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“You do what makes you happy, not what others expect of you, Jomol. And parents will be parents. It’s their job to be worried. Ultimately, the decision will be yours.”
Our Muse of the Month series this year focus on stories that pass the Bechdel test, and are written on inspiration from a new prompt every month. This month, the prompt was “I’ll Always Find My Way Back”. The story should pass the Bechdel Test, that is, it should have at least two well crafted, named women characters (we differ here slightly from the classic Bechdel test, in that we require these characters to be named),
The third winner of our November 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Arva Bhavnagarwala.
Jomol was busy going through the dossier of the single patient that lay in front of her. It was her first day in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and her last posting as a trainee nurse. She was going to be holed up in the NICU for the next thirty days.
“Jomol, how long will you sit there? Come, wash your hands and help me.” The senior nurse, Nancy called.
“Yes chechi,” Jomol replied.
As soon as she began her hand washing ritual as taught to her, the alarms started beeping and Nancy rushed towards the baby. She quickly rubbed a hand sanitizer and yelled, “Jomol, ring the doctor on call, stat.”
Jomol rushed towards the telephone and within minutes there was a flurry of activity in the previously calm NICU. She was blindly following orders and rushed to and fro fetching the ventilator, the endotracheal tubes, gloves, needles and whatnot. Exactly 15 minutes later, the cacophony subsided and quiet returned. The outcome being the tiny baby on the ventilator and her rhythms of breathing matching the rhythms of the machine.
New orders were given and all that was entered by Nancy in the baby’s file. After another thirty minutes of attaching new medicines and adjusting the syringe pumps, both of them sat down with a sigh of relief.
“This little rascal, I tell you!” Nancy started. “One can never predict what she’ll end up doing each day.”
Jomol just stared at her. She did not know much about how things worked in the NICU. She only knew that this baby of Vandana, their only patient in the four bedded NICU, was here since the last sixty days. She never got to read her complete case history as the ominous alarm had started ringing.
“Come Jomol, let’s start cleaning up the mess and I’ll update you about baby of Vandana.”
Jomol obediently followed her superior. “Why did you call her a rascal, chechi?” she asked.
“Oh, don’t mind that. I always end up giving pet names to all the babies. This one’s a rascal because she never stops doing mischief. One day she’s bang normal and the next thing you know is that she has crashed. My God! She keeps my arthritic knees worked up always!”
Jomol giggled at that and pushed the bubble CPAP machine in its designated place.
“Okay, put all these extra tubing and unused needles and syringes in those drawers.” Nancy gestured towards a corner. “All the drawers are labelled.”
Jomol was putting all the things when Nancy continued, “You know, I have been in the NICU since the last thirty years, this is my last year; and I’ve never seen such a patient. Really. She came here at 27 weeks of age, weighing just 650 grams. Had infection a week down the line. We treated her. She got off the ventilator. Then madam got too lazy to breathe. So we had to put her on the bubble CPAP. She settled on that, then got another infection. We treated her for that too. Then she decided to throw up her feeds. Huh! Auntie doesn’t like the taste of her mother’s milk apparently. What attitude the little monster has!”
Jomol was amused at her superiors rant. She was also surprised that Nancy had called the baby madam, auntie and a monster. She was going to ask her about this when Nancy started again.
“She started liking her mother’s milk avasanam.Finally. We were all happy. She was gaining weight. Crossed 1 kg. But A few days later, she started with her shenanigans again. Threw up her feeds. Turns out she had an intestinal infection. Stomach bloated. We had to operate. At that time, I had given up on her. Even her parents. But she survived. It was like she was saying, ‘I’ll always find my way back to you, mom.’ Poor Vandana. I feel bad for her. Then this little rascal was doing well until today. Looks like she doesn’t want to leave the NICU.”
Before Jomol could ask anything else, Nancy continued, “I know you must be wondering what all names I’m calling her. But she’s a part of my life now. In fact all babies that stay long here become a part of you as well. I have been with her every morning shift for the last two months. I can take one look at her and tell you how she’s doing. Sometimes even better than the doctor.”
Jomol was fascinated on hearing all of this. She felt as if she had stepped in an alternate world where your lives revolved around these tiny beings. She felt surreal. She never had such an experience in any of her previous postings.
“You know Jomol, I had a nagging feeling today that somethings not right with her. She wasn’t moving or crying like the way she does when I sponged her in the morning. I even told the doctor on call. But entearu narakaman, that resident is hopeless! Now I feel I should have directly called the main consulting neonatologist!”
“It’s not your fault chechi. What had to happen; happened. Don’t beat up yourself about this.” Jomol tried to reassure her superior.
Nancy began entering the hourly details about their tiny patient and Jomol was done tidying up the NICU when a woman knocked on the NICU door.
“Oh that is Vandana. Come, let’s talk to her.” Nancy said. Jomol followed her like an obedient puppy.
“Vandana, how are you dear?”
“What happened again?” She asked tearfully.
“Don’t worry. Ellam sariyakum. Everything will be alright. You go, express your milk. Jomol, give her that sterilized bottle from that rack.” Nancy instructed and Jomol followed.
An hour later, a calmness descended in the NICU, the regular beats if the monitor being the only sounds. Jomol said, “I’m so in awe of all this, chechi.It’s so difficult working in the NICU.”
“Yes, it is. But it’s worth it! You get used to the adrenaline rush and the beeps of the alarm. When I was new here, I would hear these beeps everywhere that I went. Even in my dreams. And now if I don’t hear them, I cannot sleep.” Nancy smiled sadly. There was a melancholy in her voice that Jomol detected.
“You’ll be retiring in a few months, right?”
“Yes, I’ll badly miss these miracles of life. I just hope and wish that Baby of Vandana makes it. Her first baby did not. He also stayed with us for 2 months. God bless his soul wherever he is. That was five years ago. And now this second one. Vandana is going through a very tough time.”
Jomol did not say anything for the next few minutes. She was lost in her thoughts.
“Jomol dear, are you alright? I know it can be quite overwhelming to experience all this on your first day.”
“No, chechi. I’m glad that I got a posting in the NICU. Otherwise I had planned to finish my training, do a job in some hospital, prepare for entrance exams and then go the gulf countries to work there.”
“Why do you want to go overseas?”
“I find that we are not respected and paid well enough here, save for government hospitals, the entrance exams of which are difficult to crack. And the standard of living is also much better abroad, I can live a good life and also save for my family. But my parents don’t want me to go.”
“True that. Respect and money is important. But I’ve loved each and every day that I’ve spent here since the last thirty years. I’m happy. And that’s what matters. You do what makes you happy, not what others expect of you, Jomol. And parents will be parents. It’s their job to be worried. Ultimately, the decision will be yours.”
“You are right, chechi. Just one day of being in the NICU with just a single baby has brought a new perspective in front of me. This is what I want to do. I want to be able to look at the baby and identify that this baby is not well. I want to look at their movements, breathing and the way they take their feeds to make out their wellbeing. I know this will take years of experience, but at least for this one month, will you teach me everything?”
“Of course, my dear. You don’t have to ask.”
“Chechi,I also noticed one more thing. The relatives talk so kindly to us. This wasn’t the case in other wards.”
Nancy smiled, “Yes, even the doctors treat us differently. They sometimes rely on our judgment too, as we are here more than them. And to those mothers, well, we are like moral support. They trust us more and they share all their insecurities with us as well. You have to be a really good and non-judgmental listener if you want to work in the NICU.”
Just then the phone rang. Nancy picked up the receiver. “A baby just born is having slight breathing problems and we want to shift him for observation. Please keep a bed ready.” The voice on the other line said.
“Come on, your training begins right now. We are having a new patient. Ring for the maushi to make the bed, wash your hands and come inside.” Nancy said. She paused again and continued, “Remember, proper hand washing will save many lives.”
Exactly a month later, it was Jomol’s last day. She had learnt a lot in the last month.
“Thank you so much chechi, for teaching me so many things. My parents did not want me to go abroad. And now I can definitely tell them that I’ve found my way back and I’m not going to leave them, ever. I too, want to be an NICU nurse.”
Nancy simply hugged her and wished her farewell. Both of them in turn bid a teary eyed farewell to another person as well. Baby of Vandana. Yes, she had survived against all odds and was now clothed in her preemie set and wrapped in a baby pink shawl. She was handed over to her parents. The little rascal had now officially graduated from the NICU.
Co incidentally, it was also the day of Diwali. Her parents named her ‘Jyoti’.
The New Year had brought light in their lives! Ah, the little miracles of life!!
Arva Bhavnagarwala wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2018. Congratulations!
Image source: pexels
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Hi. I'm Arva. A pediatrician by profession and writer by passion. A voracious reader,
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