The hands that whisked me out of the jaws of death when I was a wee baby lie lifeless in another part of the world. I never tire of telling the tale of the day I was born and nor did she. For it is truly a miracle that I lived to write these words. Let’s go back in time to the year 1978. On July 19th of that year a bonny baby girl was born in Lady Wellington Hospital, Madras to Malli and Mathew. She was the granddaughter of Dr. Rachel Chacko an esteemed pediatrician practicing in Madras. Two days later, my mother went into labor and was admitted at the same hospital. She was scheduled to have a normal delivery but upon examination the ob-gyn realized that the baby (me) hadn’t turned and the head was not facing the birth canal. She had mistaken my butt for my head in the last examination and thought everything was normal. Remember this was before ultrasounds were part of regular prenatal care.
As my mom got ready to push, the doctor realized that my feet were coming out and not my head. It was too late to do a C-section and they ended up yanking me out of my mother’s womb. I had already started breathing and had taken a lot of amniotic fluid into my lungs. My hips did not slide out gracefully and got dislocated when the doctor tried to pull me out. They succeeded but I wasn’t breathing when I was born. The ob-gyn panicked and then remembered that Dr. Chacko was in the hospital attending to her granddaughter. She called her in and placed my small lifeless body in her hands after pumping out my lungs. She breathed life back into me and probably pleaded with God to give me a chance. There was no telling if I would survive and even if I did only time would tell if I had suffered any brain damage during those precious moments after birth when I wasn’t breathing. Whether I would ever walk was another question that no one wanted to address. My hip was plastered for over a month. All that mattered now was that I was alive by the grace of God and one wonderful lady who didn’t want to give up on me. Also losing another child would have devastated my parents. Their first born baby, a girl, had a hole in her heart and passed away after 27 days.
Dr. Chacko was my pediatrician during this ordeal. Never once did she confess her worst fears to my parents. She prayed for me every time I visited her. She prayed and was thankful for every developmental milestone I crossed. When I walked, she was over the moon with joy. When I talked she couldn’t hide her mirth and relief. I loved going to see her because she always treated me like royalty or like some miracle of nature.
Years later when I no longer consulted her, my parents used to take me to visit her every now and then. She stopped seeing patients but continued to be very active in her church and socially. She was a wonderful friend and companion to many in her circle who sought her wise counsel and benefitted from the faith and grace that always exuded from her. She split her time between Vellore, Bangalore, and Chennai, with her daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She always spoke highly of my friend and her granddaughter S, who she was very proud of. I share a lifelong friendship with S who with the timing of her birth, in a way saved my life as well.
In her later years she was plagued by many ailments but that did nothing to dim her spirit. As her body shrunk her spirit only became brighter and stronger. She was always warm and welcoming, with a twinkle in her eye and a smile lighting up her face. When I went to meet her with my children she still treated me like a girl, fussing over my health and complimenting my children at the same time! As a doctor I’m sure she has touched numerous lives but she has touched many more lives by just being an incredibly generous and compassionate human being.
A few years ago when I was going through an incredibly tough phase in my life, I went to visit her with my parents. In her incomparable way, she sensed something was amiss just by looking at me. She held my hand and inquired about my health and eating habits while I sat next to her for nearly an hour. Was she silently praying for me like she always did? I’m certain she was. Because when I left, I had this incredible sense of peace that I hadn’t felt for months. Soon after that visit I left for the U.S. and her health deteriorated even more over the course of a few months.
In March 2019 I went to visit her. She was recovering after a surgery that removed part of her tongue. Although she looked very frail, her memory was sharp. She recognized me, smiled and talked to me. I couldn’t understand most of what she said but I smiled and held her hand for a while, remembering all the times she had prayed and willed me to have good health and a good life. Here lay the woman I owed my life to and yet I could do nothing but hold her hand and pray that her last moments be peaceful and filled with love and loved ones around. Seven months later she passed away after a brief illness.
I can only imagine what her family is going through. She was a force to reckon with – strong, independent, a pillar of support for her whole family, and admired by her friends and colleagues. The world will be a dimmer place without her light but I’m sure she will continue to shine on from up above.
S and I were both blessed with grandmothers who were epitomes of strength, resilience, faith, and dynamism. We grew up in the shadow of their magnificence and always carry a part of them in us.
When adversity strikes I always look to my grandma’s life for answers and I’m sure S will also find her Ammachi’s gentle guidance helping her navigate all the ups and downs in her life. Grandmas never leave our side even when they have left this world. How could they? They promised to love us forever.