My mum’s silent battle with diabetes

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by BERNAMA / picture by BLOOMBERG

KUALA LUMPUR – It must have been in the early morning hours of January 11th when my diabetic mother, R. Indera Devi, died in her sleep, with a handkerchief near her chest and in the position she always rested in. She was 72 years old.

Kidney failure, which the mother had been diagnosed with almost five years ago in 2016, and the implacable dialysis had literally freed her of abundance of strength and ultimately of her life.

Mama had been the epitome of unconditional love even in her weakest condition. Her face will light up as soon as she sees her children and grandchildren – there are five of us children and four grandchildren.

We knew that day would come. Her health had deteriorated dramatically in the past six months. However, we were never prepared. I don’t think anyone will ever be.

Still, mom was ready to go. Whenever we have visited in the past few months she will say, “I really want to go.”

The physical and emotional pain must have been unbearable for her. But she never showed that she was suffering. She made Father promise not to let us know. Until her kidneys failed, we had no idea that she was already stage 3 or 4 of the disease.

Mother was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 38 years old. She thought that her parents were diabetic, and so was she, and that she needed to reduce her sugar intake.

She barely shared this information until the day in 2016 when her kidneys failed and she could no longer hide them.

The sign of kidney failure was present two years earlier, in 2014. Even when she stayed with me during my three years as a Bernama correspondent in New Delhi, she was found to be anemic.

She convinced me that it was a common condition among diabetics. We went to a clinic, got the necessary medication, and life was back to normal. I only recently realized that this is an early indication of kidney disease.

Mama was fully aware of her illness. She knew her kidneys were slowly giving up. She had been warned by doctors a year before visiting me in India.

She didn’t want either of us to know; She didn’t want to burden us.

While preparing for her final rites, I quipped, “Well, she went to her parents’ home during her favorite month of Margazhi (a favorable month for Hindus, which is mid-December to mid-January in the Tamil calendar).”

Mama was a pious person. For her, everything at Margazhi revolved around bhajans, prayers and, above all, her favorite act of drawing Kolam, the traditional art of floor design.

She will faithfully wake up every day of the month at 4 a.m., say her prayers and paint beautiful Kolam in front of the house – a joyful sight that is also recognized by neighbors and passers-by.

When she was much younger, she had a poultry farm with 40 to 50 chickens and 10 to 20 ducks in the “kampung house” where we lived. She would sell the chickens and ducks during the festive seasons.

When visitors came by on weekends, which was more common than seldom, brave mother cooked meals for them. This has been the case for the past five years. As long as she could get up, the kitchen was hers.

During one of the many hospital admissions my mother told me she didn’t know there was something called dialysis. Her understanding was that if her kidneys fail, she will die.

Maybe there isn’t enough explanation or awareness about diabetics and diseases like kidney failure that go with it, or people like my mother and I were completely clueless.

Has diabetes become so common among Malaysians that people no longer take it seriously?

According to the National Health & Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019, the prevalence of diabetes in Malaysia increased from 13.4 percent in 2015 to 18.3 percent in 2019, meaning almost one in five Malaysians has diabetes.

According to reports, around 50,000 people in the country are currently living on dialysis or have had a kidney transplant.

Diabetes is undoubtedly a life-threatening disease, but it is slow to kill.

It was evident that Mother hated her four-hour dialysis three times a week, myriad medications and injections, and the physical and emotional pain she had to endure.

She must be at peace now, free from all the pain she has endured over the past five years.

We should take diabetics and all diseases related to them more seriously and let family and friends know their severity. Lives can be extended. Early detection and care is always better.