Vignettes from Life: Dealing with Alzheimer’s during COVID 19

By Nishi Pulugurtha


Being a caregiver for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s Disease for many years now is a very difficult task but then it has taught me a couple of things – it has taught me patience (loads of it) and it has taught me to take things as they come. There is no one way to deal with someone who has Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, there is no sure shot way of being prepared for things, each day brings with it new difficulties, each day throws up challenges that one has to learn to deal with, to take in their stride. One needs to read a lot on the condition to understand it, find out as much as possible about ways to deal with it, ways to care for a loved one, but one is never ever really prepared for what the next morning, or afternoon, or evening might throw up. This is a dear one, who is now changing so much, so the pain and trauma of seeing her go through all of it is always there, that is something one never comes to terms with.

As I am trying now to deal with being house bound, I cannot but live in the moment, an idea I think everyone should ponder over. This is time to take things into account, to deal with things in the best way one can. As news of the shutdown spreads, I see people trying to find ways and means to deal with it. An academic and translator puts up a Facebook post where he says that he is planning to have online readings done using an online platform. He shares the link and asks whoever might be interested to join in, from any part of the world. Time differences no longer matter, as all or most are housebound. The group meets online every alternate day, I have not been part of it as yet due to my poor internet bandwidth. Maybe, I will, one of these days.

I am in constant contact with my students, encouraging them to study. After recording a lecture and uploading it on Youtube, exhausting my bandwidth in the process, I decided to try out something else. A dear friend, told me about an online platform that I never heard of, she said she had been using it for some time now and that it works very well. I decided to try it out. I downloaded it, asked my second and fourth semester students to do it too. We had a trial run first and then on Thursday I took two online classes with them. My students were eager and very enthusiastic about it. They even wanted more classes. I just hope their enthusiasm remains even after the novelty wears off. Classes are scheduled every afternoon, they are at their homes with the texts that we are doing ready at hand. They wanted to know how I would give them the much needed attendance, the new Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) ensures that students get marks for attending classes – well, I told them they just need to be content with their studies as of now.

There have been news of people evading detection, evading quarantine and hospitalisation in Kolkata and elsewhere in India. We are all angry at how irresponsible we can be, at the lack of our civic and social responsibility but amidst all this I hear from a classmate from school. Her daughter has been back from the Netherlands a week or so ago and she has kept herself, her daughter and her husband in social isolation.

No one, not even the maids have been allowed to come in. The young lady, off course, was angry with her mother and had been pestering her as she wanted to catch up and meet her friends. A couple of days ago, the young one got a call from the health department asking her about her health, whether she had any symptoms, of what she had been doing after she reached home, of people she met and interacted with. On hearing her account, they praised her and the young lady is now convinced that her mother, my friend, did just the right thing. My friend messaged saying she is happy that this is the end of what she referred to “constant bickering and constant verbal kabaddi (a sport that involves dodging the opponent)” at home and that she is now “happy” about all the taxes she has been paying all along.

It has been a couple of weeks since I have been constantly telling the ayahs at home who care for my mother, my Amma, about all the precautions they need to take for her. Now my list of precautions and dos and don’ts are repeated frequently, lest someone forgets. I just need to be doubly careful. No one is now allowed to come home. As I was working last night I overhead one of the carer talking to her family, repeating exactly what I had been telling her. I smiled as I heard her do that and she looks at me and says she has been telling them about the necessary precautions every day from the day I told them. They stay with us, are part of the family. Amma holds on to their hands too, at times, like a child.

A number of my friends, acquaintances and family have given their maids, who come every day to work travelling long distances by public transport, paid leave. I know probably there will still be many who will have to travel and continue to work in many households, but then every gesture does count. Kajal, my mom’s carer, tells me that her eight year son called her up a while ago to tell her that she should stay put at home on Sunday, they have been making announcements all over their village. She smiles at me — a proud smile despite being miles away from her family, at work. That smile is warm and needed too, more so in days such as these.

IMG_20190810_095255Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). Her research areas are British Romantic literature, Postcolonial literature, Indian writing in English, literature of the diaspora, film and Shakespeare adaptation in film. Dr. Pulugurtha has presented papers at national and international conferences in India and abroad and has published in refereed international and national journals. She is a creative writer and writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online — Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019).


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