‘The kids are alright’, I thought and was about to return when my baby told me, ‘Mumma, princess, the dog, pounced upon me today.’
My heart sank and I checked her arm where she claimed the dog had bitten her. There was no blood but there were some scratches. The dog was well vaccinated and was a good pet, but I decided to take my pre-schooler to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.
This is how I landed at the hospital – to get proper medication for my baby.
There I saw her. Sitting next to me with a bandaid on her right wrist.
‘Are you the patient?’, she asked me.
‘No. She is. Why?’ I said pointing towards my daughter.
‘Oh Okay. I thought since she is a baby, it is not right for her to be here in this emergency ward’, she thoughtfully replied.
‘Oh! Thank you for the concern. But she has got a suspected dog bite.’
‘The doggie bit you? Show me where?’, she spoke to my baby in a sweet, friendly tone while checking her arm and adding ‘no, this is not a bite. It is just a scratch. You will be fine, don’t worry’, shaking hands with her.
This is when I noticed the band aid on her wrist. ‘What happened to you?’, I asked her.
‘Ah! Nothing much. I am here for some blood tests’, she replied with a faint smile.
‘I hope it is not something serious.’
‘No. It isn’t. It is just about Bariatric surgery.’
‘Oh! For weight loss. I understand. Sometimes even I get thoughts of getting some surgery done’, I said, pointing towards the flab on my belly.
‘Ha ha. Yeah! But I am undergoing it so that I can donate my liver.’
I kept looking at her smiling face. How easily she uttered, ‘so that I can donate my liver’.
She probably guessed the look on my face which is why she placed her hand on my hand and said, ‘it’s alright. It’s just liver after all.’
We exchanged a look. That familiar look which conveyed that we could talk.
She further revealed, ‘I need to donate my liver to my ailing husband. His liver is not functioning. It won’t function ever again. So he needs a liver to survive. He is admitted here in this hospital. You know how difficult and strict rules Indian Government has made regarding liver donations. Only a family member can donate a liver so I have volunteered.’
‘Oh my my. This must be so hard for you’, I tried to comfort her giving her a hug.
‘It’s alright. I am doing it for my kids.’
‘How old are they?’, I enquired.
‘One is eight and the other is five.’
Each thing she revealed about her life was sending me not just into deep contemplation but also in a state of adoration for her and in a state of shock for the society.
‘You have such young children. Why are you undergoing the surgery then?’
‘Because I am over weight. I need to lose 90 pounds to be able to donate the liver to him.’
I was aghast.
‘I am Obese. I am about 198 pounds right now. I need to be close to 110 pounds to be able to give my liver to him. I can’t lose 90 pounds in a short span of time and I do not have much time on hand so I have decided to undergo the surgery.’
‘But why only you? Why not his brother or somebody else in the family? You have two young children’, I said with tears welling up in my eyes as I looked at the picture of her two adorable kids.
‘I am his wife so I am supposed to donate’, a sarcastic smile flashed on her face.
‘Do your in-laws or others acknowledge your efforts and the fact that you are volunteering to save your husband?’
She gave me a dry smile that conveyed the answer. I looked into her eyes and could see her two young children and her immense love and affection for them.
‘They acknowledge that I am doing my duty.’
‘They think it is your duty?’
‘Yes. They do. They thought and said so when I warned them years ago that their son was becoming an alcoholic.’
I couldn’t believe that I was not listening to a movie script but was sitting face-to-face to a real woman grappling with real life issues of patriarchy and abuse.
‘My husband and I have not had any relations for the last four years. He took upon heavy drinking five years ago and whenever I tried to stop him or warn him, he would simply walk away from the room. One night while we were returning from a party, I found him heavily drunk. He was driving the car. I suggested I drive. He stopped the vehicle and asked me to get down. I thought he was giving me way to drive. As I got down, he sped away leaving me behind on the road. That late night, I managed to reach home with the little money I had in my bag. Since that day I stopped telling him anything, whatsoever.’
‘What about his family? Didn’t they ever try to stop him?’, I wanted to know.
‘I don’t know whether they tried or not but I know that indirectly they held me responsible for his condition. They believed that since I was obese, I was not keeping him interested enough in me which is why he got distracted and took to binge drinking. They now even go to the extent of blaming me for his condition.’
I was now losing the heart to listen to her story anymore. I immediately wanted to go and chide her family and her in-laws for doing what they were doing to her. Before I could hurl some choicest of abuses to them, she told me why she was doing it.
‘But I am not doing it for anyone. I am just doing it for my kids. He is their father. I have tried walking out of the marriage several times but each time, I returned because of my kids. More than me, they need him. And had it been a friend who could use my liver, I would have donated it to my friend as well. Here, it is my husband. I can’t see him dying. I learnt about his liver failure a day before I was packing my bags to finally leave him. I dropped the idea of leaving him. How could I? The doctors here have been very supportive. They have asked me to re-consider my decision but I told them that I have to do it.’
I put my baby down from my lap and hugged her. What an incredible woman!
This awesome woman I met is well educated. She works part time in a prestigious company and on few days a week, she works with special kids in a nearby school. She is a woman of substance. A woman of morality and a woman of courage. The way she spoke about her family (her own parents included) in a neutral tone without sounding judgmental and without blaming them for her decision showed how much she believes in her own capacities and how much she can endure upon herself.
When I insisted that she did a second round of discussion with herself about her decision, she said, ‘we have been conditioned like this. I am doing this more out of kindness and sympathy for a man I have shared my life with than as a duty of being his wife.’
Here lies the biggest trap. When the conditioning of ‘being a dutiful wife’ doesn’t work, we are endlessly taught to be kind, compassionate and giving.
In the end, women only must give.
I so badly wished I could help her in some way.
But how could I possibly help her? It is not only about her. It is about the whole gamut of people around her who condition her the way she now thinks – ‘It is my duty and more so I am doing it for the sake of humanity and kindness.’
Helping her out would mean questioning these set-ups. It would mean asking the men to own up to their own disasters. True help to her, and many like her, would be to make the whole mankind realize the worth of women’s lives.
‘I just want him to get alright. That is all. He should be able to live and my children should get a stable life. This is all I want.’
It was time for us to part. We parted ways with hugs and best wishes for each other. I could see her moving out of the emergency room while greeting all the nurses and attendants she met on her way to her husband’s ward.
There was something remarkable about her. It was not exactly what she was doing for her husband. It was how she was doing it – so gracefully, without any bitterness and without any expectations in return.
Later that night, I met a liver transplant surgeon who works at the same hospital. Before returning to India, he had practiced for ten years in the UK. I was still in thoughts of that brave, selfless woman and mentioned her in the conversation I had with the surgeon.
What he told me was not only startling but also conforming to the woman’s story.
‘I have worked in the UK for more than ten years and have been working in India for about four years now. I can tell you the pattern I noticed in these countries when it comes to donating liver. Indians are quick to donate. A family member falls ill and we have many who are willing to donate but eventually it is the wife, daughter or the sister who ends up donating in the end. In this whole process of getting medical fitness check ups and liver health and blood tests, the families convince the women to make the sacrifice.
While in the UK, there are very few volunteers. Be it within the family or outside the family. In India, people volunteer which is simply great but it is mostly women and this is very sad.’
I can’t conclude if I should be elated at the way Indians volunteer to give up an organ for a loved one or I should be ashamed of how in most of the cases, women end up giving their organs to the men.
But I can conclude that our world still has a long way to go. This story isn’t only about a woman or an Indian or an organ donation. It is more about inequality and predominance that prevail in the whole wide world without an iota of shame or guilt or apology.
As a fellow woman, I want her to know that I deeply share her pain. I understand her trauma and I salute her for her indomitable spirit. I wish I could be of some help to her but more than that I wish she could act a little selfish. I wish she could forget about giving for a while and think more about receiving in return.
Above all, as a fellow woman, I pray to lord that no other woman has to make such self sabotaging sacrifices ever again for which there is no acknowledgement and no gratitude in the men’s world.
I am meeting her again in few days and I am thinking of getting a good gift for her. I wish I could gift her a liver.
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