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Andrew noticed that Ameesha was not in her usual chirpy mood the next morning. Her face looked suffused as though she was suffering from a severe cold.
“If you’re not feeling well why don’t you take the day off?” he said, “You don’t want to spread the virus to all of us I hope.”“I’m fine. I don’t have a cold. Just a headache. I’d like to speak to you when you have some time to spare,” she said. “At coffee break then.”
She went about her work like an automaton.“Is there such a thing as a broken heart?” she wondered. “Right now I feel nothing. Just a numbness inside and a deep sadness that people should judge me on the basis of my parentage. My genes are what makes all the difference. How do people harbour such distorted notions of pedigree? What gives them the right to think they are culturally superior to the rest of God’s creation?”
Ameesha wanted to get it off her chest by pouring it out to Andrew. But he, in his exasperating way was taking his own time to call her to his office.“What’s this huge burden that’s weighing you down?” he asked, “Any bad news from home?”“I want to go home,” she blurted, then burst into tears.“I don’t understand the hurry. Tell me why you’ve made this decision overnight. Any problem at work? Did someone annoy you?”“No.”“Then you’ve quarreled with your boyfriend?”“I’m homesick. I’ve been away too long. I just feel like going home.”
“That’s sheer stupidity. You are here in this country to learn as much as you can. I was hoping to train you in Laparoscopic Surgery. It’s new and catching on fast. Think of the number of women you’ll be able to help when you get back to India. This “key hole” surgery is creating a revolution in gynaecology. Women won’t be confined to bed for long periods post operatively, and can quickly resume work. You should stay on and I’m sure you’ll thank me for this advice. Sleep on what I’ve told you, and don’t make any hasty decision.”
That evening, she was off duty and dreaded staying alone in her room.
“I will not give into depression,” she thought, “Mother always said it was a state of self hate. Losing Gopal is not the end of the world. I’m proud of who I am. And my ego is not such a frail thing that it can be destroyed by the malice of others. Besides, I cannot run away from my heredity. It will be thrown in my face on and off when I go back to India. But I can show the world that the sweeper’s daughter is in no way professionally inferior to the others. Why should I run away? Andrew has been a good teacher, and it is a privilege to work with him.”
The telephone rang at that very moment.“Ameesha, how are you feeling? “The Glass Menagerie’ is playing at the Birmingham Hippodrome. We could get there in time if we start now. And I’ll treat you to dinner after that. So put on your glad rags Girl and I’ll be there in half an hour.”
It was a nice evening. Ameesha felt better already.“Andrew, I’ve made up my mind,” she said.“Going or staying?”“I’m staying.” She looked up at him and he gave her one of those rare smiles, as one hand stroked his peppery beard, in his usual familiar gesture.
“I’m glad you are staying. But whatever brought this on?”She told him briefly about her broken engagement to Gopal and the humiliation she had suffered at the hands of the Indian doctors.
“The world is such a small place. Who would have thought that the girl who had put me through so much pain all my life, was Gopal’s cousin, and that she would turn up in time to insult and ridicule me, and break up my engagement. The irony of it all is that her father Dr. Bhandari is one of the few friends my mother has. I always had the feeling that he was secretly in love with her. Unfortunately he was a happily married man. He reminded me of the French essayist Montaigne who was a practical, methodical husband in an emotionless marriage. The relationship he had with my mother however, was purely platonic – a meeting of minds, a sharing of experiences, and morally supportive of each other in difficult times. He admired her guts to stand up and fight for her convictions. They have remained friends all these years. My mother never told him about the obnoxious behaviour of his daughter. On the other hand she counseled me to be tolerant and forgiving.”
So Ameesha had stayed on in Nuneaton. It was a wonderful learning experience. Andrew was a tough task master, but an excellent teacher. As his confidence in her capabilities increased, so did her responsibilities. Andrew now had more time on his hands to spend on his own hobbies. Tennis took up his evenings, and on week ends, he rode off on his bicycle, binoculars dangling from his neck, in pursuit of his other hobby – bird watching.
Then came Christmas 1981. After a festive lunch at the hospital, most of the English doctors had gone home to their respective families. Boxing Day was a holiday too, and Andrew Cox while handing her a Christmas gift said, “Ameesha, you’ll have to hold the fort. And you better not bother calling me over the next two days. Some of us guys are going to live it up.”“So this gift is a bribe, I presume?”“No, the bribe will be paid post-Boxing Day. Now be good, and don’t disturb me for the next forty eight hours.”
He was gone, grinning like a happy school boy.
The hospital was very quiet that evening. The wards too were almost empty as most of the patients had discharged themselves so they could spend Christmas at home with their loved ones. Only a skeletal staff was on duty, and most of them were foreign doctors. The holiday mood had got to Ameesha too, and she lay on her bed reading a novel.
The bleep on her table began to whine its urgency. Amy jumped up and switched it off, then reached for the telephone. “Dr. Ameesha, the Flying Squad is on its way with an emergency case. You are requested to stand by in the Labour Suite.”
Amy slipped on her coat and ran all the way to the Maternity Block. The air was nippy, but it hadn’t begun to snow as yet.“Not a nice evening for an emergency,” she thought, “It’s Christmas and everyone is on the booze.”
The ambulance had already arrived, and the gurney with the patient was being wheeled down the corridor.
“Not bad for the Flying Squad. They made it on record time even on Christmas,” she thought.
The diminutive Sister McGregor sighed with relief when she saw Ameesha enter.
“Doctor, you’ve got to take charge tonight. I’m so pooped that I won’t be able to tell one end of the patient from the other. The junior nurses are all around if you need help.”With that, she disappeared into the Nurses Room, and curled up on a settee.
The patient was rolled into the Receiving Room by the ambulance staff. In spite of the blood transfusion that had been started by the medicos, the patient looked a ghastly pale.“Blood pressure dropping steadily. Pulse very thready,” said one of them as they handed over the patient to the hospital staff. Amy lifted the sheet to see a pool of blood rapidly spreading like a deluge. The team worked with speed, resuscitating the patient, and preparing her for emergency surgery. The anaesthetist was also an Indian doctor. He had done another venesection and hooked up another bottle of blood. There were only two bottles of emergency “O negative” blood, and one bottle of precious “A negative.” It would be difficult to find more tonight. The nearest hospital was twenty miles away, and of the many staff on duty, many would not be sober.
The patient was soon on the operating table. Ameesha and her team worked with incredible speed. Suspense and Anxiety lay heavy in the air, and except for the clink of metal against metal, no one spoke. From time to time, Ameesha looked at Dr. Roy the anaesthetist, for assurance that the patient was holding up. The bloated uterus was mottled with ugly blue haemorrhagic patches. The knife cut into it, and Amy extracted a still born foetus. A gush of blood poured out.
“How is she, Doctor?” Amy asked as she cleaned out the uterine cavity.
Now what was left was a flabby sac that wouldn’t contract. Blood poured in all directions, spilling over the drapes.
“B.P. is dropping rapidly,” Dr. Roy said, as he busied himself with the emergency drugs. The sac didn’t respond to Amy’s massage.
“There’s no way to stop the bleeding. Someone inform the Consultant that I’m going ahead with the hysterectomy. I just hope he is sober enough to understand.”
The house officer, who had jotted down a few details, read them out for Ameesha to hear.
“Dr. Shailaja Gopal Rai, Age 28 years. Married two years. First pregnancy. Registered at Rugby Hospital.”
Ameesha’s hands froze over the scalpel. Blood had drained from her own face. She had been so engrossed in the management of the case that she hadn’t looked askance at the patient’s face. Now the drapes blocked her view.
“God, what nasty tricks you play on me!” she thought.“We’re on our last bottle of blood doctor. We’ve already rung to Birmingham, Rugby and Coventry. They have no stock of “O” or “A” negative blood. The lab technicians are frantically looking for donors.
“I’m through here. The bleeding will stop now.”“But she’s in shock. She needs a lot more of blood.”“Please call for the lab technician to come immediately and cross match my blood. I’m “O negative,” said Ameesha, as she quickly sutured the abdominal skin.
To save time, a direct transfusion was to be done. A gurney was drawn alongside the patient, and through a tangle of tubes and bottles, Ameesha’s blood dripped into the ebbing life. She closed her eyes, trying to blot out all other memories.“Let her live God,” she pleaded, “If only I can help her live!”But twenty minutes later, Dr. Roy touched her arm and in a broken voice said,“It’s all over.”
Ameesha stared down at the pale and lifeless face. That face would haunt her for the rest of her life. It was hardly recognizable. The formality of breaking the news to the next of kin was her responsibility. But she felt incapable.
“Dr. Roy, could you please tell the patient’s husband?” she begged.“You’ve had enough child,” he said, though he didn’t know the cause of her extreme distress. “You go and rest.”
For a long time, Ameesha sat in the dressing room, staring into space.
“She was not even our patient. Booked at Rugby Hospital. But I guess like Andrew, the Consultant was not available on Christmas. Life plays such horrible tricks. Why did she land up here?”
But she couldn’t sit there indefinitely. She would have to meet Gopal and offer her condolences.“I’m sorry,” she said, as she walked up to Gopal, “I did my best.”
She hadn’t seen him since the day he broke off their engagement.“Your best was not enough, you pariah bitch,” he hissed.Ameesha didn’t wait to hear more. Tears blinded her as she stumbled back to her room.
Andrew’s presence had made those painful memories surface again. She began to sob into her pillow. And the awful truth she was to learn later, was that the Consultant from Rugby under whom Shailaja was registered, had been on a binge at Andrew’s party. That’s how she had landed up at Nuneaton. Precious time had been lost.
Continued .....Chapter 10
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