The screaming patients, shouting attending, hustling residents, and those threatening cohort of veteran nurses always with that disapproving look, made my labor ward postings at ObGyn a formidable experience. It was a room of spirited activity. Being a tertiary care centre and a govt hospital, the patient inflow was ceaseless and we got referrals of a variegated variety of complicated cases all the while. But this is not a story of medical fortitude. Its an innocuous tale of we doctors having a life. Though it started like any other night.
I and another fellow resident were manning the intern’s slot at the labor room for the night shift. Interesting that this fellow resident while a girl, am yet assuming the verb ‘manning’ holds up for her too. But lets not get too pedantic about it shall we! So back to the night shift, it runs from 8 night to 8 the morning. The drill is, we come half an hour early, sign-in the log, relieve the interns who give us a brief tour of the ward handing-over their cases while we make notes of what’s done and what remains to be done for individual patients, and then we shove those haggard looking weary fellow batch-mates into their cars so they may go home so that they may come tomorrow morning to relieve us in turn! Its a draining business, this playing doc. And then we get to task, doing chores.
Chores at labor ward involves recording and maintaining the vitals of patients, conducting deliveries, and preping patients who have been considered high risk for caesarean section. Its interesting and inspiring work in the beginning, but over time, day after day, the novelty wears off and it feels a bit monotonous. And the quanta of work that tires you to your bones doesn’t help either. So it was one such day, during a dull lull in activity, I walked in to the doctors lounge to rest my legs a while. I had with me a book and was trying to cut myself out this reality of noise and goo for a brief moment.
I slowly fell asleep in my couch to be woken up not too later by this intern from the ICU next door. She asked me if I had some water with me. I did, and she came sat beside. She looked up and I felt bound to say something smart. The stress of being a guy! ‘Nice weather haan!’, I quipped, already regretting those words even before they left my throat. She smiled. She was real pretty! ‘You are very bad at it you know, small talk’ said she. I quite knew that before hand. As if saving me from my moment of disgrace she asked me about the book I was reading. It was ‘Love in the time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. She blinked. ‘I never would have thought of you as the romantic type. Arent you that Ayn Rand fan and an ardent proponent of her stupid opus on how selfishness is a virtue!’
I was surprised on two folds. One, she knew I existed! As in, she had known that there exists a person, the me, and that this me liked Ayn Rand, actually ‘like’ is a soft word to use, but still. And second, that she counted Rand as stupid, which felt like open challenge. But I was too drained and tired. I just beamed foolishly at having my existence acknowledged and said, ‘Yes, Ayn Rand is great. She is very intellectual and convincing. Non-trivial if you may. While Marquez writes with a poignancy that makes his work simultaneously relatable while also other-worldly. Can you imagine a guy waiting for his beloved for over five decades?’ She looked aghast, ‘Five decades! That’s how old my parents are! So unreal.’ ‘Exactly! Yet, the characters he sketches are so human, complete with all our inane frailty and fallings. It is this interesting mix of real characters doing unreal things that sets stage for his grander plot where he examines human tendencies and inclinations.’ Yes, I said these lines. This was going quite well given my first line was an inane comment on weather!
She sat quiet, pleasant, an embodiment of feminine charm. My last relationship went sour and after a particularly bad breakup, is there ever one of any other kind!, I have been single for over a year now. She said, ‘I have read Ayn Rand. Not her Atlas Shrugged yet. But The Fountainhead.’ I looked thoroughly pleased. How vain I was! ‘And, how did you like it?’ ‘Well, I cant say I totally understood it. The part where the girl who loves the protagonist while at the same time tries to cause his downfall didn’t quite go easy with me.’ This was a sane contention that many people who have read The Fountainhead make. ‘You want to discuss it further?’ asked I. ‘I would love to, but not now. I have to get back to work. I have to change magnesium sulphate injection for this pre-eclampsia patient we got. She is 17 years old you know! I don’t get when this custom of marrying of girls right off asap is going to go away! These girls don’t even get to experience womanhood. They are already shunted into motherhood. It’s tragic.’
I had come across many underage deliveries myself. Its sad also because they complicate more often with their small frame and frail fragile constitution. Its an agony to watch them suffer through pregnancy and labor. Seeing me glum and quiet she went on, ‘How about we catch up for coffee sometime when off work?’ I looked up. Well, I would indeed like that. I would love that. Reading it off the expressions on my face, she said, ‘Its settled then. I will call you.’ I cursed my expressive face that is a huge give away. ‘You got my number’, I asked. ‘I do. In fact, I read that damn book by Ayn Rand just to see what was in it that you so liked as about.’ And with that she left, while I sat aghast, feeling unreal.
Its not often that you realise that there are people out there you really admire you. And at those moments, when the realisation comes home, you cant help but feel privileged. Its nice to have people in your life. Moreso, the ones who appreciate you for who you are, and are willing to walk the extra mile to understand why you like what you like. These are the ones we really need not give up on. I heard my name called out somewhere far away. My fellow intern at labor ward came in and looked tall, down on me, ‘What are you fool doing! They have been calling your name for hours outside. Your patient is crowning. Get out there asap.’
And as I hastened to my feet and splashed some water on my face to get a hold of the reality, this reality, the one were women were giving birth to infants, she, this intern, said grinding her teeth, ‘I saw the intern from ICU spend quite a while with you. Dare you get involved with her, I will flush your veins with phenytoin.’ And with that, she doubled out. Ok, that’s two very different forms of love confessions in a day. Was I dreaming? I splashed some more water and got back into the room that stinked of amniotic fluid, where the residents were shouting ‘push’, while the mothers were screaming and straining, and there came that occasion disconsolate cry of a newborn, that for some inexplicable reason, seemed to send a wave of joyful glee through all. No, its real indeed. In labor ward, amidst this mutinous chaos, two girls had expressed interest in me. Best day at labor ward thus far!
Yet, my heart took a double take. And relationship, I was weary of these matters of the heart. They are awfully arbitrary and lets face it, inexplicable. I looked toward the ICU and saw my fellow Rand-reader walking between beds with her steth dangling down her neck, and I looked in here where this brutal phenytoin-threat-wielding fellow intern with her coat smeared in blood held the cord delivering placenta while a slick of hair slid down on her face, and I looked at my patient with the baby’s head crowing down from under while I supported her perineum, and I felt at the center of creation, witnessing life while it happens. While it is happening. And I felt glad. Yet, scared at the same time. Life sure is an inexplicable mess. But it’s an interesting sort of mess