Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Nurse who mistook 'one' for 'on'

The pillows in K.G.Hospital were very thin and in order to feel comfortable I needed two pillows under my head. Once, I thought I will try using one pillow and see how I feel. At that time only the nurse was in the room.

I looked up to indicate the pillow. The nurse started guessing: ceiling, fan, light, head, hair... everything except pillow. She had seen Jaya using our communication system (we call it 'pad') and decided to use it to crack the puzzle. She did not know the distribution of the letters and had to start every time from 'a' but that was only a minor inconvenience. I was delighted that she had got this idea. Archimedes was not so ecstatic when he jumped out of his bathtub.

I wanted to dictate 'one pillow'. She got 'o', then 'n'. She was thrilled that she had got the first word 'on' and thought that the next letter was the beginning of the second word.

I knew this was trouble. I had the sinking feeling that those folks of the Light Brigade must have had when they suddenly saw cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them and cannon in front of them that volley'd and thunder'd. (At least that is the way P.G. Woodhouse would have described my predicament.)

I continued nevertheless. I was sure that she would soon spot her error and then it would be plain sailing. Bigger miracles have happened before. But hopes are dupes, say old-timers (but they balance it out by saying that fears are liars).

The next letter was 'e', then 'p', then 'i'. By now the nurse was in a panic. 'On epi...'? What the hell was this guy thinking about? There was a baffled expression on her face as she considered and rejected various alternatives. Nothing seemed to fit. Luckily, her English was not strong enough for her to speculate on 'on epistemology' or 'on epicurianism' or 'on epigenetics', otherwise it would have been a very long day. She decided that the wise thing to do was to throw in the towel and wait for Jaya to come. Recognizing that we were at a dead-end, I acquiesced in her decision.

When Jaya came an hour later, I couldn't wait to tell her the story. After I was through, everyone started laughing. The nurse did not know where to hide. We lived on that incident for days. Everyone who came to our room heard the story. Inevitably, the nurse had a new nickname - 'on epi'. I may forget her real name but 'on epi' is etched indelibly in my memory.

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