Thursday, December 11, 2008

Life is Not Always Like This

Can commitment and support make tragedy feel a little less tragic? Read this story and tell me what strikes you about it apart from the obvious..
CHENNAI: Nirmala Shankar got married on November 30. She had everything on her — the make-up, wedding sari, jewels and flower garlands — just like a
perfect bride. But she also had a piece of a bullet stuck to the frontal lobe on the right side of her brain. It had hit her head when the terrorists opened fire at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus on November 26, as she was waiting to catch a train to start a new life in Chennai.

Nirmala had quit her job in the HR department in Mumbai-based Edelweiss Securities to settle down in Chennai with K Shankar Narayanan, a manager with Shell India. "We first met on September 13 and the following day our families decided on the wedding plans," she says.

Eventually, the couple did keep their date, but it took a lot of doing. Four days before the wedding, while the prospective bride and her family were waiting to board the Chennai Mail at CST, Nirmala was among the 100 seriously injured in the firing.

Shot in the head, she was rushed to St George's Hospital and later JJ Hospital, Mumbai. With the hospital teeming with casualties and doctors weighed down by VIP visits and media scrutiny, her family overnight decided to move her to Chennai for better attention. Her father, Ponnudurai, who works with RBI, then brought her back to Chennai, against medical advice.

Nirmala told her family she did not want the wedding to be called off. "I met my fiance the next time in the hospital on Thursday with the injury. We decided nothing would change our wedding plans," she says.

The same day, medical tests confirmed there was shrapnel in the frontal lobe of her brain. When Nirmala's father took her reports to a neurosurgeon at Apollo Specialities, doctors confirmed she would require immediate surgery.

"But the family did not want to postpone the wedding. We had little option but to put the patient on a broad spectrum antibiotic to ensure that the infection did not spread. The injection had to be taken every 12 hours," says L Murugan, neurosurgeon, Apollo Specialities Hospital.

"I was a little scared," says Shankar. "It was raining and the doctors had told me to ensure that she didn't get her head wet. But it was the third time we were meeting and I couldn't say no to her. So we did everything as per plan, shopping included," he says, drawing her close.

Twenty-four hours later, the two families and their relatives gathered for the reception followed by the muhurtham on Sunday morning.

The next day, Shankar and Nirmala walked into the hospital for her surgery. The doctors performed a minimal access brain surgery using neuro-navigation, where they drilled into the skull with an intra-operative ultrasonogram and laser.

"It's like a GPS. We track the metal piece on the computer screen and then remove it with minimal cuts. We did see some more metal pieces scattered on the scalp but we did not remove it as they were too tiny. But she has responded well and is likely to be discharged on Wednesday," Dr Murugan says.

Now Nirmala plans to return to Mumbai for further treatment. "It's the place I grew up. It's my city and I love it. Nothing can change that. I would want to go there for my treatment and return when I am fine," she says smiling at Shankar, who nods in approval.

This is not just a story, it is very real.