If things had gone the other way,then we would have wondered what we were doing for 37 years
Aruna Shanbaug has no idea how significant Monday was for her,but it was an emotional day for all the nurses at the KEM Hospital where they have been taking care of her for the past 37 years. Celebrations broke out at KEM soon after the verdict was announced,with nurses distributing sweets and raising slogans against Pinky Virani,who had moved the petition for mercy killing for Shanbaug in 2009.
We are delighted with the verdict. She is one of our own and we will continue to look after her, said a senior nurse,who has been at KEM since 1972. Nurses said Shanbaug was fed fish curry and rice which they say is her favourite after the verdict. We also tried to feed her kaju katli,which she accepted, a nurse said.
If things had gone the other way,then we would have wondered what we were doing for 37 years, said Dr Sanjay Oak,KEM Dean,at a press conference in the afternoon. It is a landmark judgment,also a humanitarian judgment,it acknowledges the role of the KEM nurses,reposes confidence in the public health system,and gives a stimulus to the thought process on passive euthanasia,which is welcome, Oak said.
Shanbaug will turn 63 this year. On the night of November 23,1973,she was attacked and sodomised by a KEM ward boy when she was leaving for home after duty. The attack left her paralysed.
Oak said Shanbaugs routine would continue to be the same. Nearly every nurse at KEM has at some point or the other taken care of her. After she wakes up,she is sponged and her clothes changed. She is given tea thereafter most of her food,mostly liquid or semi-fluid including fruit juices,is fed through a feeding tube. The fact that she has never developed a bed sore is a source of pride for the nurses.
Oak said it was very difficult to say how aware Shanbaug was of the events around her. When I went to visit her on Friday,and called out to her she turned and made a noise but it is very difficult to draw a cause and effect relation here. She is mostly in her own world,she listens to music,sometimes she shrieks,but she is never violent, he said.
Oak said that since he took over three years ago,he had been making weekly visits to Shanbaugs ward. I feel she blesses me, he said. Since the incident there have been seven deans and we have just carried on the legacy. One of the earlier deans,Dr Pragna Pai (1989 – 99) would even get food for her from home, Oak said.
We should not play god. She should be given medication to give her relief. Let nature take its course. There is no need for us to be aggressive with her medication,but we should not try and shorten her life, Pai said.
In the 10 years that she was dean,Pai often took mangoes for Shanbaug. I often took shira,or ladoos or some other sweets and sometimes my husband and children would also remind me. This episode took place when Aruna was working at the hospital. She is a patient here as her family has abandoned her. But the staff has stepped up and taken care of her. In such a situation if someone says that she should be killed,they will feel hurt, Pai said.