Sunday, May 5, 2024

                                                            The Surrender

 One cannot ignore the luck of not having to be hospitalised , even if it was for a few days after six decades of living. But then, as you age, things that you were fortunate enough to stave off will visit you.

The chief surgeon had followed the protocol and let me know of the chances for a small element of cereberal stroke during the surgery. As I was being wheeled into the operation theater of the cardio-vascular wing, I thought of my aunt, who walked some fifty odd meters from her apartment to the neighbourhood hospital, and within thirty minutes of that, she was declared dead following a massive cardiac arrest on the surgical table triggered by anesthesia. I was close to her, and it was just natural that thoughts of her came to my mind.  Before the doors of the theater closed, I winked at my wife, who was not allowed to go any further. I was asked to get out of the wheelchair and lie supine on the trolley bed. I heard a doctor say morphine, and I felt a cold sensation on my wrist, and I fell asleep. Perhaps it was the only dreamless sleep that I could remember. 

It was not the surgery itself that bothered me, but the preparation for the surgery and the nursing thereafter. Now reading Salaman Rushdie's "Knife,"  the book on the vicious knife attack on him and his memoirs thereupon, I could empathise with the very words he used to describe his hapless and precarious plight. "In the next few months, there will be many more such bodily humiliations. In the presence of serious injuries, your body's privacy ceases to exist, and you lose autonomy over your physical self......... . You allow this because you have no alternative........ .You allow people to do what they will with your body—prod and drain and inject, and stitch and inspect your nakedness..... ."

It began with, a male nurse ordering me the day before to strip naked into my birthday suit and begin shaving me from neck to toe. Since I had trimmed my long hair and beard, he did not go further up. But him touching my private parts and moving his electric razor to cleanse my groin of hair was deeply disesteem and very embarrassing. I always detested a male touching me, let alone around my private parts. I had no option but to allow him to perform his chore. 

What I abhorred about surgery under general anesthesia was the insertion of a urinary catheter. The horrible feeling I could imagine—the pain that went with it when a tube was inserted into your urinary bladder through your penis—oh gosh, that is even tortuous thinking! I even asked a junior doctor the day before if a condom catheter could be used rather than inserting a tube into my urinary tract. Mercifully, all that manhandling on me was performed after I was put to anesthetic sleep. 

But more of what Rushdie mentioned was in store post-surgery and after I regained consciousness. It was two lady nurses who were tending to me in the ICU, and one of them gave me a sponge bath, and lo and behold, it was not very comfortable even in that semi-aware state when a stranger (mercifully this time, a woman) was probing all over me. Your every personality and tolerance are tested, and you are utterly embarrassed and lying like a helpless piece of vegetable. And the day after, before I was wheeled out of the ICU to the private ward, one of them removed the catheter from my penis, sweetly murmuring to comfort me not to be worried; it would not be painful. And she did it so swiftly and deftly that I hardly sensed it. But the total surrender of one's body to strangers was complete and robbed you of all semblance of privacy, and one's claim that certain body parts of you are private.

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