Thursday, September 19, 2013


Most of us have been in the ICU of hospitals at some time or the other. An intensive care unit (ICU), also known as a critical care unit (CCU), intensive therapy unit or intensive treatment unit (ITU) is a special department of a hospital or health care facility that provides intensive care medicine. These Units cater to patients  who suffer from life threatening illnesses and/or injuries and when the condition warrants  close monitoring and support from specialist equipment and medication in order to improve the patient’s condition. The ICU is supposedly manned by  highly trained doctors and critical care nurses who have been trained  in caring for seriously ill patients.
If you are admitted in a comatose or even semi comatose condition, it really does not matter what happens around you.  But when you are not all that ill, have your mental faculties intact, and have had the misfortune to be kept in the ICU, just “for observation” for the night or the next day as I was on two occasions, the miseries are manifold.
Firstly, you are moved from the emergency to the ICU and instructions go back and forth between the ward boys and the nurses over your head and you sigh in relief as you are wheeled into a refrigerator. Ah yes, you have to wear the hospital gown. Gone are the comforts of thick cotton gowns with tapes at the back. The ones you are given are paper thin, translucent, and you guessed it, eco friendly and disposable without the headaches of laundering. They are fastened with Velcro at the back, which hurt as you lie flat, and with maneuvering and twisting like I do, the fastening comes off. Fortunately or unfortunately you are surrounded by co-patients who don’t have the energy to ogle, or see you in a half clothed state. Uniformity persists and at times difficult to tell a male from a female, so you are cloaked in anonymity. It is easy to contact pneumonia in these surroundings!
Lowered on to a waiting bed,  the monitors and tubes are all in place as your progresess is recorded and your fate described electronically. There is a file on you, and interns and young doctors enquire politely how you are, and  ask what exactly is the problem. The problems? “Innumerable”, I want to say, as I clench my teeth in an effort to keep them from chattering. “It is i..i.cyc..c..cold”, I venture. My toes generally go into a cramp if they are chilled, and dash it I forgot to bring those warm woolen socks knitted for me by Sue, my sister-in-law, who believes that woolen socks should be part of ones wardrobe and her insight is to be lauded. They bring you blankets, cotton blankets, one at first. When I still chatter, they place another one on me. “She must have fever,” say the nurses and check my temperature which is absolutely normal.
Since I was conscious and mobile I did not want a bedpan. I was however assisted by a kindly nurse, and I felt a rush of cold air behind, and realized the back was fully open. Giving up futile attempts to cover my behind, I shuffle to the loo which has bedpans, urine bottles, beakers and other stuff.I asked if I could read, and in a moment of weakness the sister gives me the newspaper which I could not enjoy, as the light was dull and the headlines screamed murder most foul, theft, and other heinous crimes including rape. Enough to depress even the most cheerful person around.
When the Chief comes on his rounds, there is a bustle of activity as files are updated and every comment of the Doctor is recorded and hopefully carried out. Your fate (read stay in the ICU)rests with the good doctor.
End of the day but the ICU is  forever night with artificial lights, and you lose sense of time though aware that it moves ever so slowly. You welcome the night, as the end of it you will see the day, and that means discharge or at least a move to a ward where you see life around you. But you are not prepared for the night and the surprises it brings.
The handing  over begins as the shift changes. The nurse-in-charge loudly tells her takeover counterpart every single detail of the patient, his or her physical condition, through the well worn file. By now you know your entire history by heart. Lights are dimmed and you are gently asked to sleep.
That’s when the fun and games begins. I thought ICUs would be silent zones where soft footed medical staff would be Florence Nightingales .Not so in your wildest imagination. Cries of “Narayana, kadavale!” rent the air, as one male patient believes he is being assaulted. “Thatha, don’t shout”, says the young nurse as she runs to placate him. Two beds away another man who has been relieved of his tubes sleeps but lets out the strangest of noises and loud snores oh so familiar. It makes me terribly homesick.
The interns and nurses discuss their day with gusto. They talk about in-laws, out-laws, the state of economy in the country, the corruption, politics and various other subjects… and the emphasis with which the discussion goes, pales  drawing room conversation  into insignificance.  They joke and laugh loudly and in my disturbed dream, I imagine glasses clinking and people laughing in a half drunken state. I sit up in bed, call a nurse to my bedside who “Ennama”s me, and I tell her in no uncertain terms what discourtesy it is to such sick patients, and that I would write about the attitudes here and complain. Very deflated the matter is reported to the doctor, and silence persists for sometime before the cacophony begins again.

The next day I am cheerfully told I could “go” and I feel that I have been released from jail.Though moving to the ward is another process which you suffer  there is the promise of your own gown, and the warmth of family attenders and then home. The ICU is the loneliest place in hospital hell, where you lie removed from family and contend with tortuous thoughts. Recovery when you are not so seriously ill, is faster in your own home, with nursing staff and the comfort of familiarity. Ah for midway nursing homes  where you could just lie back and allow yourself the luxury of relaxing, without the endless disturbance of hospital routine!

Driving Miss Daisy

My driver, let’s call him Sam… doesn’t drive Miss Daisy, he drives me… crazy.  And yet we can’t do without him. Sam doesn’t drink. Or smoke. He is a skillful driver and used to traffic gridlocks weaving in and out of heavy traffic without a scratch on the car. A good psychologist he knows when someone is overtaking him on the left and when pedestrians are about to cross the road. He doesn’t swear at rule breakers except to say  “Dai Somberi” a catchy phrase picked up from his employer. No litany of abuses thank heaven.
My husband and I having been driving for decades.. When we realized that driving through Chennai traffic requires uncanny skill, and nerves of steel, we decided to hire a full time driver. A painful decision for my husband  aman reluctant to share his well and maintained vehicle with anyone save  his wife..
Good at handling personnel, or rather my diminishing domestic staff, I was still perplexed as to  how I would handle this new entrant. I decided that Sam would be in my huband’s domain. “But I hired him just for you,” was his  remark, and I did have a sneaky feeling he was trying to pass the buck. I rushed to my library and scoured the shelves for self-help books to see if there was a chapter on “ How to Handle your New Driver.”   It was a futile exercise and putting on my sternest countenance I decided to meet the challenge head on.
The salary was fixed, though we both knew that we were overpaying. I told Sam that there was not much of driving, but he had to do all the odd jobs like the vegetable market and the groceries. And of course the bank, repair shops, collecting the laundry etc. Every month he would have to cobweb the place, clean the fans  and the lofts occasionally and garden help. Sam nodded his head very emphatically. I always look for chinks in the armour, and years of experience have taught me not to swallow the too-good-to-be-true situation.
Soon enough we found several chinks. Sam’s mobile is his lifeline, he receives more calls than we ever do. When we are ready to go home, we call his mobile and find it is “busy”. We have learnt to say a prayer and hope he will answer our call. Sam is a sneezy wizard. He sneezes if there is dust, he sneezes during every cleaning job we give him. He is allergic to the AC. You will never find him idling the time sitting in air conditioned comfort in the car, with the music in full blast. He will stay outside despite the sweltering heat, communicating with his buddies on the phone or outside.  When we travel long distance by car, he begs for spells of non AC, will lower the front window and stick his head out like a puppy. A  teatotaller he will never stop for cups of tea or coffee.
Sam is a pro when it comes to the Disappearing Act. He has this uncanny knack of scooting as soon as we reach our destination. He finds a friend everywhere he goes, and when he does, he leaves the mobile in the car. We stand outside and cool our heels, rave and rant about his inconsistencies till he spies us long distance, and runs like the wind to reach us.
Sam is clueless about punctuality. Getting a watch for him did not help. He leaves it at home. When we have an appointment in the morning, we cry ourselves hoarse on his reaching us in time and making calls to his home is useless as the mobile is never picked up.
Plus points? Plenty. He has the kind of social networking which will put Facebook to shame. Even in absentia  he will know where we went and how long we stayed. Recently we went  to the hospital to run tests and hired a call driver as Sam let us down. The moment he reported for work he said he knew how many hours we spent at the hospital and thatthe dadipayan(fat slob) we hired slept peacefully in the car with the aircon on, and  a lullaby from the sound system.
Anyone wanting a good driver and Sam will get one for you. Looking for domestic help? Someone will report for work, irrespective of whether they will stay on for a day  or a week. He will explore their background and give you the relevant details. He will never let anyone of us go unescorted to a shop, restaurant, or the market. He will offer his arm whether taken or not, when we have to negotiate over broken pavements, and steep steps without a hand rail. If anyone of us is sick, he will  press his chest to control his so called palpitations while his eyes would fill with tears.If there is a street fight or a small accident he will have no qualms of abandoning me to run  to the scene of crime, and participate actively..  I resolved to take a spare car key so I can drive off and leave Sam to his belligerent activities.
I cannot conclude without a small anecdote.. Every Thursday Sam drives my husband to the Gymkhana Club.. Originally Sam sulked at the late nights since the week could have other activities like plays, the occasional movie and weddings. Never mind the extra tip, he liked to be with his family. I  was surprised to see a gleam in his eye and an energized Sam take off with my husband every Thursday to MGC. As it happened one day my husband decided not to go. Thinking I would take his help for other chores I looked for him.
“Where’s Sam?”
“ Oh he’s gone to the Gymkhana Club,” said my husband, most matter-of-fact-ly.
“WHAT? Without you?”
Sam had taken a local train, visited the Club and returned after meeting his weekly buddies for a while. “They would be heartbroken if I didn’t turn up…” he explained.

A mini Club for drivers at MGC?  What fun!

The Horror of Rape


With stories of rape coming in from very quarter, every one of us need to protest and raise our collective consciousness.  Rapists seem to stalk our everyday life. No one is really spared, the middle aged, the young and even toddlers. When Nirbhaya, a young woman died in Singapore of rape, of brutal assault, and grevious injuries, the nation  went beserk. Moving her to Singapore in her condition was a political decision. A 1000 crore Nirbhaya fund was announced in the Budget for the safety of women. Is it functional yet or is the Government still dragging its feet?Soon after, several rape cases from across the country were reported, many of them gang rapes.
When five year olds and two year olds were raped, sodomised, injured and tortured, our insides burned. The sadistic and horrific sexual assault on a five-year-old in East Delhi  in April, shook the nation and  I could hardly read the reports as my eyes were constantly blurred with tears. Death sentences are too mild for perverted rapists like these. What then is the solution? Are we getting more aggressive and perverted? Is it the rise in the rural- turned- urban population which escalates this figure ? Or, is the media uncovering every one of these heinous crimes, shocking us as never before? Were these incidents very much there in the old days, but covered with a veneer of respectably, while the skeletons of child abuse rattled in the cupboard?
While we are merely addressing the symptoms of this rape epidemic in our country, we are not sufficiently probing into the actual cause of  the persistent disease which has to be stricken from its very roots. I see pornography as one of  the causes, raising the male libido to a great level. Where  porn was available in the form of blue films officially banned but nevertheless surreptiously watched, today it is a free for all, porn sites are there in plenty accessible to young children and teenagers. Some of our movies are violent, holding up killing and aggression as heroics.  And last of all though I might sound very old fashioned or prudish our young girls today, even in a conservative city like Chennai wear shockingly revealing clothes. Mini shorts or skirts, spaghetti tops, low cut blouses  to reveal  the cleavage are just some of the modern attire.
I frequently tell the young girls in my family that they have to be careful what they wear when they are using public transport or walking on the road. You cannot afford to be provocative.  Men of a different class view the girl who is scantily dressed as one who is inviting a sexual dalliance, as they are not used to seeing women dressed immodestly. This does not rule out men of a  higher class who views the modern woman as one who is sending out subliminal cues through her dressing like “Look at me. Catch me if you can.”
The dressing down craze is creeping into the minds of young maids. Nobody wants to look outdated, so they switch to the ubiquitous salwar kameez which proclaims modernity, but covers the body. Now the necklines have started plunging and “low backs” are a must. My maid who is extremely fashionable, laments the fact that I wear high necked blouses and brushes off my age as something insignificant. Her back neckline plunges so low that only two inches of blouse are seen and oodles of flesh revealed…. thankfully restricted to her back. I insist she drapes her pallu over her back if she is walking home unescorted.
There is something graphically wrong with a society which cannot guarantee the safety of its women and children. Our tourism will ultimately get sorely affected when people realize that India is not a safe place for women as in the recent past, foreigners have been at the mercy of rapists.  We have unfortunately a broken system where the initial horror and public outrage converges into a placidity and drawing room conversations before dissipating totally.
You don’t have to look carefully to find that the law and order system, beginning with the judiciary and filtering to the police, is quite flawed. The Government needs to take up some responsibility and introduce fundamental reforms which will include counseling, delinquent homes, psychiatry and stringent laws to enforce discipline. Legalising prostitution with protection for the sex workers may be another solution where lust can be vented.
Sociologist Manas Ray from the  Centre of Social Studies Kolkatta says the rise in rape can be partly interpreted as the anger of the urban poor where women and children become easy targets. “It is more a power issue than sexual gratification”, says psychiatrist Aniruddha Deb of Kolkata.
What can the common man do? Protect your children and women. Don’t invite trouble, we can’t afford not to be too careful.  Protest in any form that you know. Bring to the attention of the media/ police/government any cases that you personally know. Don’t adopt the “nothing works” attitude. Let your voice be heard.

By safeguarding your women and children you are safeguarding the nation.