Being a woman was almost viral today. While all creativity was sacrificed at the altar of this new pride in that something called ‘womanhood’ the celebrations were just as superficial , the emotions as virtual as was the space which bore the rantings of a world that suddenly competed to correct the misdeeds of past. Even the most notorious and the most cynical ones joined in the glorification of womanhood for once
A medical representative, stood with a bouquet and a card along with her product monogram. Any other day I wouldn’t have liked this intrusion but in this new found spirit of sisterhood I indulged her. She was doing her job. I smiled at her.Well she was a woman too.
As she left I noticed a familiar face peering through the half closed door. I recognized him immediately. He was an interpreter to patients from Tazakistan and he stammered very badly. He had my sympathies but when pitted against a foreigner whose language I had no means of understanding and a medium who stammered so hard that it made everything impossible to comprehend, I could only brace myself for a difficult time ahead. If he was not my best friend, I was not his favorite doctor either. He rather made no bones of it. Once when I had asked him to be a little quick, he had grumbled about me being a little impatient. I could recognize the same impatience creeping once again,
A tall bulky women followed him. She greeted me before sitting on a stool near me. I looked at the interpreter warily as he once again broke into a stammer. Trying hard not to look exasperated I smiled encouragingly at him. There was no point being at logger heads with the only help I had around. Lot many hurdles remained to be cleared. Moreover, there was no point having a repeat stand-off with him.
At times it zapped me that these ladies who were otherwise covered from head to tail in their trademark black hijab, chose to share with these strangers ( interpreters) their most intricate and intimate details, sometimes even in the absence of their husbands. Well,necessity remains the mother of all inventions.
From what I gathered from him, this women wanted help in conceiving.
‘No children?’ She looked a little older. Her papers mentioned that she was actually thirty eight.
‘No maa’m she has three!’
‘Actually she had five.’ This is where it got stuck. The moment you wanted a detailed history, it got really difficult as you had no inkling as to what she was saying. One had to depend upon the interpretor’s intelligence. And in this case it was so difficult to trust it.
‘Well, she had 5 children, of whom only 3 survived, all of them males. Rest died within 5 days.
‘Hmm, so she had 5 pregancies.’
The interpreter translated it to the women. She shook her head vigorously and broke into an incoherent speech once again
‘She’s saying she had six more.’
Did he seriously mean 11 pregnancies. She was only 38 years old and just about 2 short of Mumtaz mahal’s record.
‘Actually she had six abortions after her deliveries.’
‘She has spent almost all her life in pregnancies and still she wants more’ I seriously appreciated some people’s zeal to procreate.
The doctor inside struggled to decide the tests she needed to undergo, when I was bombed with another piece of information
‘Ma’am, actually all the abortions are with the second husband.’
‘Second!’ I stared at the expectant smile on the woman’s face.
‘So get her present husband tested.’ It was getting simpler.
‘But, he has eight children from another wife, youngest less than a year back.’
My ambitions to test him quietly walked out of the window in face of such a daring proof.
It never was easy for a doctor.
‘Why should he want more now?’ They were not a very rich country.
“Actually he wants a daughter from her.’ He spoke indulgently at the woman.
Trust me for not understanding such obvious emotions. Shaking my head I set out to write a battery of tests to evaluate her continuous and persistent efforts at motherhood.
‘I could go far for that someone I loved, if only I knew how far….’
Men in that part of that country were allowed many wives. A harem! I scoffed. Yet I was amazed to see a surreal acceptance amongst the wives for each other.
Once a woman suffering from a bad genital infection wanted to take medicines for the other wife too. Laughing at my raised eyebrows she said,’If she doesn’t get treated, this husband of ours would again transmit infection to me. I once heard her over the telephone. She was asking him to get me treated.’
I guess it was allowed in their religion so they accepted it .’
‘My religion allows too but Indian woman not so accommodating.’ The interpretor bent forward to give his best smile. I didn’t realize I had spoken out aloud. I was neither impressed by him nor did I want to be part of any slapstick humour and looked blankly at him. Embarrassed, he fell back on his chair.
I was not really convinced about the tests I wrote , yet I didn’t want to disappoint someone who had travelled miles just for this. Throwing a grateful smile at me, which I felt I somehow didn’t deserve, I watched her leave my clinic.
Women! How boundaries changed our perceptions, behaviours and ambitions too.
I was not left with much time to brood.
A small plump dark girl had been just waiting for her turn and rushed inside, followed by another older woman who appeared to be her mother.
They were carrying a pile of papers, some yellowed ones on the verge of a massive breakdown peeping though the files. The government gives them poor quality papers, and they keep their tiffin over them and yes, we still talk about maintaining records. No point getting sarcastic over a piece of paper, smelling of pickles. But then there was so much more stored in those weathering ones!
The elderly lady sat on the stool in front of me, and younger one who appeared to be her daughter sat at the corner.
I looked at them questioningly but the lady had too much on her head to look at my questioning eyes.
‘I have to get her married.’
‘You know how important it is for a girl to get married.’
It was debatable but I guess from her viewpoint she appeared justified. I waited patiently, just to see where I came in her plans of marriage.
‘I guess, I do.’
And it was still not clear to me who was the patient. The one who sat near me was usually the patient but here the one who sat near me was the one troubled more.
‘So what brings you here? Not a marriage proposal for sure.’
‘Actually at AIIMS, they gave her a medicine and she started having regular cycles. Then one day when we went there again , they changed the drugs. Now she has no periods. Your hospital is on my panel. So please write the earlier medicines so that I can get it from the dispensary. ‘
Her problem didn’t make my diagnosis and much as I wanted I couldn’t write a prescription without one.
People sometimes like to tell their problems in their own way but we doctors have this habit of extracting information in our own ways.
At least it was clear who was the patient now.
‘Can you please change places with the girl?’
She looked a little embarrassed but obliged.
‘ Madam, she can have children , na.’
‘I know its important for you.’
‘Yes mam, very much!’ She interrupted me.
‘But can I please understand what’s going on?’
‘At AIIMS , they told me it’s a Turner syndrome.’
A Turner! With a start I looked at her. It was a condition where the person had XO chromosome rather than XY or XX. Absence of Y chromosome, made her a woman , yet the presence of just a single X made her at most ‘not a man’, genetically speaking.
I looked closely at her . She was short necked but other wise she carried all the feminine traits. They carried no papers but she told me that she was not suffering from any heart defects so characteristic of a Turner syndrome.
‘When did you realize you had a problem?’
‘Madam, she didn’t start menstruating so we had to see the doctors. At AIIMS they gave us some medicines and she was alright. Now they changed her medicine and her periods stopped. You please write down the ones she was taking earlier.
‘Do you know what being a Turner means?’
The girl lowered her eyes.
‘Madam, she has to marry.’
‘You might have to remove her ovaries. They get cancerous.’
I didn’t have the papers but I was sure she must have been told about this.
‘Madam, how will she marry then?’
‘ I am telling you about cancer and you are talking about marriage? I think it’s the only thing important to you.’ I couldn’t hold back the sarcasm..
‘It is!’ She failed to understand it
‘Why don’t you start searching right now?’
‘Yes ma’am, we have already done so. You just write her previous medicines so that she starts having periods.’ She still didn’t get it.
Probably she had closed the doors to any rational thinking and no voice of reason could reach her now.
I turned to the girl.
‘Listen, I hope you know what you are dealing with. Please bring your old papers next time so that we clearly know where we stand. I hope you have been told that one needs to remove the streak gonad ( ovary / testis) inside the abdomen else they get cancerous. That’s a huge risk.’
‘ I understand ma’am. They asked me to remove that about 4rys back but ..’ Her voice trailed off
‘ I am studying. Soon I will be in the final year of graduation.’ She was like any other chirpy girl of her age and I sincerely wished her parents didn’t impose so much upon her.
Conventions were important but what did one do when it was ‘nature’ that became so unconventional. In a world were even altered sexual preferences were gradually getting accepted , what standing such people had, socially as well as legally?
It felt almost cruel to explain her intersex status to her. Her mother’s ambition to get her married off was soon going to expose her to this ruthless world where such deviations from the norm where not taken kindly.
She lingered in my thoughts long after she had left and I waited to see her again anxiously.
I didn’t have to wait long and she was back in my clinic two days later with all her papers
They confirmed that she was not just a simple Turner but a little complicated one. Her karyotype revealed that 40 % of her chromosomes were XY and 60 % were XO. Fate is indeed funny and how it shaped our destiny.
If I thought it was tough explaining her genetic set up, her mother was proving me wrong. There were more pertinent matters that needed to be discussed .
‘Ma’am, she can have children, na?’
I stared at her.
‘You just write the medicines she was taking earlier.’
If only she understood that having menses and having children didn’t go together.
Exasperated I once again turned to the daughter.
‘You need to have a ovary and a genetic set up to pass on to and make babies.. Yours is dysfunctional. Having a menses a few times was just an aberration from may be sporadic production of harmones.’
‘Ma’am , why don’t you understand.’
It was clear who was not ready to understand. Her mother was now bugging me.
‘Listen. Do you realize you are 40% a man , 60 % half a woman, whatever that makes you. I hope you know that the society has a word for such people. Yet your secret is under the blanket. What happens when your mother gets you married. You won’t have a baby and your husband is going to take you to a doctor and then all hell will break lose. How would they feel? Your marriage gets null and void and your reputation tarnished. It’s a very cruel word that we live in.’
She could still marry and enjoy a normal physical relationship. At least God had been kind enough and she was normal in other places. Adoption, doner eggs and IVF were other options for her. But she needed a very well understanding life partner for that. It sounded highly improbable but then life was pregnant with possibilities.
I knew I was being a little blunt and felt a trifle ashamed when I saw tears in her mother’s eyes. Strangely my words still didn’t register on her.
Her daughter needed to be on harmones all her life to substitute for the ones her dysmorphic glands were not making. But then that still didn’t take away from the danger of cancer that was lurking beneath. She looked at my worried eyes and glanced away.
I looked at her daughter. This was her life. Was she such a baggage to her parents? Or was it just a social responsibility that compelled them? Probably they were doing it just to escape alienation in a society that frowned upon parents not able to get their daughters married off.
‘I know ma’am. I will get it removed.’ The girl lowered her face.
‘How will she have kids then?’ Her mother interrupted and I ignored her.
Her daughter passed her a warning look.
‘I hope you understand your health , happiness and dignity is more important than marriage any day.’
She nodded. Her mother kept her tearful eyes averted.
I knew it wouldn’t be so easy to get rid of that potentially malignant streak gonad for that is where her mother’s dreams of her happy future lay buried.
A strange world we lived in. I couldn’t help feeling sad for her.
She left along with her mother towing behind who kept her eyes downcast. I had not heeded to her demands to write the old drugs. It was irrelevant and didn’t make any difference. What was the point of fuelling unrealistic dreams, anyway.
The irony called nature rattled.
Just two days back we had so much going in the name of International Women’s Day. So what made a woman? A pair of X chromosomes or was it something beyond that?
My brooding eyes caught at the bouquet and a card at the corner of my table. It read in pink ’Be the woman, you want to be’. Indeed…