A woman rarely just saunters into a hospital to have a much-needed surgery unless it’s an emergency. Her natural instincts go into extra gear. She has to plan, take care of every aspect, and tie every loose end before she goes off. In her mind everything needs to be in place and functioning on well-oiled wheels before she goes on hibernation mode. In my case, handing over of every aspect of my work, big-basketing for the house, paying off every bill, every outstanding payment, leaving instructions everywhere, anticipating every area that could go wrong and pre-empting any disasters needed to be taken care of. After much planning and after much of what I thought was preparation, I got admitted at 7.30 in the evening.
It’s how it is…..
I was instructed to go on a liquid diet after lunch, so only juices and buttermilk and soups followed. An IV line was set up, the first of the many jabs to follow; over an exchange between nurses about what movie they were hoping to watch during that weekend and after a terse ‘relax ma’. I must say the exchange kept my mind away. An enema followed which felt like a violation to me. It had to be done to clear the stomach contents they said, but I was sure even the contents of my head got cleared out. I must have run to the loo at least thrice, each time thinking it’s how it is, this is the last. It amazes me how we women brace ourselves to face everything. She is endowed with this natural propensity to not just face but accept with any and every silly explanation or assurance. It is how it is, my mind told me, birth defect I thought.
Now just when I thought the intrusive worst was over, a chubby nurse came brandishing a razor. Like women do all the time, I too took a deep breath, lay back and tried to relax, all the time looking at the nurse, trying to gauge what she must be thinking doing what she had to do. Would she feel like nicking me? Or what if she chooses to go to the deep end over me and re-enact the slasher role? She was meticulous though, making sure there wasn’t a single piece of hair she had left out. There wasn’t a single strand of hair there to make it stand up and express my mortification. She was even humming the tune of ‘Rowdy Baby’. At the end of it I thought it was typical of a woman to think of someone else rather than oneself. She probably wondered about me as I wondered about her. She asked me if I had been acting in serials for long and where I buy my sarees from. ( I am usually mistaken for one, I have no idea why) On my part I wondered if she had a husband? Was he ok with her doing night shifts like this? What was the meaning of the voodoo doll tattoo she had on her arm? Did she have kids? Did her job content have anything more than using a razor and giving enemas? Most importantly was she being paid well? In all of this I forgot to think of the so-called ‘indignity’ of it all and what I was feeling. It’s a coping mechanism I guess. It’s how it is, I told myself as I tried to calm my beating mind and forced myself to sleep.
Day 1 – Saturday 6th Apr
After a restless night of tossing and turning – the mind would toss out a painful scenario and I would turn to the side to make it go away, early in the morning the nurse, this time a whistling one came to take my vitals. She made me slip into a backless hospital gown after a bath. I have always wondered about these hospital gowns; backless and shapeless! Obviously designed keeping only comfort in mind but is one comfortable knowing the unsightly back is on full display? Sometimes even the front! For someone who’d like to stay in control, this was difficult.
After clambering on to a stretcher and being wheeled into the theatre amidst the curious gazes of onlookers I swear it felt straight out of a Karan Johar movie. I even heard the movie bgm! Inside the OT I remember the overhead lights and thinking man I’d like to see the EB bill for these! Thankfully I caught sight of the doctor who was to perform the surgery who asked me if I was comfortable. I don’t know why but I asked her why these OT beds were so small. Behind her surgical mask she probably smiled when she said, ‘All the better to reach you more!’ ‘Red Riding Hood I thought to myself and that was the last I remember.
In what felt like the next minute I woke up in another ward or should I say, world. The eyelids felt heavy and I didn’t bother trying to open. The mind and its awareness opened faster than the eyes. I just let them be and then tried opening after sometime. The light hit me hard and I closed them again, having to contend with the coloured lights behind closed eyes. My mouth felt like cotton wool and as I swallowed the muscles lining the throat groaned in protest. There was this odd ringing in my ears. I tried to open my eyes again, this time it wasn’t so bad but I couldn’t focus. I saw shapes and figures walking across. Someone whose face I couldn’t make out came closer and asked in a loud voice, ‘Meera Ma’m can you hear me?’ I opened my mouth to answer but the vocal chords wouldn’t comply. I merely nodded. I then pointed to my mouth and tried to convey I couldn’t speak. Someone told me to rest and not try to speak. I was now aware that I was in a recovery ward. I was hooked to a dozen machines. I could hear the constant beeps and the occasional tightening over my left arm. Was the surgery over? Did it go on ok? Where was the doc? Yes, the grey cloud was lifting, but the mist hadn’t. I still couldn’t focus with my eyes. I could hear the voices of the nurses and the shapes of the nurses walking up and down. But my mind was playing games with me.
Over the course of the next 7 hours I hallucinated. The unique characters of all the books I had read, the tv series I had seen and even come across in real life started to parade in front of me. Mr. Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland sat on top of my IV stand. A black goblin sat at the foot of my bed, grinning, his white teeth flashing across like mini tube light. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice stood by mouthing dialogues in his stiff Brit accent. Abhimanyu Singh, the hero of my 4th novel, stood by, looking anguished, as he had in the novel.
The inhibitory centre of my brain had temporarily shut down. My deepest fears and worries began to surface. I hugged anybody and everybody who came to check in on me there. It seems I told the nurses to take care of their health and told them what they meant to me amidst the raucous laugh of the goblin and the monotonous drone of Mr.Darcy. In retrospect, I realise my deep-seated, rooted insecurities surfaced and flowed. In that state you just lie there, a weak victim believing everything you see and hear. Hovering between a dissociated state and an unreal state, the detached brain mocking me for being a ‘dhuki atma’ (a sad soul). It pointed its long claws at me and called me a fool for not being stronger and I remember cringing in fear. Logic, rationale and a connect with truth obviously had taken a break. The mist continued. Somewhere when it got too much; the noise and the mayhem my mind helped by switching off temporarily.
Amidst this, a patient lying opposite me, who I could make out had a bandage on his chest, who was also possibly hallucinating, tried to get up from his bed. Twice he was restrained by the nurses and put back on the bed. He was smart enough to try this after a long time. This time no one was around. His tubes and wires were long enough to keep quiet till he got up and put his foot down. He even managed to stand up and put on foot in front of the other. But that was as much the wires could go. The IV stand tumbled and fell across the bed and there was mayhem as the machines started beeping loudly like sirens. I saw a large blob of blood somewhere and immediately a posse of nurses converged, restraining him, ringing some bell that gave out an even louder siren. He was finally wheeled out
I was shifted to my room at about 7.30 or 8 pm that night. My companions were now Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird’ and a serial killer from ‘Criminal Minds’ a tv series, with their grating banter. The IV line and the oxygen mask were the additions. For a moment I yearned for the ones I loved. So near yet so far. That was my last thought before I descended into my dark world of goblins and rabbits.