After my mother died in Bangalore in 2011, my father Anna moved for a few years to stay with my sister and brother.
He spent a little over 2 years in Westboro, Massachusetts. My brother converted the ground floor study into a bedroom for Anna.
The room has floor to ceiling windows that look on to a wide strip of lawn and flower beds – before it merges with the original natural forest that was there before the house was built. The road is beyond the copse of trees.
It is a beautiful room with lots of sunlight. In summer, one can see flowers, green grass, and trees shaded a dull brown under bright green leaves. In winter, we can see bare trees and ground covered with sparse powdered sugar – like snow on a cake – to 24 inch whipped cream-like snow smothering the earth.
The winter months were difficult for Anna. (Not that he has not lived in Westboro in the winter months when he was younger and well.)
But with Parkinson’s it meant that he was unable to go outside for a walk. That he had to constantly be careful not to slip in the snow the odd times he did go out. His visits were pretty much restricted to travelling from home to Summit Eldercare and back.
The Conversation About the Hallucination
Winter was difficult for Anna. The cold. The fewer hours of sunshine. Being restricted to home.
Often, when my uncle (Krishnakaka) or sister (Mamta) called him in winter, Anna would tell them about the elephants outside his window. This wasn’t a hallucination that lasted hours, but occurred many times over weeks. Both Krishnakaka and Mamta have narrated their conversations with him. Here is how they went:
Anna: There is an elephant outside the window.
Them (disbelievingly): Really?
Anna: Yes. There is an elephant outside my window. Standing in the snow.
Them (catching on): How long has it been standing there?
Anna: I don’t know. It is always there.
Them: Is it the same elephant every time?
Anna: There are two of them. Sometimes it is one, sometimes the other.
Them: Are you sure it is an elephant?
Anna (affronted): Of course it is an elephant!
Them: Can you describe the elephant?
Anna (as if talking to a small child): It is grey in colour. Has two big ears and a small tail.
Them: Are they very big? (Thinking of their size.)
Anna: Yes. Big ears mean they are African elephants.
Them: Anna/Cheenu, you are in Westboro. There can’t be any African elephants in the garden.
Anna (not hearing the logic): It’s fascinating that these elephants are walking in the snow.
Them: Anna/Cheenu, what would an elephant be doing outside your window?
Anna (after a long pause): You will have to ask the elephant. It is outside my window standing in the snow.
This conversation could go on for many minutes till one of them would say something like, “Don’t worry Anna. The elephants just came to see you. Even if it was snowing.”
Anna has not hallucinated about elephants since he has come to Delhi, even though he has often thought he is in Westboro.
(After working in corporate India for over 29 years, Sangeeta has taken time off to look after her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. Sangeeta hopes that these authentic stories will help patients and caregivers understand and appreciate the impact of Parkinson’s Disease. You can follow Sangeeta’s blog here.)
Related Links in the Series
How my Father, the Parkinson’s Patient, Aced the Spoken Word
From a Real Life Piku: Looking After an Elderly ‘Child’
Dealing with Dependence: A Daughter’s Tale of her Father
My Anna Holds on to his Bata Sandals, Even as He Loses his Memory
Who Knew That Nutella Would Convince My Old Dad to Take his Pills?
For a Dad with Parkinson’s, I’d Get Him All the Junk Food He Wants
How the T20 World Cup Took My Ailing Anna to an Older Cricket Era
My Tryst With Food: How a Vegetarian Family Ate Beef in Windies