Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A complaint worth waiting for


I was in my village Mahilpur today. Our ancestral house there looks a pale shadow of the bustling place it used to be when my parents and the family of one of my brothers stayed there. Mother still lives there and father still waits for me to come and meet "his wife", but this is a reality only among the three of us, a reality which government census won't reveal
Today, the door was opened for me by a "thin"( not slim) school girl, aged about 13. She is Komal, daughter of my nephew's Maasi.

Komal has grown up to be a beautiful sweet girl. But there was a time many years ago when I couldn't have believed that this girl would one day open the door for me when I visit my ancestral home.
I remember that this little girl was given up as dead when she was barely a few days old. She was born an extremely weak child and soon developed pneumonia which one day threatened to take her life even as she was already undergoing treatment in the PGI. The doctors at the OPD held out little hope and her mother and her aunt, my Bhabiji, were readying to leave the PGI with the "dead body", when I was told by an old faithful family help ( who happened to be there) that the little girl was still breathing and it was wrong of both the ladies to leave the PGI without insisting on emergency care. Cell phones were not common those days. Therefore, the message was relayed to me via a neigbhour who had been contacted by my loyal family help.
I remember rushing to be in the hospital within minutes. When I saw the girl, a little fistful of unconscious lump in her mother's arms, I wasn't sure if she was alive or dead. She certainly did not look alive. I don't know what came over me, but I was suddenly seized with rage, suspecting that the child's mother and my sister in law had resigned to fate "just because the baby happened to be a girl." I remember even shouting uncharacteristically at my bhabiji, " Would you leave the hospital if it had been a son instead of a daughter.?" There was no reason for me to feel that irrational anger , because daughters in our family have always received preferential , even royal treatment. I still can't recall why I got so upset with that feeling that day. But I shouted at the ladies and snatched the child from her mother's lap and ran back into the hospital. As I ran around the place to get a doctor to attend to her, help came in what can be called either a providential or a "coincidental" way. I wouldn't care what we call it so long as it worked.

In this case, it did.

I suddenly found a doctor walking by in the corridor and I grabbed him by his arm in a manner which, in retrospect surprises even me. I am not famous for my "forward or aggressive ways" and am even considered quite docile while seeking help for myself or for someone dear to me. Some people have, with good justification, given me up as "nice but of no use."
The doctor looked at me closely, and then at the child, and seemed to shake his head in disappointment. But he agreed to break protocol and attend to the child immediately. After going through a few motions, he said there was "little hope" as the child's vitals appeared practically unresponsive. ( He said something in medical lexicon which I don't recall but it seemed to suggest something dark. But I begged him to "put the girl on the ventilator in the ICU." I still don't know why I thought of the ventilator and the ICU at that very instant. But I felt I was making a very "educated suggestion", though it was actual a desperate last attempt to get some attention for the child.

That day, I felt something I rarely feel in life. I had twice held senior positions in the government at the highest level but I hardly knew anyone anywhere when it came to "getting my work done." I wished that day that I had used my position in the government to create contacts all around so that when I was not in Government, as on that day, I could still be listened to - at least in times of extreme genuine emergency like this one. ( It is quite another matter that I have held positions in government at the highest level twice after that, and to this day, the situation is no different from what it was that day. I still don't know the meanings of the word "influence", something people keep telling me to use. )

But considering the way things happened that day, this question can probably be left here for the moment. I didn't know anyone in the PGI, nor did I have any "contacts" through whom I could put in a request for some "special care because of the condition of the child."
Fortunately for me and for the girl, the doctor recognized me as the "cricket commentator whom he had seen "in a chat with David Gower " the stylish English left-hander, during the English cricket team's tour of India. It helped that the doctor was a great cricket enthusiast and a devout David Gower fan. I seemed to him a bit like a celebrity - though basking only in reflected glory of the men I was seen with. He quickly proceeded to attend to the child "as an emergency" and soon the baby was put on a ventilator. And I immediately felt that David Gower was going to play the greatest innings of his life, far, far away from where he was, far away from 22 yards of a cricket strip, and without a bat in hand . I also began to feel that the entire machinery of this universe had begun to conspire to perform a miracle.
Soon, senior doctors came in and decided that the girl was still "clinically alive and save-able". Though she seemed to be dead to a layman's eye , the doctors could see she was breathing intermittently though very low. (In retrospect it feels nice to remember that one of the senior doctors thought that I was the father of the child and he developed a great respect for me for the love he thought I had for my "daughter", the little child. This was the second piece of the machinery of universe falling in place.The doctor treated the case a little more 'personally' than usual.)

What followed were long hours of a second to second and minute to minute wait of painful endurance and patience. it was also a period of violent fluctuations between extremes of contrasting emotions - from hope to utter despair. Not a great believer in "God" as a benevolent individual figure, I yet never take a chance with Him and secretly and even openly pray when I feel that it might help someone else. Who knows that the Guy actually exists and likes to see people kneeling in front of Him ! My intellectual and spiritual beliefs do not make me obstinate to the extent of insisting on the presence or absence of God as an issue of insane prestige. I am quite okay if there is God , and equally fine if there is not. I don't mind praying to a God who doesn't exist for the pleasure of praying itself is worth the experience because of the humility it fills me with.
These thoughts were flitting across my mind even in the long, sombre and lonely corridor of the hospital past the midnight hour. I went out for a few minutes to "pray with folded hands" before a Shobha Singh painting of Guru Nanak and a similar image of Lord Ram displayed in one of the small cabin offices of one of the doctors.

I don't know whom I should thank more - God or Gower - but slowly and slowly, the child began to recover her breath. But she was not declared out of danger for the next two days. However, hope began to emerge by the early hours of the next morning itself as the child's breathing began to gain force and regularity. But she was extremely weak and would slip back into convulsions followed by long spells of heavy and inconsistent breathing.
At around four a.m., I was still walking around the place, weighed down with anxiety and a certain fear but refusing to give up hope. Suddenly, I felt that as I was hearing a muffled sound of a child crying. As I rushed in, I saw the little girl weeping, the ventilator hose off her nose and mouth. For the first since I came into the hospital , the child seemed conscious, her eyes open though dimmed with tears even as a young nurse was bending over her, trying I thought to put the ventilator back on.There was hectic activity going on in the ICU as some VIP had been brought in there.
Away from here, the kind doctor would seek me out every now and then to listen to me on Tendulkar and Lara and Steve Waugh and Martin Crowe and so on and on and on on cricketing chat. He seemed to be an extremely good man at heart.
By the afternoon on day two, I began to feel the girl would survive. The doctor who knew me "through David Gower" finally put his hand on my shoulder and said she "is stable and out of danger, though still needing extreme care." I still sometimes feel the warmth of that hand on my shoulder.
In five days, the child was allowed to be discharged.Still only a handful of bones with just her skin, thin as a transparent tracing paper, clinging to those bones, she was kept at my brothers house near Chandigarh for about month. By the time she left, her mother was already complaining that I didn't care enough for the child once she was out of the hospital.
This was a complaint I would have given my right arm to hear when the child was struggling for life on a ventilator in the ICU at the hospital.
Some complaints are really worth waiting for.