I met Aniket on 3rd February 2007. He was a thin, bespectacled, cheery eyed twenty year old boy. Along with the light blue scrubs, he wore a constant smile on his face. He was the “ward boy” at the Intensive Cardiac Care Unit (ICCU) in a major cardiac care hospital in Nagpur. I had just arrived in Nagpur. My father was undergoing treatment in this hospital for congestive heart failure. I entered the ICCU and Aniket was the first person I saw in there, he smiled at me and asked me to take my shoes off before entering inside. There was something very genuine in his smile and his request. I obeyed, and silently asked him where my dad’s bed was. If you have never visited one (and I pray you never have to), the ICCU is a strange, ghostly and creepy place. There are constant beeps of the many monitors, oxygen level meters, and other array of gadgets attached to the patients in there. Each patient in there is struggling to hang on to life while the doctors are trying to bring the patients out of their fragile state. There is nothing, and I mean nothing cheerful about the place. This ICCU was no different. It was spotlessly clean, the air in there was purified, conditioned and had that sharp tang of artificial purity. There were about 12 beds in all. Three of the beds were vacant and there were nine patients on the rest of the beds. Each patient had multiple IVs, a catheter, a heart rate monitor, a blood oxygen level monitor, an oxygen mask. They were all covered in a pastel green blanket. The attending doctor’s station was in the right corner with 12 video monitors displaying the vitals of all the patients. Two nurses were attending to some nursing duties and the doctor on duty was busy reading the monitor and some files.
Aniket walked me to my father’s bedside. Over the next couple of days, I metAniket a number of times thereafter. He would update us with my father’s health and any changes in the medication that the doctors were doing even before the doctor’s told us. For a ward boy his knowledge in cardiac procedures and medicines was commendable. I assumed that if you spend 18 hours of your day seven days a week around cardiac surgeons and cardiologists, it rubs on you. His job comprised of cleaning up the patients everyday, changing their clothes, making their beds, assisting the doctors and nurses when the patients need to be moved physically, helping the patients in any of their non-medical needs. He was also in charge of keeping the ICCU clean. He had a couple other helping hands for the cleaning job; however he seemed to be the one who led the rest of the cleaning staff.
His job was extremely demanding and he was always on his toes attending to one patient after another. Despite the grim job, Aniket managed to maintain a happy and an energetic attitude and was the ever-helping guy. Relatives of the patients loved him, the doctors and nurses liked him, and my father liked him. Since relatives were not allowed to hang out with the patients in the ICCU for more than 5 minutes, Aniket was the one who spent time with them. Things were not looking very bright for my father. Close family and friends were constantly at the hospital in consultation with doctors who were figuring out the next steps. Aniket knew the situation quite well; he would spend time with my mother who was a wreck by then and tell her little details about dad’s time in the ICCU. He would tell her how he asked for milk at 2 AM in the night and ate a Parle-G with it. His concern and manner was genuine and his choice of words was such that it would convey hope and optimism in a way the doctors could not. The doctor would convey progress by saying that the blood oxygen level was improving or some such medical detail, Aniket would talk about how dad’s eyes had a slight twinkle when Preity Zinta showed up on the TV. Dad left the ICCU on Feb 8th and Aniket helped him move to a regular room. He said he will stop by each day to say hello and he did for the next 2 days.
Dad was back in the ICCU on Feb 11th as he suffered another CHF. He was moved in the middle of the night and was put on life support. His condition deteriorated rapidly. Aniket was off duty that night. He showed up next afternoon and was surprised to see dad back in the ICCU. The next couple of days were extremely difficult for all of us. Dad was relentlessly drugged; his doctors consulted other doctors in the city and around the country for other treatment options. One look in dad’s eyes was sufficient to see a man who had given up and resigned to fate.
We had lost count of days and nights; each day was roller-coaster ride of hope and despair. One such morning, I and mom were in the ICCU besides dad’s bed. Aniket walked in the ICCU and he was his cheerful self. He seemed a tad more chipper that day. I saw he was holding a large brown paper bag. From this bag he pulled out a long stemmed red rose and handed it to mom to give to dad.
He said “Kaku aaz valentine’s day aahe. Kakanna rose dya”.
(“Aunty, its valentine’s day today, you must give this rose to uncle”. )
My mother is from a generation where public display of affection is not the norm. Valentine’s Day, anniversary gifts, greeting cards, roses, chocolates and all the paraphernalia associated with “couples in love” is alien to her. This Valentine’s day however, she took the rose from Aniket and opened the thermos flask on the medicine stand next to dad. She carefully placed the rose in the flask. She ran her fingers through dad’s silvery white hair. Dad opened his eyes and for a moment looked back at her and closed them again. I saw that Aniket had brought a rose for all the patients in the ICCU and moved on to the next patient. In any other setting, I would have considered this youngster’s actions cheesy, but that day his enthusiasm was infectious and it put a smile back on our faces.
Dad recovered and in three weeks he was back home. Aniket was there to say good-bye when we took dad home. In the days that dad was in the hospital, I got to know Aniket a little more. He wanted to be a nurse some day and was studying to get into nursing school. He was saving from his Rs. 7000 monthly salary to pay for nursing school. Next time I visit Nagpur, I plan to visit the hospital to see Aniket. I hope I do not find him working as a ward-boy. I hope to hear that he has joined a nursing school, or better yet, he is now a Nurse.