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KEM nurses:We did what Aruna Shanbaug would have

Mumbai: Aruna Shanbaug was a six-month-old child to almost every nurse who entered King Edward Memorial (KEM) hospital in Mumbai for last 42 years.

“Do you ever get enough of child of that age? You never stop loving that kid. We did the same,” said Surinder Kaur, head nurse at the hospital’s cardiac division.

It was in 1976 when Ms. Kaur entered the hospital as a nursing student. She knew about a lady called Aruna Shanbaug, who lay in a semi-conscious state in ward number 4.

“I could never talk to her. But I know that she loved egg curry. I cannot forget the joy on her face, when she tasted it. She could not move, but was always eager to have a clean bed sheet. She expressed her happiness through her tiny eyes,” Ms. Kaur remembered, adding that not once did Shanbaug suffered of bedsores in those 42 years.

A small locked room near ward number 4 at the hospital’s medicine department was Shanbaug’s only home for all these years. A hospital which treats thousands of patients from across the country every day, much more than its actual capacity, never abandoned this lady. “Maybe only a government hospital can afford this luxury,” Ms. Kaur said, jokingly.

In initial years, the room was always open. But after Shanbaug’s name started making rounds in media, thanks to the book on her by Pinky Virani, it was locked.

On Monday afternoon, the ward adjacent to room was overflowing with patients as always. Relatives of the sufferers looked curiously at the non-stop flow of journalists seeking directions to that room. As Shanbaug’s lifeless body was brought to the ground floor and kept on a floral bed, the nurses shouted, ‘Long live Aruna.’ The rest of the staff joined in.

“We wanted her to live more,” one of the nurses said, her voice quavering with emotion. Many heads nodded in affirmative.

A small radio in her room played religious songs. Many believe that boosted her confidence. Nobody knows who brought it in, but it stayed there, till the end.

Ms. Kaur remembered how everyone gathered to celebrate her birthday. “We used to have cake and she used to have a new gown. We always celebrated it the way anyone would do. I am sure she loved it,” she said.

Shanbaug, as many say, loved to help her patients. “She was one of us. We just did what she would have done. We helped someone who needed it. Nothing special at all,” said Ms. Kaur.

The hospital management is now planning to set up a small structure inside the hospital in memory of Shanbaug.

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