Lifeline

6 min


7

Lifeline

She woke up when it was three minutes to seven, as always, and in time to switch off her alarm before it rang. She showered, made her coffee, and dry toast, and ate it. She drove towards the hospital, going through the schedules of the day ahead. Patients 127 and 143 were slated for delivery. She would have to reach the hospital an hour early to procure SOL vials from the state-run pharmacies. Only the chief nurse was authorized to request for the drug, after signing in a conditional form that said SOL would be used only for lactation purposes, for not more than one day. That administrative chore would alone take a chunk of her morning.

However, she recommended such precautious steps to access the drug. She knew the potent effects it had. She knew because she had read, once the world was run by humans who had it naturally in their bloodstream, hot-blooded humans who had traded reasoning for passion, logic for love. The resulting society was chaotic and unhinged, that imploded and decayed into itself. Yes, she knew that history well, when men built statues instead of hospitals, spent on wars instead of development, lavished on propaganda instead of purpose. 

Science came to the rescue finally, when after years of research, the gene that led to emotional development was identified, spliced and discarded, thus producing tailored humans, free of psychoshackles and mind games. They could reason, deliberate and act but without any distraction of anger, hate, jealousy, affection, empathy and love. It was success of science over art, brain over heart. 

She swerved into the hospital complex.

Slipping into her theatre clothes, she looked at the innocuous-looking liquid in the vials that could create a storm inside a women’s body after she gave birth. It was a necessary evil, though. The genetically modified humans were skillful, productive and focused except for one glitch. An emotionally sterile mother, it was found, could not lactate and no synthetic nourishment for neonates could level up to colostrum and there would be no colostrum without that tinge of bonding. To induce love, as the laymen called it, the state made it mandatory for all the new mothers to be injected with SOL, a concoction of hormones which helped in lactation. However,  the state required it to be administrated only by authorized personnel and under supervision. 

She remembered how SOL made her feel when she had given birth, many years ago.  That weepy feeling of helplessness, the ferocity of wanting to protect her baby and that tingling sensation that made you go weak in the knees when the searching lips sought your breast. The ordeal of being smitten by another being, a wanting to be near them, to caress, to smell and to kiss. A thoroughly harrowing exercise.  However, the state required all fertile women to reproduce, in vitro and lactate.

The sudden swing of the theatre door alerted her. Patient 127 was haemorrhaging and the fetus was in distress. The team kicked into action like a well-oiled machine. She saw the surgeon who was never arrogant, the anaesthetist who was never jealous and the nurses who were never covetous all working in unison to save the fetus and the patient in that sterile room. After two hours, patient 127 and the neonate could not be saved. Like an automaton, the crew moved on to the next patient. 

Patient 143 was wheeled in. She could tell a SOL druggie just by looking into the eyes and patient 143 was one. Their eyes emoted, the first giveaway. Spurious SOL, she shook her head. After the delivery, she injected the contents of the vial into patient 143. As soon as the neonate was brought to the new mother, her breasts became wet. Another sign of a druggie. It usually took several hours for a sterile mother to lactate. 

Next day,

She woke up when it was three minutes to seven, as always, and in time to switch off her alarm before it rang. She showered, made her black coffee, and dry toast, and ate it. She drove towards the hospital, going through the schedules of the day ahead. She had to return the unused SOL that was meant for patient 127 and hand it over to the pharmacy. In an unusual show of oversight, she had forgotten to return it yesterday and earned a stern warning. Next on her list was the discharge of patient 143. New mothers were separated from the neonates once lactation ceased. The neonate, however, had developed complications during the night and was not expected to survive for long, the pediatric nurse had kept her updated.  

She swerved into the hospital complex.  

“Can I see the baby before I leave?”

She looked up at the patient 143 once and returned to her work of removing the IV lines from the wrist.

“Just one last time, I want to hold her close to me one more time.”

“You have stopped lactating and there is no reason to bring the neonate to you, again.” She replied, dressing up the patient.

“You know my baby might not survive many days and whatever little time she has, I want to make her feel loved, cared for.”

She rolled her eyes. What romantic notions those people under SOL’s influence had. There was often no rationale behind the decisions made by them.

“All the more reason for the neonate to be in the critical care unit. Unnecessary shifting might prove fatal.”

“Please…” Patient 143 pleaded and began to sob silently. An assistant wheeled in a chair to remove the patient from the room. 

She returned to the nursing station and took out the case containing the unused SOL vial and hurried towards the pharmacy. She wished she had returned it first thing in the morning.  The management and the state did not look kindly to mistakes regarding SOL. It had taken decades of iron-clad policing and discipline to arrive at this stage of balance in society. She had read about how emotions in human beings had lead to centuries of restlessness. Genocide happened because a leader loved ‘his’ people more than others. Ostracism thrived because one leader felt ‘his’ humans were more entitled than the others. Rape, murder, plunder and pillage were committed in the name of passion, honour, and love. She shuddered at the very thought of such an environment. 

She passed by the crematorium building. Bodies were perfectly lined up to be incinerated. How efficient. There were times, she had read, when the disease-riddled bodies were kept in their homes for people to say their final goodbyes.  She would never understand why anyone would do that.  Would retaining a dirty container help to bring back the taste of the food it held once?  On the contrary, would it not rot and spread infections? Sentimentality dominated practicality. That should not be let to happen again.

Her mobile rang. There was an emergency, a possible code pink. As a member of the emergency team, she was to rush to the neonatal unit immediately. She walked in quick, contained strides, keeping in mind that she should not alarm other patients. Turning around the long corridor, she saw patient 143 screaming, clutching something close to her body. It was the neonate, a pink crown peeping out of the cloth bundle.

“I want her. I want to be near my baby. I want to hold her till her last breath,” the patient’s hysterical lament echoed around the hallway. In corner of her eyes, she could see hospital staff loading tranquillizers.

She approached the patient with assured focus. 

“You are hurting the neonate. You are doing no good to it. Look, how fast her chest is heaving.  She is gasping for breath.”

“If she is going to die, she is going to die in her mama’s arms, suckling at her mama’s breast, knowing that she was loved and cared for until her time came. I won’t let my poor baby face her end alone.” 

“You realize that the neonate is not even aware of your existence now? It cannot tell you from the mechanised cradle where she had been sleeping. It might just about live for a few days more under medical supervision. But it will have no fighting chance if it is going to dangle from your arms precariously.” 

She saw the neonate whimpering and squirming. It was obviously uncomfortable. 

“Please give it to me,” her voice was firm. She moved closer to the patient. The mother in turn clutched her baby closer to her chest and crouched against the wall. 

She tried to pull the neonate from the mother as gently as possible. She realized that both the women were cradling a helpless being. One was determined that the baby needed warmth of love and the other, stubborn that neonate needed medical intervention. 

She saw the mother hurriedly stripped down with one hand, trying to coax some milk out of her wasteful breasts to feed her baby. It was dry. Dry and sterile. Dry, sterile and useless. The mother looked at the nurse, pleading, tears streaming down the eyes.

“Do something. My poor baby…my poor baby”

She hunched down to see the parched lips, the clenched fists and crinkled eyes of the neonate who was wailing and searching for something, something to hold on to, something familiar. Could it be for medicines that might save her life, which she thought would be a logical need for someone who was sick?Surely not. 

At that moment, the chief nurse would never know what came over her. Later, she would attribute it to a momentary surge of dormant evolutionary chemicals flooding her body, an involuntary reaction to the stimulus. 

A warmth spread in the pit of her stomach. She could feel it cascading into her blood.  Her flexed body mellowed. Her eyes shone brightly. She knew her hands trembled but she had never been more sure than now, in that one bizzare moment. Her brain screamed not to do it, but her heart shut the voice up with audacity. She pulled out the unused SOL from the case and loaded it. A few nurses gasped. One tried to dissuade her, approaching her tentatively. A cold stare stopped the junior nurse on her tracks. She carefully injected SOL into the mother. She was aware of the stunned look of the medical staff around her. What an unimaginable blunder. 

The mother massaged her breast for a few minutes and soon the milk trickled down in drops, wetting her baby’s eager lips. The baby suckled with vigour and the mother howled in pain, or ecstasy, she would never know. The baby began to breathe in normal gulps of air, something she had not done since last night when she was taken away from her mother. Her greyish parlour began to fill in with a tender blush of pink. She clutched a fist full of her mother as if she was determined to live. Yes, the chief nurse thought. The baby might live after all.  

A few days later,

She woke up when it was three minutes to seven, as always, and in time to switch off her alarm before it rang. She showered, made her black coffee, and dry toast, and ate it. She drove towards the hospital, going through the schedules of the day ahead. She had a meeting with the Disciplinary Action Committee, today. The rest of her day’s work depended upon the decision made there. She had her defence ready. She was a nurse of exemplary qualification and experience. Doctors vouched for her expertise. She had devoted several hours of labour to the state and the hospital. However, she realised it might be her last day of working at the hospital, maybe even as a nurse. Her license might be revoked by the state and a jail term seemed imminent. Her colleagues wanted her to apologize, unconditionally. She did commit a cardinal mistake, they said. To save just one neonate she had set a bad precedent, they said. 

Strangely, she knew she did not regret what she had done. Yes, she would never be sorry for what she had done to the mother and the baby. 

She smiled as she swerved into the hospital.

******


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Delta

The author wishes to write like J M Coetzee, cook like Nigella Lawson and earn like Beyonce and at the end of the day, not look like something the cat dragged in. If wishes were horses...

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