Back to Chapter 9.
In the guest room that night, Andrew could not sleep.
“Gosh! It’s 2 a.m. and I’m still wide awake. Meeting Amy again has brought back so many memories. I wish I could have a drink. But I guess alcohol is taboo in this house. Nothing stronger than God’s own ale. I could go and investigate, but that woman Umakka may catch me snooping around. She’s not comfortable with me in the house. I can feel it.”
To add to his troubles was the intense heat. The fan whirring overhead merely circulated hot air. He opened the door leading to the garden. It was quiet outside and much cooler. The street lamp illuminated part of the garden in a subdued yellow light.
Andrew sat down on a bench and looked towards the hospital. All seemed quiet tonight.“I wonder if Amy is truly happy here. It’s a lonely life for a young woman. She could have done well in any major institution. Is she working here merely out of obligation to her mother? I will find out soon enough.”
He recalled her sad face as she had wished him ‘Goodbye’ five years ago. She had waited just long enough for the Inquiry to clear her of negligence. He hadn’t thought it necessary to inform her of what followed.
The local tabloid “Nuneaton Times” had blown out the incident like some horror story, painting Ameesha as a soulless vengeful doctor. It had also made disparaging statements about the hospital as well, and Andrew had been pulled up by the Director.
But the Director wasn’t going to let his side down. The tabloid had been sued for a large sum of money, for misrepresenting facts without verification, and splashing a false story in its Boxing Day Special. The headlines hollered,“Young Indian doctor killed through negligence. Personal animosity the cause.”
“While the country was caught up in Christmas revelry, Dr. Ameesha from the local hospital took the opportunity to settle an old score with the man who had jilted her. His wife was killed in cold blood…….”
Stories about immigrants were usually blown out of proportion merely to disparage them and foment hatred against foreign doctors. Ironically in this case, the Indian community in Warwickshire was responsible for spreading the lie.
Andrew had insisted that apart from making a public apology and paying damages to the hospital, the tabloid should print his rejoinder verbatim.
“For all the talk about scientific progress and education, social ramifications of the caste system refuse to die in the minds of Indians, whether they are at home or anywhere else on the globe. A young and brilliant doctor has been hounded out of this country by her own countrymen. An ugly attempt was made to besmirch her name and ruin her career. But the doctor’s skill and reputation remain untarnished. An Inquiry Committee has found that her management of the patient in question was correct and above reproach.”
It was all Andrew’s fault. He blamed himself for being so drunk at a private Christmas party, along with several consultants from that area.
“Not that it would have made any difference if I was there. Ameesha was the best Registrar I ever had, and I could not have done anything differently. I’m embarrassed to think of how I yelled at her for waking me up at 3 a.m. in the morning”
“I’m sorry to bother you,” she had said, “I just wanted to inform you that we lost a patient a little while ago. She happens to be an Indian doctor.”
“Couldn’t it keep till morning?” he had snapped in a cantankerous voice, dropping the phone with a thud into its cradle.
He had never informed her about the tabloid story or of his rejoinder. But the guilt of his own part in this incident drove him to drink heavily every evening after work, and shut himself off from his usual friends. Jenna his girl friend at that time tried her best to make him snap out of his moods, but with no success.
“Go to Hell,” she said one day, “You’re mad if you think I’ll hang around waiting for you to stop drinking and break out of your moods. Instead of thanking your lucky stars that you weren’t around that night and Ameesha took the rap, you’re brooding. Why don’t you go to the confessional and get it off your chest? Then perhaps you could come back and be your normal self.”
Andrew now realised how selfish Jenna was. He had refused to believe it all along when friends told him that she was a spoilt brat. All she wanted was a rich husband to indulge her whims and fancies.“Good riddance,” Andrew had thought. But it also made him take stock of himself and cut down on his binge drinking.
When Andrew woke next morning, Ameesha was already at work. But Margaret the perfect hostess couldn’t do enough to make him comfortable.
“Did you have difficulty sleeping last night?” she asked.“Yes. I guess it was the heat and the unfamiliar surroundings.”“You’re not thinking of rushing off are you? Amy will be disappointed if you do. She seemed so happy to see you.”Andrew didn’t answer.
After breakfast, Margaret offered to show him around the hospital.“It’s just a 50-bed hospital. We have no plans of expanding. We want to keep it compact and manageable. We are more concerned about primary care reaching every home in the eight villages we have adopted.”“And is this hospital exclusively for the poor?”“Not necessarily. We have the rich, the poor and the middle class. Anyone who is need of our skills is welcome here. But like any other hospital, the rich want their privacy and extra facilities. We have special accommodation for them. Indirectly they pay for subsidized treatment to the poor. It’s a question of ‘robbing Peter to pay for Paul.’ Otherwise we couldn’t run the hospital.”
The general wards were large, clean and airy. They opened on to wide corridors. The mild smell of antiseptic pervaded the air. Patients seemed happy.
“Most of our work is among women and children. But we do have men patients too. A physician from town runs the men’s clinic here every morning, and is available for emergencies.”
They moved towards the Maternity wards which were overflowing with patients and newborn babies. Nurses in stiff white uniforms moved among the beds, busy with their chores. Here and there, babies kept bawling their heads off. Andrew felt quite at home here.
“Will I be permitted to enter the Labour Suite?” asked Andrew.“Let me first see what’s going on.”
Andrew was surprised to enter a very modern labour suite.“Amy insisted that we have all the essential equipment. They are mostly for her use. The midwives are well trained to use their hands, their ears and powers of observation. We’ve done well all these years without any complicated gadgets. The patients too prefer a personal touch rather than inanimate machines. Thank God for Pinard who gave us the foetoscope. I believe this instrument creates a bond between the patient and the nurse, something that no machine can do.”
Andrew noticed that the theatre and post operative wards too were well equipped and maintained.“Do you think a male obstetrician could find a job in this hospital?” Andrew asked.
“I don’t think so. The people here are quite conservative. Most of them prefer to deliver at home, with their relatives in attendance. For every one patient who comes here there are fifty who preferhome deliveries. It is a good thing too, and we want to ensure that they are conducted under hygienic conditions. Our training programme for traditional birth attendants has paid off. They are given basic training about hygiene, and also taught to recognize when things are not normal, and refer them to hospital. Besides, we have our Community health staff living in the villages, who can rush to their aid when necessary.”“That’s really good,” said Andrew, “And all this has happened after Ameesha’s return?”
“Oh no. This hospital has been in existence even before I came to India. The old missionaries have worked very hard, and under the most adverse conditions. Change has been gradual, but we certainly have made a difference to the community.”
They had finally reached the Outpatient Department, and Andrew was in for a surprise. It was noon, but the place was packed with patients.“Do they not come by appointment?” he asked.“Such a system is difficult to impose. Patients come when they need our help and we just can’t turn them away. Sometimes Amy has her lunch at tea time. But then, we’ve all been through this same routine. Makes us age quickly.”
Lastly, she took him to a circular building with a conical roof.“Is this the Isolation ward?”Margaret laughed heartily.“Yes. In a manner of speaking.”
She opened the door into a small chapel. It was quiet inside. Sunlight filtered on to the pews through coloured stained glass panels. A simple cross of dark rosewood was fixed on the central wall.
“This is our power house,” Margaret said, “We begin work every morning only after devotions. This is just as it was when the first missionary doctors got it built. The panels were imported from Germany. Sometimes inpatients come here and sit for a while. The quietness gives them a sense of peace.”
She walked him to the periphery of the property. Beyond was a stretch of green fields, and to the left, a small dairy farm.
“The paddy from the fields and dairy products also bring in some income besides providing work for several people from the sweeper colony. The early missionaries were committed to improving the lot of the ‘untouchables.’ It has paid off in a big way. Having steady jobs has given them a sense of purpose and a lot of self esteem. Many of their children are attending school or learning other trades. But the upper castes hold it against us. They feel that as these people become more independent, they will resist exploitation by them. The only weapon they can use against us is to accuse us of proselytisation, which is nothing but a lie. We serve because we are commissioned by our Lord to serve and spread abroad His love. Our motivation for such work is God’s love for humanity, and we try to show it through our service. Now you really must be tired of my sermonizing. So let’s go home. I’m sure you are feeling hot and thirsty.”
Continued here...... Destiny's Daughter - Chapter 10