I remember Laxmi very clearly. I saw her for the first time in a hospital. She wore a grey and a white dress and a white cap. She was my nurse in a hospital in Bangalore where I had to undergo my first knee surgery. Laxmi must have been in her mid-50s. She wore a pair of glasses, which were less on her eyes and more on her nose. She always looked down at you. She was well-built and her hair was almost going white. She spoke good English and smiled very little.
On the first day in the hospital my doctor introduced ‘Sister Laxmi’ as the go to person for all my needs. I smiled at her, when he did. She just looked at me through her glasses settled on her nose and never smiled back. She was there before I was taken to the surgery and while I was taken to it. The day after the surgery I was in a trance, that bloody anesthesia makes you so drowsy. I saw Laxmi and my dad frequently when I tried to open my eyes. It was a very blurry vision. The day after was much better. The anesthesia effect was gone and I felt like I was awake after a ten day sleep. As I woke up Laxmi told my dad to go out of the room. She announced it was time for my sponge bath. She got luke warm water and a sponge. For a lady with such strong hands her touch was pretty soft. She was careful to not hurt my operated leg in anyway. She poured a lot of nice smelling powder all over my body and gave me a fresh washed hospital robe to wear. God! I felt good.
Then she got me a bowl to brush my teeth and held it patiently till I brushed. She then wiped my face off with a napkin. Then came the bed pan. The bed pan is an extremely scary device. It is used for your morning rituals. She said, ” Ok, you cant walk and put any pressure on that leg so sit on this thing and do your thing.” I looked at her wide-eyed. There was no way I was shitting on my bed and worst still have her watch me while doing it. I told her I will limp on a leg and go to the bathroom. She first said, ” angadu pangadu bangadu” in Kannada and then put that bed pan right under my arse. I must have sat there for half an hour trying to get through my morning ritual, though nothing came out. After fifteen minutes, Laxmi lost her patience. “Push karo, how long will you take. Push karo.” I really pushed but nothing happened. After half an hour, she lost it. She took that bed pan off my backside. “angadu pangadu bangadu, I dont have all day. I have many more patients.” I started laughing at myself actually and at the whole bed pan experience. She again said, “anagadu panagadu bangadu” cleaned my backside and left. I realised “angadu pangadu bangadu” must be how cursing sounded in Kannada
Laxmi got me my meals everyday on exact times she told she would get them. Not a minute more, not a minute less. She waited till I finished all my meal every morsel on my plate. A patients food I really think is not cooked with any love. It is so not tasty. I would complain to her and tell her I cant finish it. She would tell me, ” If you don’t eat you will get too weak. You have to eat I am not going anywhere till you eat.” During those meals I would try hard to start a conversation but she always answered back in a word or two. Laxmi would never smile, never ever. Not even when I cracked a joke. I lost confidence in my sense of humor in those four days with Laxmi. I didnt like Laxmi very much that was certain
On the second last day I had reached my limits as far as boredom was concerned. I found myself alone in that room for a while and I decided it was time to try to stand on my feet. That big bandage on my right leg was extremely scary. I feared of not walking again. So I started my stunt. I had almost kept my right leg on the ground when Laxmi came running and in that process broke her glasses and held me. “What are you doing? Are you crazy? Get back on that bed. angadu pangadu bangadu.” I got back in my original position. She was blabbering something in Kanada all the while. My first tear came down. She stopped cursing came close kept her hand on my head and said, ” Dont worry! Everything is going to be fine. Have faith”
Laxmi didnt tell anyone about my stunt. After five days in that hospital it was time to go. Laxmi helped me with my clothes and put me on a wheel chair. I said thank you and smiled at her. She again did not smile back. She came with me and my father till the hospital exit pushing that wheel chair. On the exit my father offered her some money for doing everything she had done. She refused and said, patting on my head. ” Sir my commission is not the money just take care of your daughter. When she walks again, that will be my commission.” and then she SMILED. Laxmi Anthony finally smiled.
Being a nurse is such a tough job when I think of it. I guess Laxmi didnt smile much because may be she didn’t want to get attached to her patients. It was like a defense mechanism of her’s. If they have a relationship with every patient,it must be really hard to handle all the emotions. I mean really once you are out of that hospital you don’t think about the nurse who nursed you. A nurse has to feed you, bathe you, literally clean your shit, wipe your dirty arse and do this six days a week. They must be going through so many emotions everyday. They see the birth of a child, to a death of a patient. They serve a long suffering patient everyday with the same dedication but then, what happens when he dies? Do they mourn, is it easy to face death everyday? To see a young widow,a grieving mother. It seems like a tough profession to me. One of the toughest very easily.
When I approached Laxmi on the bus stop she was a little surprised. I tried to remind her but though she was cordial I was sure she didnt remember me. She pointed at her bus that was coming. She got on it and took the window seat and just while the bus started moving she waved her hand at me. ” You are walking.”, she shouted. I nodded. Well! she had told me so!
To all the Laxmi Anthonys of the world, all I want to say is “Thank you. You guys are really special.”