Circle of Life
Dr Sanhita Kanungo
The sister in charge rushed out of her office. The housekeeping staff seemed to be having a battle royale in the middle of the postnatal ward and in the middle of the visiting hours too. Somebody had left the trolley in the labour room or left a patient in radiology or medicines in the store , the usual daily battle between themselves or with the supervisors or the sisters. Usually Archana Majumder the sister in charge managed all these with her usual aplomb scolding or pleading or cajoling but today she just stared at all of them with her sternest expression. The cacophony petered out slowly, the pugilists losing their steam without an interested audience and they dispersed to find their lost things. It had been a year back that Sister Archana lost her daughter to an innocuous fever which rapidly deteriorated into a multi organ failure and then her death. Her husband had passed when she was in her thirties and Tinni was all she had. She was a postgraduate student at JNU in Sociology. She was sniffling over the phone when they spoke last and Archana gave her all the advice possible. Just two days later, the hostel superintendent,Prof Aditi informed her that they were admitting her to the nearby Hospital as she was dehydrated and vomiting repeatedly. Archana had taken the earliest flight available and got in touch with her colleagues in Delhi. Dr Jana had called up his colleague in the hospital there in Delhi. A hundred people had come to help her and support her. But Tinni deteriorated rapidly. Ventilation, dialysis and finally it was over. She was numb since then for months. There was nothing she could have done, all said, as they consoled her. All was fate, others said. But Archana stayed numb and went about her work without expressing any emotions and never even talking about her daughter again. Aloka the housekeeping staff of the obstetric ward walked in with the registers and notices from the office. She put them down on the table without a word and walked out. There were welts on her arms and back which she tried to hide with her dupatta. It was the usual story. A hard working wife who had started both marriage and work in her teens. A quick succession of three offsprings and the drudgery of life. Her husband was a construction worker and alcohol,his constant friend. Aloka’s refusal to give him her hard earned money which was providing education to her children led to imprints all over her body, bruises and welts. Aloka was once a pretty young bride with bright clothes and bangles. This serious careworn scarecrow of a woman was gradually becoming a stranger. But the boys were bright and doing well in school and the older one was doing training in the ITI. Aloka did not mind the bruises when she thought about her sons and could even smile a ghost of a smile too, thinking about them. Aloka on the way to the labour room heard enraged voices and rushed in. There was always a pandemonium but today was a genuine emergency. Swati di the RMO was screaming at the junior doctors. A patient who had delivered normally was lying in a pool of blood and was paper white and unconscious. The junior doctors, busy with other patients and deliveries had noticed her only when she was to be shifted to the ward. Dr Swati Jha was the RMO on duty. She happened to be passing through the labour room and found sister in charge screaming. The mother was in shock, having bled profusely. Swati had barked orders for IV lines, blood, drugs and had done everything possible in the labour room. But the patient needed to be explored in the theatre. She was a mother of five and Swati hoped it was not a uterine rupture.The interns could not be trusted at all, she thought. She shouted final instructions to all and rushed with the patient to the operation theatre. Swati was exhausted. She had to travel from Howrah everyday to the hospital and her private clinics. She was living with her parents for now, while she made plans about her future. A brilliant girl all along, she had given into parental pressure and had married according to their wishes.She was supposed to give USMLE and join her husband Vivek in Chicago, where he was working. But after her marriage, Vivek returned home. After moving from job to job, he decided to start his own firm. Swati’s parents were supposed to shell out the money whenever he needed some. After Swati refused flatly to listen to him anymore, the cold war started. There was a temporary truce but after their failed attempts to conceive, the hostilities resumed. She had tried two cycles of IVF but had miscarried the gift she had been given. After being called all kinds of names including a murderer as she had continued working in the hospital after conceiving, Swati decided that she had to get far away from them. Her parents were simple people and worried about what society would think about their daughter. They kept urging her to try and make amends. Swati walked up to the consultant in the operation theatre and apprised him about the patient, complaining about the incompetence of the juniors, her voice getting shriller and louder by the minute till the patient was wheeled into the theatre and then they all rushed towards her to save her. Rukmini moaned in pain. Her tummy felt shredded and torn. Her mouth was dry and head reeling. A cacophony of beeps and mechanical sounds greeted her. A sister smiled at her and asked her if she felt better. Her baby boy was fine, she said. Rukmini felt dazed. Her previous deliveries were uneventful and she had gone home the next day. Now she had a mask and machines beeping. Blood was being given too. She fell asleep again moaning in discomfort. She was transferred back to the hustle and bustle of the post delivery ward within two days. Her husband had mournfully conveyed the news of her uterus being removed to save her life. Rukmini looked serious but she was singing inside. No repeated deliveries, no abortions, no worries… She thanked God for his mercy. She had three daughters and two sons and it was enough. On the way to the Sick baby unit Rukmini saw a thin young girl everyday peering inside the NICU. Her large sad eyes and stressed looks evoked pity in her. She saw an equally worried young man, her husband with her at times peering inside at the scrawny creature fighting for survival inside the NICU. Sandhya was very excited today. Her delighted grin made Rukmini smile and ask her how her baby was. Sandhya had a premature delivery at eight months. She had done a foolish thing and consumed phenol.It was not that she was tortured or abused. Her husband was a very nice and gentle person. It was poverty which was the demon. Raju worked in a garage and had helped his sisters get married. His father was a diabetic and asthma patient who needed treatment and hospitalization. A single income made things difficult. Sandhya had offered to work outside. She had worked in a parlour before her marriage. But her mother in law was aghast. Her daily battle with her son about money and complaints about her, made her lose her mind temporarily as she impulsively drank the phenol out of the bottle. It was touch and go but the doctors had saved her and her baby. As she had entered the hospital, that fateful day, she kept praying to the lord to take her life and her baby’s too. Why put her through the pain called life? But in the haze after recovery looking at the valiant Doctors and nurses and the battlefield of lives saved and lives born, Sandhya had pleaded to God to save her life and that of her newborn girl. And after two months of battle,her baby victorious,was being shifted to the sick baby unit. Sandhya had to learn how to look after her and feed her and then they could go home. She would work too and both of them could make a beautiful life for their daughter. Aloka pushed the wheelchair with the radiant mother and the tiny baby into the lift. The shy father smiled at everyone, as if he had got the greatest prize in life. “Be careful and keep her safe”, Dr Swati told Sandhya as she walked out of the lift “and don’t be an idiot” she warned looking back at the shy young couple. She called out to Sister Archana and pointed at the couple in the lift. What a torrid time they had saving the mother and the baby.They recollected about the events of that day for a while, before making their way back to their work. The seed of “Tinni Memorial Trust” for treatment of underprivileged babies with heart disease germinated in Sister Archana’s mind that day. Aloka put in an application for quarters in the college campus. She was not going to be a punching bag anymore. Dr Swati started with her USMLE preparations that day. She desperately wanted a baby. Maybe that baby was waiting for her somewhere in America. And the circle of life went on.
Dr Sanhita Kanungo lives in Kolkata and is a medical professional. She is an avid reader and is an observer of the complexities of modern life.