Pour le meilleur… et pour le pire

Through thick and thin. Pour le meilleur et pour le pire. Okay, this has traditionally been upheld as a most valued ideal in a husband-wife relationship, which helps couples face various challenges and hardships, override stormy phases in life and stick together whatever be the circumstances.

For sure, women’s patience and capacity for unconditional love and caring stand out as the cementing force in long-lasting marital relationship. Rosy picture apart, when husbands become physically handicapped after an accident or a stroke and they totally depend on their wives’ physical and moral support, and assistance to take a shower, go to the toilet, walk, eat, converse and move around, to what extent can their wives bear the responsibility alone? Especially if they have to struggle with limited economic means to make ends meet at the end of the month.

Both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry for Women, Family and Children should be concerned about the issue and set up appropriate structures to care for the disabled and relieve women of the 24-hour service to their husbands, which they simply cannot do for the rest of their lives.

So many cases we encounter around. What do we do? Listen, show compassion, and say good-bye. In her early forties, Satya, a fine figure of a woman has sunken eyes, looks thin and worn out. Her husband is physically incapacitated, and now his memory is getting affected. One day, he was walking along the road when he was hit by a motorcycle. The driver ran away, leaving the victim lying alone on the road for more than an hour. Witnesses gave out the identity of the driver, but later backed away and refused to make any official statement to the police.

The husband who was a teacher had to give up his job. She had to give up the pre-primary school she was heading at her own place. A job she developed a passion for, got qualified and wanted to study further.

For six years now, she has been looking after her husband all-day long. The three-thousand rupee pension she receives from the State and her husband’s pension hardly allow her to pay for a physiotherapy session which amounts to Rs 1400, and a taxi to take him to the hospital. Neither are neighbours around to help lift up and carry him to a car. Everybody works, no one is available during the day. Her two children working in Europe suggested that their father move to their place and be given proper medical care in Belgium or England. He did go, but wanted to come back and live in his own country.

I don’t know what to do, a tired, sullen Satya says, it’s really tough. And people talk. They think she neglects him when they hear her husband calling out to her while she is preparing food or cleaning up outside. If he tries doing something on his own, he falls down.

Global Rainbow Foundation at Petit Raffray has offered to come and see him in his house. Some encouragement, indeed. But he needs assistance on a daily basis. So much more has to be done to alleviate the physiological and physical suffering of handicapped patients, and so that the predicament of one’s spouse does not totally ruin the partner’s life.

Fareeda’s husband suffered from a severe stroke which left him paralyzed more than a year ago. He now uses a wheelchair. Fortunately, she can afford to pay a maid a few days a week in to do the housework. Her husband Rashid worked as a driver for years in France and came back to retire in Mauritius and they are comfortably settled in a nice house at Terre Rouge. Right after the stroke, he spent a few months in Reunion for treatment and went back to Paris for a year. Over here, he can afford regular massage sessions. Relatives from Port-Louis help with transport, and sometimes take them to the coast for a week-end.

However, it is an all-day service for Fareeda. Toilet, bath, help her husband move around with the wheelchair, sit in an armchair to watch television, put him to bed and so on. She to, has sunken eyes for lack of sleep. Before going to bed after watching films till late hours at a time when she is tired out, he needs her help to go to the toilet. Early morning when she is in deep sleep, he calls out to her for the same reason.

Her daily lament: I never thought my husband would be in this state, she says, after all those working years and retiring in such conditions. She sometimes feels she is falling apart and going to pieces. I feel like crying aloud and shed all the tears out, she confides, what with the monotony of life in Mauritius, be it in town or village. Her children in Paris call every day, and her most cherished wish is to save enough to go with her husband and spend a few months in France next year. She deeply misses the life she had there.

Fareeda and Satya are just two examples among other similar stories. Both ask the same question as many women do: would our husbands have looked after us as we do if we had been the patients?

The answer is: No.

We all agree that men look after their own interests first, and it is generally admitted that they have limited patience and sense of service, or think they do. Whether they do or not is not the issue right now.

The question is: What structures can the Ministry of Health set up to bring a sense of equality and humanity in medical treatment given to handicapped patients? In developed countries, nurses go to patients’ homes to help them take a shower and give injections; doctors also attend to the disabled in their homes when there is no other alternative, and ambulances provide transport in other cases. Such services ensure proper medical care for the disabled, alleviate the strain and stress their spouses go through, and give them some respite and time off.

Can the Ministry afford to set up a fund to enhance service in this particular health problem? With all the billions of rupees circulating like free electrons around, it is difficult to classify the country as developing or developed. What has been obvious for years is huge disparities in income and increasing inequalities among citizens. It looks like a deliberate strategy to create inequality in everything so that one social category amasses tremendous wealth and struts around with a sense of superiority. If anything, it is totally undemocratic and inhuman to create a society where health care depends on citizens’ economic status.

Health care is a key factor in a country’s development and its citizens’ welfare. We surely can find the adequate funds to invest in services to disabled citizens, even set up centres where they can spend a day or more for a change from the routine at home, meet other people, and thus alleviate the responsibility and tasks of espouses, mostly wives.

To start with much can be achieved by reducing MP’s and ministers’ salaries by 30%. They are overpaid in relation to real services they offer to society. Voting hefty salaries for themselves at public expense amounts to daylight robbery. This is not what politicians are elected for.

A frenzy of land speculation and real estate development has spread like an epidemic with foreign companies, mostly French, having a field day buying, building and selling property at mind-boggling prices. The less costly is more than Rs 9 million for a 50 square meter apartment in the North. Purchasers are mostly foreigners. What percentage does the State get in return and where do the funds go? Above all, how does property boom improve the life of ordinary citizens?

While the machinery of wildcat capitalism is constantly oiled to enrich a few, inefficiency and profit-mindedness is rampant in some sectors to the detriment of quality, what a bliss to find people who nurture lofty values and contribute to happiness and progress in a most selfless way. Such a place is the Global Rainbow Foundation where a caring atmosphere reigns and a properly trained staff welcome and treats everyone irrespective of status, ethnic and religious identity with compassion and humanity. An atmosphere of Indian ashram there. The location used to be Gandhi Ashram set up by a member of Ghurburrun family, and it was taken over by the foundation set up by Prof Parsuramen. A few former politicians stand out as role models. We would like to thank Prof Parsuramen for the great social work he has been doing for years.

Such peaceful and serene places are desirable in different spots in the country for people to connect to and find the human values we all nurture in our hearts.#

Nita Chicooree-Mercier

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