One of the key proponents of Ayurvedic medicine in local towns like Mahemdabad and Nadiad was none other than MP's father some 50 years earlier. He had earned a reputation as a care worker in his community, always seeking to make a difference to the lives of his constituency practising medicine in a career spanning several decades. Trappings of wealth and status meant little to him unless earned while discharging his duty to patients. He was a founder member of Mahagujarat Society, which led to the establishment of Mahagujarat Hospital in Nadiad. The hospital had taken the concept of Ayurvedic medicine and applied it in a modern context in partnership with latest medical research and development. It seems that MP was destined to test the legacy of his beloved father as a patient in the same hospital. The day for that test had arrived.
My journey on the express coach through Patel Travels & Tours from Rajkot had been interspersed with bouts of sleep and pensive moments thinking about the day ahead. It had been some years since I had last donated blood – my experience the last time with mild symptoms of fainting did not fill me with confidence. Yet, if ever there was a tangible result of being a donor, today was it. My bedmate had been considerate – none of the heavy snoring (or worse) antics that I had initially feared. I had warned the conductor that I needed to be in hospital by 6am so he and the driver had better ensure I disembarked at Nadiad.
[Readers may find it useful to refer to this map as reference for the key place names referred to in diaries for this week.]
I felt a poke in my feet. Dazed and groggy, I became aware it was the conductor telling me we were at Nadiad Chokdi. The driver was urging (me) to get off. Without bidding farewell to me partner for the night, I rushed down, slid into those shoes (damn ill-fitting!), slung my rucksack over the shoulder and literally emptied myself out of the bus. To a dark, forlorn crossing with barely a few stalls. And initially, what appeared devoid of people. Certainly no Rikshas. It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. I swore at the tail lights of the Patel coach in the distance as it thundered south. It dawned on me (well, it was still 4:30am) that they had said Chokdi all along; I had simply heard what my mind wanted to hear. I had no idea how far I was from Nadiad, and more particularly, the hospital. I simply deduced it was not a mere few minutes ride on a Riksha. Not that there seemed much prospect of hopping on one of those right now, or hope of seeing one soon. After wandering around in the dark (waking up as well as waiting for my eyes to accustom to the darkness enveloping all around), I responded to basic needs first. Nature waits for no one!
The crossing was really a good old fashioned roundabout – an obvious legacy from the days of the Raj. The few stalls were housed on 3 corners and in one of them, I noticed a small group of farmers? huddled together. Went and asked how far we were from Nadiad and how I could get there. "About 18 km", came one reply, "and there should be a bus coming along soon." "Just stay around here; join us by the fire" (a small open hearth– it was noticeably cooler than I had envisaged) said another. I sought to pretend I didn't understand the latter advice. Sauntered along the road to Nadiad where I noticed another group, huddled around another fire. I posed the same questions to them for the same answers. One of them also mentioned a bus due shortly and said it would stop where they were at. So I hung around, this time taking note of how many they were. About 6, mostly middle aged and a couple of younger lads. Lo and behold, we could hear the bus in the distance from the other side of the 'circle'. As it stopped by us, I counted six occupants. "There you are, Uncle, said one of the lads. Here's our bus." Five of them climbed aboard with the lad waiting for me. "Come on, kaka" (that is uncle in Gujarati) "there's plenty of room for us all.". I declined, suggesting that if I was to get on, many of them would fall out. It was a Riksha, no bigger than most of those I had travelled in with a maximum of 2 other passengers. Fitting 14 adults in one seemed impossible. The lad shrugged his shoulders, squeezed in (don't ask how) and off went the 'local bus' to Nadiad. The thought of walking to Nadiad at 4:45am crossed my mind for milliseconds - didn't consider it a viable option.
Somehow, destiny was still in my favor. An empty Riksha soon came along. The old kaka had an inhaler stuck in his mouth, suggesting he was asthmatic. My mind briefly wandered to a moment in Mumbai a few years ago when a drugged rikky almost killed me (and, it so happened, MP who was with me then). Could kaka be dragging on something stronger here? I banished the thought and asked "Nadiad?" to which he replied "100 rupees" and I responded "Let's go". Within minutes, the bitterly cold dawn wind was blowing all around and going right through. I had a night-shirt inside a thin sweater and loose cotton pants. The omens were not good. Kaka must have sensed cold 'turkey' in the rear and offered his shawl for warmth. I declined, instead delving into my rucksack for the towel (to wrap around my head) and a Tee-Shirt to pull over my upper body. If the CIA happened to be wandering past, I was a dead ringer for Bin Laden. That could have put an end to Intrepid Travels. Remembering my 6am date, I thanked Ba for making me pack some snacks for sustenance. Soon went through all of them.
Despite conspirators trying their best to stop me, I still walked into the Hospital at 5:45 to an eagerly waiting HP. After a quick update on MP's condition, it was clear that he was stable in the ICU. Of the 7 donors, 4 would go to Anand (next town south) where the blood could be separated; the remaining 3 would donate locally across the street. KauV was driving down with mama and 2 of the donors, K and A. GT, a member of the extended family, was expected as the 3rd donor; KauV would accompany all 4 donors for Anand. Soon after, all donors were ready. MP and I spent a few precious moments. He was anxious not to go in till after MJ had arrived. I assured him she would be here soon.
And so, the 'Anand' donor team left. It was humbling to be with seasoned donors. These guys donate blood with zeal, enthusiasm and passion. I felt ashamed at my record of stopping some two decades earlier on advice of the nurse then. I was curious how my body would react today. Some 45 minutes later and we were parked outside the centre. We went in and GT showed the hospital requisition forms. The staff started with basic questions to each of us. I was obviously the eldest there and attracted attention. My age was quizzed, followed by the last time and any feedback then. I was rejected. I was above the preferred age limit; my previous encounters dictated that I could not be a donor. GT was also rejected – his last donation was a mere 14 days ago; the centre does not accept donors without a clear 3-month window between donations. Being early morning, the staff said that the donors needed food intake before starting. So out we went in the quest for breakfast. We were told that breakfast was a mere few minutes' walk away round the corner. Electing to leave the car proved unwise; we must have walked 2 kms before we could fill our tanks. Boy did those hot methi na bhajia taste well.
Meanwhile, HP reported that the hospital desperately needed separated blood from 3 at Anand. Yet, here we were with 2 out of 4 unable to stand as donors, despite some pleas. It was down to us to mobilize contacts and yield results. Fast. This is when I saw care-giving step into gear. I was merely an observer whilst the other 4 reached out to friends, colleagues and beyond for a donor who could get to the centre in the next 40 minutes. It is worth remembering this was at the crack of dawn on a normal working day. And none of the 4 lived in Anand. 3 lived in Ahmedabad, some 65 kms away! The first replacement donor was in the centre within 30 minutes but alas, he was not a perfect group match. Ab arrived on his motorbike, gave blood, rested for a few minutes and then set off – he had a 9am lecture at college. The centrifuge could only be started once the centre had supply from 4 donors. We waited anxiously for the 4th donor.
K then astounded me with the contact list he maintains on his cell phone. Against each, he also captures the blood group (subject to his contact being happy)! He explained that he had been keeping that for a long time and always recognized it as a vitally important element of his contact list. In case of emergency, the information comes into its own. The sheer simplicity of gathering blood group for contacts speaks volumes about common sense and innovation. In the west, we have become accustomed to take such things as blood donations, when a loved one needs it, for granted. We rely on the health service to provide for such needs when a family emergency arises. We expect the medical service to simply procure fresh blood as and when needed by us. Unless it is a major emergency involving many civilians (in which case it becomes a public emergency), individuals are almost shielded from naked truths of the blood donor service and how vital it is to save lives. A regular supply of fresh blood is critical in this context. It occurred to me that in the developing world, especially a place like India with its huge population, the responsibility for fresh blood for major surgery is shared. The health and blood donor services, as well as families affected by a 'planned' emergency, all step up to the mark. It makes sense. It works. We in the west should be listening. Especially as over here, the affected family still pays for the privilege!
The quest for the 4th donor came to a conclusion. Someone who K knew who knew someone who knew someone else turned up with a colleague. His smiling face, genuine concern yet reassuring manner provided a perfect setting for our missing donor. His group matched; he became No: 4. Once the formalities were complete, we headed back to Nadiad. GT would return in 4 hours to collect the packs. On arrival at Mahagujarat, we learned that MP had been taken in to theatre. They had delayed starting the procedure until MJ had arrived. It was good to see MJ, albeit neither of us had expected our next meeting since Southgate Station would be like this. She looked fresher than me! NP, foi and Y had travelled up from M'Bad and were sitting at the yagna (prayer offerings) that the hospital has every morning. Spirituality filled the air. The op was expected to take a few hours. There really was nothing else to do other than keep morale high for each other. News travels fast – soon, the room was full of friends and family who had travelled far just to express their solidarity, demonstrate concern and offer strength. This is what community means to people, around the world.
Concern, anxiety and restlessness became watchwords once we were in the 4th hour after start. The cardiac team at Mahagujarat comprises the husband/wife partnership of Dr Anil & Dr Jyoti Jha. Highly experienced, their expertise encompasses the scientific knowledge and proven success at performing complex cardiac surgeries coupled with Vedic principles and spirituality as encompassed in Ayurvedic medicine. Dr Anil Jha is a regular speaker and active contributor at events and seminars like All World Gayatri Parivar. Around 1:30pm, we received a short update from the theatre confirming that MP had quadruple bypass surgery, the operation was a success and they were performing post-operative routines. The team would call for HP to see MP shortly. It actually took a while longer before that was possible. As a safety precaution, the team wanted to mitigate risks of excess oozing and suggested another blood pack as well as one for platelets. HP rushed across the road for blood while MJ steamed to Anand for platelets. The cardiac team reported that MP had coped very well with surgery; his willing co-operation had made what was always a challenging and risky task a little easier to manage.
By late evening, close family members had all had a chance to see MP and exchange a few words of reassurance. Two remained in the hospital while the rest took the faithful Riksha back home to M'bad. Much had happened in a day. Much had been achieved too. Destiny had delivered its verdict. Hope and spirit was very much alive. MP was in recovery. Tomorrow is but just another day.