Heroes are thrust into being by accident or in the process of helping those in need. Heroes are those who put their lives at risk in the battle field so others can live in peace.
Following a scary incident recently involving someone I know well, I began to think about heroes more intently and differently. This postcard is about people who qualify as heroes with different benchmarks, but who deserve as much credit and our appreciation. This is an encomium I found fitting for people who dignify the meaning of a hero in a different way.
These heroes are found in hospitals. No, they are not doctors or nurses. Doctors and nurses come out of their respective training schools titled as heroes. It’s an undeniable fact that anybody who adds years to our life expectancy with what they do deserves that designation regardless of anything else they do.
Add there unto another kind of hero I found amongst them. It is important to note that the clientele of this hospital is mostly rural folk.
The other day early in the morning, a teacher in a village school was found unresponsive to any commands. For convenience, let’s call him Mr. T. He was overcome by uncontrollable body spasms. His wife screamed for help and the neighbours put him into a three-wheeler and took him to the rural hospital at Tammennawa. The doctor suspected a Hypoglyceamic fit and rushed him to the Anuradhapura General Hospital.
As happens more often than not, from the moment he was admitted to the hospital, the doctor’s time was stretched and he couldn’t appraise the worried relatives of the details and prognosis of the illness. The relatives didn’t know whom to ask for information as the chasm between the doctors, nurses and them was too much to cross. The kankanama was the closest they could get, but what he knows about what’s going on in the hospital is more or less what you and me in the public gallery know about what’s going on in a jury deliberation room.
Nevertheless, for his part, he acted like a hero, for he did not chase away the worried relatives who were standing on the corridor connecting the maze of patient wards.
The other kind of hero, the subject of this postcard came in then. Let’s call her Ms. J. Her arrival was as certain as Newton’s law of gravity. Long before the three-wheeler pulled into its parking area, news of this event had fallen on her ears in minutes. Soon, she let herself into the midst of the relatives giving them healing support.
She is working in the hospital lab where all body matter, known and unknown, are analyzed. She moved to the city decades ago caught in the rural emigration continuum. But she has her roots in the village where Mr. T came from.
As a rule, every time a patient from the village gets admitted to the hospital, Ms. J in the lab becomes the thread of life not just for the patient. She can talk to the doctors in her sweet smiling way and get information. She then becomes the information haven for the relatives. She is the communicator. She is the golden bridge that lets information flow between the hospital folks and the relatives of the patient. The dynamics become intense as she becomes the peal that rings hope for the relatives.
In a way, she serves the interests of both doctor and the relatives. Villagers trust this hero’s omniscience of all matters medicine. She becomes the doctors’ saviour. They have a point. A doctor trying to explain a medical condition, for discussion’s sake let’s say it is syncytiotrophoblast - a tongue-twisting nightmare, to a relative emaciated in spirit and hope, can find himself nursing his palate later. This is where our hero becomes important. She calms the billowy emotions of the relatives. She will break down the disease into its subtle pieces without expunging so much as a comma but retaining all its aspirates and apostrophes intact.
In the end, as their patient’s natural breath is being sucked into a plastic bottle by an anaesthesiologist to begin a four-hour surgery, the grim-faced rural folks will understand the ailment in its entirety and go home thinking it’s something curable as a trifling common cold. Such is the prowess of her counselling.
She is bound to the village by generations of kinship, although the village she knew has changed like Atlantis. Strange as it may sound, the hospital is one way she renews the bond to her roots. But consider this: anyone who brings a patient from just the general direction where her ancient kinsfolk lived seeks advice from her claiming to be her distant cousin.
Well, for someone who extracts a half-conscious patient from a three-wheeler and sees someone with access to hospital services, the issue of kinship is a priori. She only nods her assent and doesn’t do a thing to deny the person the honour. Her perpetual smile is the unguent that treats vertigoes of the helpless relatives of the patient. But candour is a dreaded aspect she has to deal with. She cannot say your patient is not going to make it. Her pliancy in explaining such critical things like impending graveness of the illness or possibility of the patient pulling through which is as refreshing as morning, is remarkable.
Her pedigree is preposterously tough. She inherited some of her grandfather’s traits. He is by no means an ordinary man. Being an indigenous doctor, he manufactured all kinds of anointments with an aged mortar and a pestle to treat both people and animals alike in the village. That’s not all. He once led all of us kids to a windowless room in our compound in the gammedda and kept us locked in for nearly an hour until the umbra phase of the 1955 total solar eclipse disappeared in full.
In his infinite wisdom he deduced that the deceiving magnificence of the umbra can lure children to look at the eclipsed sun leading to grave consequences.
When Vadakaha Sudiya hit the pop scene celebrating the craze that erupted drawing people to drink the potion with the same name to look prettier than who they are, he promptly declared it a disgrace to all medicines and arts. Only history knows of the bloated dyspeptics who walked among us after drinking the ‘eclipse potion.’ It’s no surprise that our hero’s work in the hospital is pedigreed to this no-nonsense pioneering astro-medicine man.
Getting back to Mr. T, he got well as Ms. J predicted, and returned to his village. Next day, he was busy feeding sheaves of paddy to a tsunami, the threshing machine. Nevertheless, a hero’s work is never finished these days. Tomorrow, someone else with all the proof of blood affinity to her, going far back as King Pandukabhaya’s time rolled in hand will rush to her with entreaties for urgent help.
Again, her tomorrow will begin promising to brighten the day not only of someone like Mr. T but to paraphrase Nathaniel Hawthorne, of a kindred of common fate that happened to be a place of wellness which sometimes creates ties closer than that of birth.