Naked Days

By?Jeevani Fernando

October 31 2012

He has seen me without clothes mummy, how embarassing‘ said my nine year old a few days ago, when I suggested we go and visit the doctor who delivered her to this world. I reassured her that he had seen her mummy without clothes. She was livid.
Zoe (left foreground)???Shehan Gomez Abeysinghe
Nine years ago today, I sat in the queue at the gyneacology clinic at Sri Jayawardenapura Hospital, shifting my uneasy weight from side to side. ?I tried to stay composed amongst very brave and solid women from all over the country. The discomfort was annoying. Usually I help out in clinics by holding older siblings of babies to come or mothers wobbling around not knowing what to do. ?But that day, I just sat waiting for someone to take care of me.

The nurse made us line up to be weighed and pressure checked. I wobbled on my swollen feet. This one was so different. The other two had been a breeze. I just wanted to get back home. I was standing in the queue trying to hold myself up, when I saw my gynocologist,?Dr Hemantha Perera,at the end of the queue. He took one look at me and his face turned like the halloween pumpkin that suited the day – 31 October. He was a harsh, cold and ruthless but brilliant gyno, the best in the country serving in a state hospital. He could tell my condition without laying a finger on me.
He roughly asked the assistant doctors what I was doing standing in a clinic. ‘She should be taken to the OT immediately’?he said. ‘Does she not care for the baby?’ he asked out loud as if I wasn’t even there. He knew my case from a month back when I had gone to him bleeding heavily but begged him to keep the baby. ?I told him I was only feeling discomfort but there was no show of baby coming any time soon. I had 2-3 weeks more to go. He put me on the table like a cucumber and checked me over. ‘Take her NOW‘ he shouted. I was terrified. The nurses ran around like elves in Santa’s workshop. I got off the examination table and walked away to the reception area and sat down trying to make a call to someone. Anyone. Strange how a mobile phone becomes a lump of metal and plastic when you need to get someone in a hurry. I tried and tried I couldnt remember any numbers. I didn’t want to go in as yet. I was not ready. I wasn’t ready for the C-Section. I wasn’t ready for the baby. I wasn’t ready for anything. I just wanted to lie down and sleep on my father’s lap. And then the phone rang. It was my father. He was 72 miles away but his voice couldnt have been any closer. He prayed. He said, ‘Just do what the doctor says. Dont contradict‘.
I had no bag of clothes, I had no water, I had nothing in hand except my papers and a baby in my stomach. When I stepped out of the lift at ward 9, my doctor was standing in the corridor. I got a barrage of expletives from him. Again he spoke like I wasn’t even around. I was roughly taken to the prep room and shaved and shorn and pricked and prodded. The nurse was so nervous she put the OT gown the wrong way. I stood there with my boobs and swollen belly totally exposed and my butt nicely covered. I had to re-dress standing right there in public. I took off my jewelery and looked around, there was no family to hand it over to. Ear-rings, chain and cross that my parents gave me when I got married. I held them tight in my fist till the cross dug deep into my palm. It left a mark. Doctor saw me fumbling and scowled. He asked a nurse to take it over. I kissed the cross and gave it not knowing if I will see them again. I wondered if the older two had got back home from school. I wondered who will feed them. I wanted badly to go back. But I was lying on a stretcher, turning right when doc said left.
I was left outside the OT for about 30 minutes till the doctor prepped the students and the other assistants. I tried to imagine the next day. It was all a blur. Then I saw green gumboots next to my stretcher. A young, muslim doctor who had seen me in the clinics, was standing next to me, pulling up his green gloves. ‘Don’t worry, all the doctors are here today, you are very lucky Sir himself is doing the C-Section‘ Sir was my doctor. Usually he instructs and others carry out. He was like god to them. I wanted him to be that. ? I wanted him to be kind to me, say one word to reassure me and my baby. But from behind his mask, stared cold, sterile eyes. I wanted to make a connection with him before I was knocked out. When they lay me on the Op table, I grabbed his hand. He glared at me in surprise. For a moment steel eyes softened. He nodded and I guess smiled behind the mask. I will never know. But that was enough. Then he started explaining to me my condition. Not much I could do but nod while the oxygen mask was over my face. Just before the anesthetics were given, he came around near my face, leaned over and said ‘I might have to make some emergency decisions once I open you up, you will have to trust me’ ?I was knocked out before I could answer.?Trickster.
I woke up 4 hours later hearing him scolding me again. ‘Bloody mess you were, that baby is a miracle to have survived. Take her home and look after her carefully‘ and I never saw him again. ?It’s been nine years since that day. I have seen articles about him in the papers on and off. I don’t know if I took care of my baby ‘carefully’ and I don’t know if I have told her enough times what a miracle she is. I don’t know if I have told her enough about the wonderful doctors this country has produced and is blessed with. Doctors who serve their people in difficult circumstances. Who, through all their steely resolves, save lives of babies and mothers. Who have produced even-more brilliant doctors after them.
Zoe has made up her mind to visit him and his ward and is hoping he won’t remember her naked days. But I do want to remind him. And her. That life doesn’t come easy. From nakedness to nakedness, life IS a miracle.

Jane Nona

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I had the wonderful privilege of spending one week next to Jane Nona?s bed at the Peradeniya Teaching hospital in Kandy. 75 year old Jane Nona?s statistics could well have been 15, 15, 15. The smallest 75 year old woman I must have ever seen. She had married when she was just 15. Very proudly she tells me about how she gave birth to six strapping baby boys and one girl, all in her own home. A midwife had come and cleaned her up and held burning coals on which medicinal herbs were thrown in, her only means of sanitization. ??He was tall, fair and very kind to me? she says about her husband who had died 15 years ago. ?I knew nothing when I married him, I was only a child. He knew so much more? That had been sufficient for her. She didn?t have any complaints about him, her life, her children, her economic status or her even her reason for coming to a hospital for the very first time in her life. Her grandchildren had forced her to have a check-up. She suspected something was wrong but had no idea what it was. ?I am ready to die but my grandchildren want me to stretch it some more? she says. I looked at her file. She had a prolapsed womb. A small repair was scheduled. She had never before needed to see a doctor and never stayed in a hospital even once in her 75 years. What a blessed life, I thought. I was a veritable live-in compared to her.
She was daunted by the procedures, the examinations, the numerous scans, blood tests, especially because the doctors were mostly male. ?I have no idea what they are telling me child, what on earth is a isscan? Can you come with me when he does it?? I check with doctor and he smilingly says ok. She was schoked he could see right inside her womb. ?If my husband was around and he knew I was doing all this he will jump in the well and die? she embarrassingly declared. We went through most of the tests together. This supposedly more educated and informed 41year old from the city, was learning so much more about life from Jane Nona than any other lessons she must have learned.
Continue reading “Jane Nona”


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6th July 2005
?This man lying here, brought me to this world. He educated me, clothed and fed?me, stood by my own bed in hospitals, stood in the gap for me at school, prayed?for me unceasingly, blessed me, guided me and counseled me and gave me?strength to take the next step. Yet, I watch him lying here, and there is nothing I?can do to stop him from dying??These were my thoughts on a chilly morning in the last room on the left wing of?Lakeside Medical Centre in Kandy five years ago. I felt helpless and useless.
Here I was seated and watching his life ebb away and I could do nothing.?What use was I? Or anything else in this world, if it can?t save the life of a man?such as him ? my father. ?God, are you really there?? I asked a blank wall.?It was also Terryll?s birthday, so I had plans to go back to Colombo that day and?return the next day, to uselessly stand by him. Yet I wanted to be there, in my?desperation to share whatever he was going through. To let him know I was?there, because I believed that even in his comatose state, he heard our voices.

For only a week before, I had spent the whole day with him near his bedside and?sang all the old Tamil songs we used to sing as children. And I saw a smile and?a tear run down his cheek. So he heard me. And that tiny factor was comforting.?What was I trying to do? Ease my conscience? For all the time I did not spend?with him? For the trouble I put him through as a teenager? For the anxiety I gave?him as an adult? I didn?t know. Perhaps he knew. We bonded that day like never?before. Even in his state, we connected. Like we always did. My father and I.

I stood up to leave, my eyes never leaving the respirator and his one hand on?his belly moving up and down which was the only sign of life. And suddenly the?movement stopped. Just like that. I knew the end was here. I handed my baby?(Zoe was then nearly 2 years) to the nurse and although we were asked to leave?the room, I wanted to stay by his side. To make sure they did everything right.

Suddenly everything was clear to me. This was the end. It was time to let go.?This man lying here will no longer be my strength. I had to be his. I cradled his?head in my hands, I whispered ?Dada I love you. We all love you. Go in peace.??The medics turned him face up. He grimaced with his eyes closed. I put his?hands together, straightened his legs and once again held his head up so the?blood would flow out and not block his throat. I didn?t cry. I wanted him released.

His pulse had already stopped. The doctor asked if they could use the electric?shocks on him as a routine procedure. I told them to leave him alone. His face?relaxed, he looked so peaceful. I put my head down on his chest. There was?nothing. My everything was suddenly nothing. I still didn?t cry. I helped the nurses?take out the tubes and clean him up.

He looked so peaceful, in a long time. Yet through the 7 months since diagnosis,?he never once complained. Not even when they stuck needles in his stomach?to release the fluids. He would smile and thank the nurses and compliment on a?good job done. I turned around and held the doctor?s hands and thanked for the?efforts, I held the nurses hands one by one and thanked them too. That is what?he would have done. Blessed them and thanked them profusely. The pathologist?covered his face with his arm and sobbed against the wall. Dada had coaxed him?several years ago to pursue his studies and make a man of himself. There were?nurses in the room he had recommended for jobs.

I filled out the death certificate calmly. Everything was so clear and programmed.?Name of deceased: Walter Jonathan Sinniah. Time of death: 1.45pm. Cause of?death: General System Failure due to multifocal carcinoma of the liver. Parent?s?name: Peter Murugesu Sinniah and Mary Sinniah. Place of Birth: Deniyaya.?Place of burial: General Cemetery, Mahiyawa. Witness of death: Jeevani?Fernando. Relationship to deceased: Daughter. I couldn?t write anymore.?I wanted to remain a witness to his life rather than his death. I had witnessed 35?years of it that day. And even now, it is his extraordinary life that challenges me?on a daily basis. Not his death.

Jeevani Fernando

A Class Above

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Jeevani Fernando

We sat nervously huddled on the wooden bench of the Haputale Railway Station at 8pm last night, clutching our precious collections from the trip – kithul jaggery from Badulla and jars of orange marmalade, guava jelly and Nelli syrup from Adhisham for the two grandmothers.? Partly shivering in the cold, partly wondering how we were ever going to make the 10-12 hour journey back home by getting in to a train from a midway station with no previous booking.? We had taken a break on the way back to Colombo to visit the beautiful monastry Adhisham and didn’t realise the train will be full by the time it comes to Haputale.
“I love all kinds of people mummy, but I just can’t travel 3rd class on the train” said Mishka. We had just that morning taken 3rd class tickets from Badulla to Haputale and it was quite an experience when, after having paid for 4 seats, we were down to one, when Samaritan love overtook us and we gave seats to mothers with babies and grandmothers, also with babies in the hope of getting a sympathetic seat in an already overcrowded train. Mishka was miffed that people could assume we would feel sorry.?Little realising we were going to need that same sympathy soon.
I said let’s pray. Zoe said let’s throw some people out. Kyle said ‘don’t worry mummy, something will work out’.?15 more minutes to go for the train to arrive. I looked at my 3 fellows and thought I must do something. They had been such good troopers, climbing up and down mountains, trekking nearly 2kms in Indian sandals (bad preparation by the mother) to see and touch the Dunhinda falls, that majestically fell 190ft down creating a mystical cloud of spray and awe.?They had eaten noodles for breakfast and fried rice with no meat as it was the Buddhist festival where no meat was cooked.? They had slept in a mud cabin in the woods and no neighbouring lights, with absolutely no fear at all.?They had been thrilled at every little thing, the train rides through tunnels and around the mountains, the fiery short-eats and even the ghastly toilet in the train where they could see the tracks while doing their ‘little jobs’.
So I plucked my courage and told my three, ‘let mummy go talk to the station master’. The man at the counter had refused to even issue 3rd class tickets to us as he wasn’t sure if there would be room even to stand ‘all other seats FULL madam’ he had said a while ago.? So I by-passed him and walked into the station master’s office.? I made polite introductions in English and he asked what I was doing in Haputale and what had I seen, etc, etc. Then he asked me the wrong question ‘Are you Tamil or Sinhala?’ ‘Oh no!’ says Mishka, because she knows the tirade her mother goes into when that question is asked.? So I let him have it – about how this country got into this state because of questions like that.?And I thought, there goes any chances of getting seats.? Yet,?he didn’t seem peeved. He was in fact making very good conversation.? It ended with his promise ‘I will somehow get you seats but first get yourself on the train with 3rd class tickets’.?I saw Mishka’s face fall.
The train came. It was a mad rush. We managed to scramble into 3rd class. It was packed. It smelled of alcohol and it had no room even on the floor.? I was dismayed but was determined to take it.?I had just managed to put the bags up on the rack when the station master, uniform, cap and all, came running to our compartment and hurried us to take our bags and get off the train. The children groaned. We got off.? He signaled to a man in uniform where the reserved seats were and held up 4 fingers.? We were like refugees now running to the front of the train with bags and jackets and Ivndian slippers flapping under our feet. Passengers poked their heads out to see what was going on with the station master who was also running along with us. The engine driver was getting impatient.? A quick exchange between the two men and we were bundled into 2nd class reserved compartments.? Reclining chairs and all. All I could do was jump back down and shake hands with the station master and thank him profusely.? And as the train pulled away, he shouted ‘I don’t know why I did this but certainly not because you are a Tamil!’
I fell back on my seat laughing. Apparently some others had to be re-arranged to another compartment to fit us in there.? The children were giving hi-five’s to each other. Mishka had found a new hero – a tall, smart station master in Haputale. She was all starry-eyed. I was speechless.? The kindness people show others, in any dimension, makes such a difference to an individual, a family.? Never should one shy from going that extra mile, lending a hand or seeing to the comfort of another, to a strange mother with three children who believed in miracles.? The children will never forget this experience and also the belief that people in their country are helpful, kind and generous no matter what ethnicity they belong to.
And as the knight in shining armour blew the whistle, and Zoe cuddled up to me on the seat, happy she didn?t have to throw anyone out the window, I looked forward to the future of my children.

Bargaining With A Six Year Old

By Jeevani Fernando

?I want a rickshaw from Bangladesh Mummy, and don?t forget the rickshaw puller too?. This was her trading skills for my missing her cake cutting ceremony on her 6thbirthday yesterday.??She had been all dressed up, poised with cake, candles, knife and family, waiting for me to come on skype and watch her through webcam.??And I was held up at a staff meeting where ?changes? were being debated.??I am so glad that my 6 year old daughter has adapted to changes in her life so quickly and so joyfully and with a zest for life and its challenges that I wish we grown ups had.??She ended the bargain by simply stating ?It?s okay mummy, don?t feel bad. I know how important Drik is to you?.??I must have done something right to deserve children like this.??Because, I almost didn?t.

My ZoeZoe by Piet de Jong

Six years ago, she nearly died. I nearly died.??Somewhere between stopping the pill and getting a permanent implant, my gyno died. And unknown (ahem) to me, a new life was growing within.??I neglected. I ignored. I didn?t want.??I already had two. I already had a very methodical, routine, life. Two kids in school, me enjoying my part time job, two puppies, one husband.??Life was good.??And then it got complicated.??I jumped into a river from 4 feet high hoping it would go away.??It clung on to me. For dear life.??At five months the new gyno said ?you are bloody complicated, your placenta has moved away from baby, go home stay in bed, put your feet up, get up only to go toilet? ?Ya right? I thought. ?Where were you all my life?? I thought.
I underestimated the complication. The kids I already had thought I was getting uglier by the day. ?You look chubby Mummy. Daddy hates chubby? My husband sat far away from me ? although too late in the day.??The puppies grew up and started eating everything in the house. My complication was eating away my sanity.??By five months I HAD to tell people I was pregnant. Again.??My mother didn?t call me for three days after the announcement. I visualized my father?s jaw twitching in anxiety. ?How are they going to manage?? he would have thought inwardly.??When my sisters called, they asked about everything else except my pregnancy. My brother bought an extra pack of beer cans. For himself.
I wanted to crawl away and hide. I couldn?t. At seven months I bled like kurbani time in Bangladesh. No pain, no warning.??I thought it was over. She stopped moving. For the second time in my life, I feared death. I was rushed to emergency at 3am.??Blood soaked and completely freaked out. Gyno gave me that ?I told you so? look.??He tried a transvaginal scan and the scanner wouldn?t go through.???Serious? he said. Diagnosis??? placenta previa (placenta had dislodged from the wall of the uterus and was now in my birth canal, one push and it will come out with baby still inside).??He turned around and told his team ?prepare her, we need to take the baby out? I held his hands and begged and pleaded to let me stay just one day. The baby was just bordering 7 months. Still too small to be out.??She was below average in growth.??She had not received enough blood. I had siphoned it all out.??I begged and begged.??I had to sign a form saying it was against doctor?s orders and on my own consent that I opted to keep the baby.
That was one long wait for dawn to break.??I wasn?t allowed to move even to change my bloody clothes. The heart monitor picked up her soft rhythm. When all had left and I was alone, I placed my hands on my distorted belly and asked forgiveness from my baby. I pledged to take care of her no matter what.??I prayed for God to equip me to take care of a damaged baby.??That was what the doctor warned me about.??Stunted growth, possible brain damage, handicapped. I prayed that the family will accept this baby unconditionally.??I prayed that God would give me life so that I should be the one to take care of this baby.???I believe that was when the healing took place.??I had fallen asleep.??She started moving again. Her heartbeat picked up and got stronger.
Gyno decided to watch. Yet, would not release me to go home.??I was assigned a medical intern to study my case. I stayed one week.??And in that one week, I made friends with other mothers with the weirdest problems ever.??One was sweeping the garden and the baby fell out of the womb!! She had not even known she had dilated. They brought her in with umbilical cord still attached and a fainted mother. I wheeled myself to her bed and talked to her nights on end.??The baby was in neo-natal and she had no idea of the condition.??I read the reports to her. It weighed only a kilo. No wonder she did not feel it coming out. I got friends to take pictures of the thing in the baby ward and bring it over. It looked like a slightly large beghuni. My case forgotten. Temporarily.
My case is now dancing to the ?Macarena? at 6 years of age.??Complete, wholesome and an energy that keeps the rest of us dancing too.??Her simple reason to things she does is ?That?s why?