members had already left the hospital and I was the only one there. I pleaded with the two nurses on duty to allow me to go inside but they were unmoved, until I explained how much she was crying. Finally, they allowed me to enter and I ran downstairs to the ICU floor.
Now... When Lalani called and asked me if I could come down to the ICU, what she actually meant was if I could wait for her at the corridor outside the ICU so that I would be there to console her if the worst happened. I... didn't know that. I ran down to the ICU floor, darted into the ICU section, saw all the shoes kept on the shelf so I kicked open my shoes and entered the main ICU with just my socks on, partially sliding. The nurses and doctors on duty stared at me like they just saw a ghost. I saw Lalani standing next to Nu Mahlimi and approached her immediately. As I kept my arms around her, Lalani too was startled to see me inside the ICU.
Apparently, the doctors and nurses were able to revive and stabilize Nu Mahlimi after she had coded, and they suspected it was due to the ventilator insertion which drastically lowered her BP. After some time, the doctor asked me to leave the ICU and I waited for Lalani outside.
Relatives and friends returned to the hospital and everybody waited outside.
The good news was that Zira, who was granted an "emergency protocol" by the health department was tested and cleared, so he left his quarantine room and joined us at the hospital. However, hospitals didn't come under the same protocol so he still wasn't allowed to enter the ICU to see his mom. But it was still much better to have him at the hospital premises with his relatives around him rather than him staying all alone at his quarantine room.
We spent the night waiting at the hospital, and there were no further unpleasant news about Nu Mahlimi.
9th January, 2021.
Lalani's uncle left his Bolero in the hospital parking lot, and those who were staying over at the hospital sat (and slept) inside that vehicle, since we weren't allowed to wait inside the hospital and it was too cold to stay vigil outside the gate.
So it was very refreshing to take that first sip of coffee and freshly cooked paratha at the break of dawn from "Bamboo Cave Eatery" restaurant opposite the hospital gate.
As soon as it was office hours, Lalani and I went to Civil Hospital to get more blood plasma, while Tesawma and Tluangtea went to Durtlang Hospital to do the same. Even though Nu Mahlimi was in the ICU, she still required more platelet count to do further tests.
The rest of the day went by in full swing with many many many friends and well-wishers visiting the hospital.
There wasn't really much anything else to do at the hospital while waiting for an update from the ICU.
Zira and his cousins stayed inside the Bolero again during the night, while the rest of us went home just before curfew time, as we needed to take rest and re-energize ourselves.
10th January, 2021.
10th was a Sunday, which was again a curfew day in Mizoram. Arie and I walked from Chaltlang to Khatla to visit Aizawl Hospital. The streets were all empty because of the curfew.
Arie was so tired and famished by the time we reached the hospital that she ate up all the cheese cake and other snacks people had bought for Lalani and her brothers. :D
At around 6 in the evening, Lalani and I found a vehicle for Arie that had a permit to ply on a Sunday. I decided to stay at the hospital for the night with Lalani, Zotea and Baby-i, while the rest of the people went home. Some of you might be thinking that sitting and sleeping inside a Bolero would be uncomfortable and difficult to doze off, but believe me, once you are completely exhausted, sleep will overwhelm you in no time.
11th, 12th and 13th January, 2021.
The next three days went off in a similar pattern. Nu Mahlimi was put on dialysis and every time they removed the dialysis, there was a slight drop in her BP, which went up again a little bit later. Likewise her fever too went a little bit up and then reduced again once medicated. Her creatinine and urea level were also fluctuating between high and normal.
Even though her condition wasn't deteriorating, which was a good sign, it was also worrying that she wasn't improving much either. And the most concerning issue was that the doctors still hadn't figured out what was wrong with her. The doctors had done a biopsy and the result was expected to come out the next day.
During those three days, every night, YMA members of Bungkawng Vengthar turned up at the hospital, ready to do the needful immediately in case anything went wrong. It was so heart-warming to see such a large turn-out and it was the perfect example of our Mizo tlawmngaihna.
14th January, 2021.
This was the day none of us would ever forget. :(
We learnt early in the morning that the Trucut needle sample they had taken for Nu Mahlimi's biopsy was inadequate for opinion. To form a better and more precise opinion, they needed to take a whole intact lymph node for excision biopsy which would enable them to do ancillary tests as well.
By afternoon, Nu Mahlimi's platelet count was high enough, so they wheeled her into the OT for yet another biopsy. We were all extremely positive because a few days ago when they had to put Nu Mahlimi on dialysis, Tesawma had to sign a consent form first. That day, it wasn't required to do so for the operation, and so we assumed the medical staffs were confident enough that it wasn't going to be serious.
The operation too went off successfully. We were informed from the ICU that Nu Mahlimi was back inside and that all her vital stats were stable. We had dinner at Bamboo Cave Eatery, just like the previous nights.
Lalani's cousin Sarah and her husband Chhana were at the hospital too, and they lived just a few houses away from mine at Chaltlang. At 7:45 PM, the three of us left the hospital to make it home just before the 8 PM curfew time. We said our goodbyes just like other nights, expecting everything to be normal.
I said good night to Sarah and Chhana as they dropped me at home. And then at 9:43 PM just before I was about to sleep, Lalani sent me the message that Nu Mahlimi's BP had dropped and that she might not make it through the night! Such a shocking news. I got ready immediately, and then Sarah and Chhana picked me up again and the three of us headed back to the hospital.
More and more people had started converging at the hospital as the news spread. Lalani too was "preparing the house" and came back to the hospital. Everybody huddled in small groups, talking in low tone and facing the hospital entrance, hoping for a miracle. The mood was extremely sombre.
And then at 11:10 PM, a nurse came out and summoned Tesawma, Lalani and Zira inside. The rest of us waited nervously outside.
At 11:27 PM, Lalani sent me the message that her mother had left us.
A bright spark, extinguished from this world.
Even though it was the most emotional moment for most of us, especially Tesawma, Lalani and Zira, the three of them showed composure as they handled the next proceedings with utmost maturity. Nu Mahlimi's body was transported to their house and the funeral rites started.
I'll update the details of the funeral in my next post. This post was to look back and cherish the last few days of Nu Mahlimi as well as her loved ones. I know what I have written will never do justice to her memories, and these experiences are from my perspective only, but I feel privileged to have known her even for a bit and to pen down these memoirs.
Five days later, the result of Nu Mahlimi's biopsy, the one that was taken on the day she passed away, came out. It was Lymphoma, late stage.
Rest In Peace, Nu Mahlimi, you are with the angels now, no longer suffering from any earthly pain. Your beloved children will forever treasure your memories, and our prayers are always with them.