Florence Nightingales

                     anitha with nurses

The general ward of a Government Medical College is equated to hell with mosquitoes,flies, bed bugs and the real proverbial hospital stink! When I overheard while lying on the trolley after the first “merciless cutting “,that I would be in Ward 25, it came as a more painful shock than the actual pain. I wondered what crime I had done to go through all this which involved my friends and close ones!

OMG! How will I cope with all this, in addition to the extreme incapacitation that I was in. I was pushed in the trolley through the corridors and dark alleys within the hospital.I could see the faces of people standing aside for the trolley to pass-their curious and anxious faces adding to my misery.

Knowing there is no point in crying or complaining I cooperated as my tired body was shifted to the bed . The ward was full of women and young girls. It was well lighted and airy and there was no typical hospital stench. A few faces from the beds nearby smiled at me. In a few minutes, a nurse came with the IV stand and all apparatus needed to put a needle through which the curing antibiotic would flow in. It was the first time that a canula was inserted into my vein. The nurse, smart,quick and pleasant gave instructions to us about how to manage the situation. As an hour passed, it seemed like the ward was not so bad. My sister who had visited the toilet said it is clean! What a relief!

The whole night through passed with not a single mosquito buzzing in our ears. As it dawned the ward woke up to  the sound of the trolley in which another nurse-tall and graceful came to each bedside with the required dosage of medicine and a smile. She would enquire about my sleep, check the canula before inserting the medicine and stand for a second ensuring all is well. All through the 3 days I was in the general ward, medicines reached me free and we did not have to buy them. I got shifted to the payward before I could ask the names of these two young women whose sensitive hands touched me with medicines first.

If nursing is the gentle act of caring (1), it was in Payward 500 in the 4th floor of the KHRWS building that I got to know it full steam. As my body and leg struggled through pain and uncertainty it was the courage and confidence of the nursing staff that made me suffer many a traumatic experience.

How can I forget the dark, short and energetic woman who came into the room not just to pierce a needle or insert a canula but gave emphatic advise on the need to open windows and have more ventilation. When  I developed a strange cough and cold shivers it was she who asked us to remove wet clothes from the room- a simple advise but very effective. She gave good tips on what to eat which would pump in proteins – green gram, gooseberry and so on. It was a pleasant discovery that she sang beautifully and also was a member of the Medical College Staff Recreation group. They had many programs during the course of my stay in the hospital and she would bring the video recording for us to hear. She had an excellent theoretical knowledge about the act of nursing and it was always a pleasure to hear her explanations and observations.

The lady with a long bindi on her forehead and a sharp nose was not exactly friendly, but her hands were quick and strong. She was always in a hurry and did not linger to utter a kind word but somewhere during the days we became friends. A quiet steady kind of friendship in which she would enquire without undue curiosity if I had eaten and bathed. Later on she would share about her husband’s illness and her only daughter who was born after many years of waiting and named after the Sun-god.

The one with whom I developed a strong bond looked so pretty in her sari with hair let loose instead of the tight knot. She always had a fresh smell and a kumkum that was striking red. It was my comment on the deep red kumkum that made her start talking to me. While inserting the insulin needle into my already punctured arms, she would jokingly ask me to buy a few acres of land so there would be more space for injections! She would share details of her husband working far away and her 2 sons and mother. Travelling a good distance to reach hospital, she would have to wake up at 4am, finish all the cooking before coming here. She looked really down one day and I was shocked when she replied to my enquiry about her sadness that the well in her house that was a perennial source of fresh water had of late been contaminated. Her deep sorrow in the contamination of life giving water source which she explained is irreplaceable and her communication with the well asking it not to turn her down gave me an insight into how vulnerable are our natural resources that we take for granted!

The dark and efficient lady with a beautiful name would come swiftly into the room, anxious if she could not get a vein, advising us to get the butterfly needle that is meant for small kids and softly making fun of my veins that are like a filter full of holes. She was proud of her 3 sons whom she introduced to us as the “ most non-fussy boys” as they would not complain about food, help her in the kitchen and adjust to a situation when she is away for long. When she lost her father unexpectedly while I was there,I was touched by the way she described the bond between her parents, her father’s child like ways and her own sense of loss.

The sultry looking nurse who always wore socks looked a lot like a relative- so me and my sister always called her by that name. I was careful not to call her so too. I was impressed by her meticulous care when filling the injection syringe, though a bit put off by her unfriendly face. But I was able to slowly build a rapport with her and the occasional smile that lit up her face turned out to be beautiful.

The bespectacled lady who came fast and quick gave the most painless injections ever. She had a word about my diet, the fresh salads I should eat and be careful about. She would come into the room with a smile that lit up her eyes – so sparkling and clear. She would ask about the radio I have and where I got it from. She explained how she would listen to the radio in the mornings while cooking and how music energised her.

The 3 youngest of the lot were friendly and smart in their work and attitudes. The thin dark one who hardly looked seventeen shocked us by saying she is married and has a child. She spoke with concern about children growing up with little parental care and her own bonds to her parents. The other girl was almost always pleasant and helpful- she too had very solid technical knowledge and would give sharp advices to patients. Both would ask with concern about my leg and were curious to see how the graft had been taken. The third one, newly married was very skilled in giving injections and inserting the canula and spoke softly….

When you are trapped in a room unable to move and look out, the entry of anyone even if it is to give you a painful injection is a welcome distraction. It is here that nurses play an important role with their timely presence. It would be an added benefit if they smile, hold your hand, ask about what you ate, why you are  looking tired…this is like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise damp room.

It is thus no wonder that I felt lost and orphaned when this team of nurses left for the newly inaugurated Deluxe payward. It brought tears to my eyes (and theirs too) when we bade good bye. After a few days, on my insistence we managed to get a room in that block which made me feel the care of this team once again. This was especially good since the pre-graft preparation was done by them who motivated me to accept the situation and presented it as a simple procedure with no complications. I am forever grateful to each of these Florence Nightingales who spread the warmth of healing all around. The team worked with added efficiency under the leadership of the head nurse who came smiling and happy always. Her sensibility in arranging the trolley, the medicine trolley, the wheel chair in the corridor was a pleasure to see. She would walk with the cleaning staff and give sharp instructions. She would insist that the team visits each room in the morning making enquiries about medicines and your general condition. She stayed in the hostel here, her family with two daughter with special names being far away. She would disappear during the weekend but appear on Monday, as energetic as ever. She wanted books for her children to read as they were intelligent and ever willing to learn. She shared the misery of her aged mother who brought the 3 of them up alone being widowed at a young age. Sad that she was unable to spend more time with her mother she would remind me how lucky I am to have a devoted sister and caring friends.

It was a shock to know that all of them were not permanent appointees..yet they gave their best and smiled with concern at each and every patient. The meticulous and systematic way in which each one of them worked either as a team or alone was superb. The soft way in which each one asked “ Shall I take the injection? Hope food is ready” surprised me- maybe this was a routine act but they brought light into their eyes and care in their tone when it was uttered. I felt I was special and the effort each nurse made was meant just for me- this is especially significant when you are struggling against all odds to get better.

How can I not mention the nursing assistants- 4 of them who also tried in their own right and capacity to make one feel comfortable? The first one I got friendly with was short and comfortably plump with a smiling face and twinkling eyes. Whenever she assisted in the dressing procedure, she would smile encouragingly at my foot and mime “good” making me feel really good.Having seen the injured legs and suffering of many, she was generous to impart her sympathy and prayers. During the Ganesha Chathurti days, she would stop by the temple near the hospital and pray for my speedy recovery. One night my sister and me heard a soft voice singing melodiously outside the door.My sister opened the door softly to find this little woman leaning on the wall and singing. This made her talk of her musician grand father, her father who took up a more lucrative job than a music teacher to look after the family, her own short musical training stopped abruptly by marriage and so on. On the day I was discharged she came to the room alone and sang the old Malayalam hit “ Suryakanthi in a voice that was so bold and melodious. Her closed eyes and emphatic nods when singing revealed how involved she is in each note and mood she was rendering. She told us about her small house set in a 6 cent space that had trees like mango,jack, coconut, guava, and some flowering bushes too. She spoke of the need to let water filter into earth and how unethical it is to put tiles and block the flow of water. All her conversations with us ended in a deep philosophical note.

The second one, dark with and ethnic face and wearing some traditional ornaments was rough and unfriendly.I was wary of her after she threatened to pour more hydrogen peroxide if I protested during the painful dressing. I tried all the tricks in the books to make her smile but it did not work. My sister explained to me that she has a sick husband at home and many burdens..so pardon her for her unfriendliness. But one day I saw her watching me communicate with the young doctor in an easy manner and laugh even when the pain was there. On noticing that she was extremely observant and  quick to learn the sequence in which medicines had to be handed over to the doctor,I complimented her. Since then she made an effort to smile and look into my eyes when dressing was going on. I was touched when she came to say goodbye when her duty was shifted to another department.

The third one – cherubic, short and cheerful with a loud ringing voice and fast gait surprised me one evening by bringing her young daughter to meet me. It is then that I realised that this not so friendly lady had been watching the books in my room, the writing that my sister would be engaged in and so on. She was proud of her daughter who had got admission in a college for undergraduate studies.The daughter though frail and pale was a bit sad that she had got admission for Physics rather than her favourite subject Zoology.

The fourth lady who attended on the dressing most first struck me as a sullen, negative character with absolutely no commitment to the work. As the days passed she started to smile a bit and share a joke. It turned out that her home was more than two hours away, her husband sick with a heart problem and her daughter married and far off. Yet she looked fresh in the mid morning hours when she came into my room. By the time I left the hospital, she would visit my room everyday, smile and joke, enquire about my life alone and express her genuine warmth and concern.

The last but not the least is the presence of the cleaning lady who came one day soon after I was admitted with a tired grief stricken face. It turned out that she had lost her mother a few weeks back. After a few days she brought her 12 year old son and 8 year old daughter to see me. The son had fallen off a brakeless bicycle and broken his teeth. We were pleasantly surprised one  morning when she got us hot and tasty payasam with less sugar as it was her daughter’s birthday (Oct 2nd). In the course of the many days, she would narrate her bond with her mother,her family and bring us home made delicacies. We in turn would share mangoes, cashew nuts, some food and so on. She had a grace and elegance that she carried effortlessly – her sari was always simple, cotton ones starched and worn well. We would wait for her to come and collect the waste bins and sweep the room. Her beautiful hands seemed unfit to do the task she was assigned to, but she did it well. On the last but one day of our stay, she came and shyly requested my sister to make her a cup of black coffee that she drank with relish. On the day we were leaving she came along with her young, hardworking husband- if the faces and behaviour of children are the proof of a stable relationship then the girl and boy declared that their parents give them the best.

The 150 days in the hospital with high degree of uncertainty, fear and depression became meaningful and better because of the presence of these self less Florence Nightingales. As each one invited me back to the hospital not as a patient but as a friend I realised the depth of the bond I had developed with each one.It was not just the nurse in them that I touched but the human being who had ethics, honesty and love ….as proof of this, I was in tears when 4 of them on duty on the day I was leaving stood on the balcony waving at me till I was out of sight. I realised then that nursing is not just about gentle care..it is about all that is nurtured by gentleness- sharing, love, human touch and concern.

Anitha.S met with an accident in Trivandrum after a risky tryst with Naturopathy that almost reached her infected foot to amputation resorted to allopathy in the Tvm Medical College where she restored health and mobility with some incapacitation. On World Nurses Day -May 12th 2018 she shares her experiences esp about the nurses

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