Light of the absurd

“Women are born with pain built in. It is our destiny. Period pain. Sore boobs. Child birth. You know?”

Photo: KESWI

Her costume, all white -- a cape and a mask. In the likeness of all superheroes, she has the gait of someone whose every move is purpose. And she wears her hair in a chic long bob — almost like Elastigirl.

My superhero is called Doctor Anu, in the spirit of the syllables most superheroes go by.

When we first met, she was seated at her desk, a glass shield between us, examining my documents with brisk fingers and the silence of someone who is thorough with the content. Later, she ran her fingers over my abdomen, investigating, letting me know I had arrived.

Doctor Anu, the one who never abandons her post.

When the 25 April earthquake struck Nepal in 2015, Doctor Anu was in the operation theatre, delivering a baby. She had just disconnected the umbilical cord when the rattling began. One of the two nurses attending ran out, screaming, and the resident doctor sat down on the floor and started to cry.

The mother, lying on the operating table, anesthetised only below her waist as in the case of all cesareans, grabbed Doctor Anu’s cape and said: "Please don’t leave me!"

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I won’t, said Doctor Anu. And while the earth continued to shudder in instalments, she completed the procedure.

For a moment, she teared up, thinking of her own toddler, who she had no way of reaching as the phones were down. She conducted two more surgeries that day, saving six lives. It would be 26 April when she would finally be able to go home.

At the hospital cafe, she chats with her colleagues through her mask. When they break into laughter, hers is the clearest, heartiest. And I think that is her superpower — the ability to steer clear of the morbid in all situations.

She notices me, and gets up to join my table. There is a moment my eyes well up with tears as we converse and she puts one arm around me and pats. When she gets up to leave, she says: You call me or text me anytime you need, okay?

Anytime I reach out, my phone pings back within an hour if not minutes, with brief but clear instructions— very superhero style.

I am here, she says. And she just is.

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Prachinta is Resident 301. We have it written on a band she wears on her wrist, along with the cannula that makes her hand look like an inflating balloon. She speaks every two hours asking me if she can have some water and I keep denying her request. It will make you sick, I say. Her body is still reacting to the anesthesia, making her throw up every few hours between zoning in and out and saying the blood pressure cuff is tight.

What time is it, she asks. 2AM. How many more hours until morning?

Prachinta’s companions in the ICU are resident women 307 and 302. And a man in 603. Resident 307 needs careful handling. While phasing in and out of sedation, she wants to know what drugs she is on and how much the hospital will charge. At the end of most sentences, she says, "don’t tell my husband I said this", constantly censoring herself. And then, I am done with being here, I will go home today.

Resident 302 murmurs. Once, she asks if I am her granddaughter and if we are in a hotel. She says, I haven’t seen my grandchildren for so long, they are abroad. Then, Babu, why are you dressed in this uniform like you work in a hospital. I work in one, Ama, I tell her. Then she apologises. I guess you are not my granddaughter. Narisaunus hai. Don’t mind me. Then she falls asleep.

Resident 307 curses. Being born a woman is a curse, she says. If you have a uterus, you are sin and suffering.

You don’t say so, Ama. All living beings suffer in our bodies. Men fall sick, too, I explain.

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Prachinta starts to stir. Even with all the painkillers we have been shooting through her veins, she appears muted by pain. She can barely speak when she finally comes awake from the sedation. I help her sit on a stool and tell her to brush her teeth. Her hands, ballooning from the cannula, can barely hold the toothbrush. How do I do this, she asks. I find a black hairbrush among her personal belongings. She has long, greying hair. It reminds me of someone from my childhood. I comb the matted strands and ask if the greys are highlights. No, just age, she says.

I use my best braiding skills and tie up her hair with a piece of gauze. You have thick, beautiful hair, I say. Like the information even matters to a person who is spending time in the ICU. Thank you, she says.

Her inner elbows have turned blue from the repeated punctures we have had to cause. But every time we make her wince in pain, she says: thank you.


Writes Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag: 'Women are born with pain built in. It is our destiny. Period pain. Sore boobs. Child birth. You know? We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives. Men don’t. They have to seek it out. They invent ways to. Gods and demons and things so they can feel guilty about things, which is something we do very well on our own…and we have it all going on in here, inside. We have pain in a cycle for years and years and years. And then, just when you feel you are making peace with it, what happens? The menopause comes. And it is the most wonderful thing in the entire world. And yes, your pelvic floor crumbles…and then you are free. No longer a slave, no longer a person with parts.'

Maa sometimes says: I prayed all the years of my youth for the menopause. I have been thinking lately about how much I want to arrive at the menopause, so that my body can stop self-destructing.

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Suburban Tales is a monthly column in Nepali Times based on real people (with some names changed) in Pratibha’s life.

Pratibha Tuladhar


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