Of Showmen and Pricks

As a child, I was always scared of injections, well, anything that came with a needle attached. I remember shivering with fear and whimpering when it was time for the annual round of inoculations, but I never had anything like the gumption Amma described in her childhood, when she actually bolted herself into the bathroom to escape an injection. The compounder – in those days injections were delivered by that tribe, the docs preferring to remain the good guys and offer you sugar pills – finally shook his head and left, and Amma lived to tell the tale.

No such luck for me, not even when the doctor decided to call the bluff of a huge tennis ball sized bubo I grew in my armpit when I was fourteen. He shook his head at anaesthetic – ‘too close to the head’ – and, instead, choosing an evil-looking crochet hook from the array of tools on his desk, plunged it in. That opened a new dimension in pain for me, one that competed successfully even with childbirth some years later.

It also taught me the magic of showmanship. Even as I shrieked, Amma slid gracefully to the floor with the shock of the experience, and Appa and the four doctors that were hovering around me much like Torquemada’s assistants, vanished to her side, trying to revive her, while I gazed blankly at the pus from my arm dripping into the small bowl they had thoughtfully put under it. They clean forgot about me!

As I advanced in years, the occasions that warranted needles on various parts of my anatomy grew with me. Huge with the son, I was put on a daily course of Penidure injections purported to help my asthma during the pregnancy. Unbelievably painful, the needle site would throb till the next day, when the new one would take over. It was like a relay race in pain. The Ma-in-Law would shake her head at the tears in my eyes, ‘You’ve got to be brave. There are worse things ahead of you.’ The husband would scoff, ‘It’s only an injection. You’re such a fuss-pot, always whining.’

Till the day he himself developed a wheeze, and the doc – bless his soul! – decided to try the Penidure formula on him. He got home just in time to collapse on the couch in the drawing room. The Ma-in-Law fussed over him all evening, and even got me to take him his dinner in bed. I didn’t mind, not even that the showman had won again. I’d got my revenge. The husband never ragged me about those injections ever again.

More than a decade later, I suffered a slipped disc. It was excruciatingly painful, especially since the disc, for no reason that I can fathom, chose to slip on to the sciatic nerves in both my legs. It would take me fifteen minutes to get from my bed to the bathroom, while the husband hovered impatiently around me, ‘Can I go now?’ The doctor suggested a spate of tests and MRIs, all of which would take at least two days. This when even twitching my big toe would have me whimpering with pain.

That’s when the husband had his big idea: ‘Let’s try acupuncture.’ He’d just completed a set of documentaries on alternative healing therapies. ‘Anything,’ I muttered from the haze of pain that enveloped me, ignoring the squawk that emanated from Amma’s direction, ‘Do you know how many needles that will mean?’ At that point, I couldn’t care less.

And initially, believe me, it didn’t hurt, maybe because it hurt so much more to just be. In four days, I was walking upright, with the help of just a stick. That was when it struck me – I had committed myself to this daily torture session for the next six months!

The husband was pleased as punch. ‘It was my idea,’ he told everyone who asked, and some who didn’t. The torture sessions continued, and I would spend the thirty minutes that I was reduced to a pin cushion every day calling the husband every name in the dictionary and some I’d invented since.

Not that it bothered the husband. Every time, someone asked me how my back was doing, he would chirp in, ‘I’d recommend acupuncture to everyone. She’s much better, and there’s a fringe benefit. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to see your wife lying back totally incapacitated, fifty needles poking out of her. It’s great, man!’ This round, too, to the showman.

First published in The Financial Express.

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