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What do you do when life throws you a curve ball

When Kamala** was young, she wanted to be a teacher.  Why? Because her grandfather was a teacher, her father was a teacher and so was her mother.  Growing up in a lower middle class home in Kolkata teaching was a tried and true profession in her family.  Besides it was respectable for a young woman to be a teacher – and would help when she married and had the dual responsibility of managing a home alongside taking care of a family.  Since her career choice was made rather early on, there was no ambiguity in Kamala’s head, and when she was old enough to realize that preparation for life actually begins quite early (especially in families like hers, where being employed early on was paramount to keep the home fires burning) she threw herself into her school work with gusto.  Encouraged by her mother and her teachers, she even signed up for a first aid course while in Grade 8.  No one in her family had gone through something like this before, but her mother who wanted her daughter to learn as much as she possibly could, felt the more she assimilated, the better.

So, every 3 months, Kamala along with a few other students was taken to a local hospital where they were taught heretofore unknown topics like first aid, civil safety, basic hospital care and so on.  Kamala took to it like a fish to water, and this did not go unnoticed by her trainers at the hospital.  “You are a natural at this.” she was told.  Next came the question, which set Kamala thinking and unbalanced her carefully laid out life plan. “Have you thought of becoming a nurse?” she was asked.

Kamala went home perturbed and unsure.  Training to be a teacher was something her family had down to a pat. But being a part of the medical profession was not even on their radar.  Would she be able to work in a hospital? Was she intelligent enough to grasp what was needed? And how would her family pay for her training? Would the exams be hard to clear?  Like in most traditional households, Kamala’s father immersed in reading his Bengali tomes, did not allow his daughter’s perplexed state to worry him too much.  But her mother began to consider the possibilities for Kamala.  The “what if” state that her mother found herself in, resulted in Kamala completing a 1 year diploma in nursing after Class 12.

So, if you are thinking that Kamala’s life took the inevitable turns – she became a nurse, started working in a respectable hospital nearby, settled down and is working shifts at the hospital while managing her home and family – think again.

Post the diploma, Kamala’s grandfather developed a chronic back ache.  The family entrusted her with the task of taking him to the hospital for “exercises”.  Flummoxed as to why her grandfather had to be put through “exercises” in a hospital, the dutiful Kamala had her first encounter with the so far unheard to her area of treatment called Physiotherapy.  She watched fascinated as a young therapist, not much older than her, clad in a white coat put her grandfather through a series of routines.  The therapist rattled off terms related to muscles and nerves and joints, which sent young Kamala’s mind spinning.  Here was a person, not quite a doctor, and not quite a nurse.  This person was in a pleasant space – between the complexity and dexterity associated with being a doctor, and the care and efficiency that nurses demonstrated.   And the lifts and bends her grandfather had to do, came at a substantial cost to the family. The pay seemed to be better than what one hoped to earn if one became a nurse!

10 days later, Kamala was as clear minded as a calm lake.  She enrolled for a basic course in physiotherapy at the State Council of Physiotherapy in Kolkata.  While studying, those in the know recognized her potential to do significantly well in this field, and they recommended she take up the advanced course – which to her credit, she did.  Her diligence and hard work landed her a plum internship at a fairly large and well reputed hospital in the physiotherapy department.  Never one to do anything half heartedly, Kamala started building up a repository of equipment required for physiotherpaists.  She wasn’t sure how it would come in handy, especially if what she heard about landing a permanent posting in the hospital was true, but it would help her hone her technique while off duty.

When one is not destined to lead a relaxed existence, it is perhaps then that the powers that be arm one with the necessary tools and skills to face life. Kamala’s has not been an easy life.  She is a single mother to a teenage boy and is supporting an invalid mother alongside an unemployed brother.  Along with mastering aspects like exercise techniques, massage, yoga and electro therapy and its application to various ailments, Kamala also had to learn to be a juggler.  Well, she juggles a full time job, parenting, care of the ailing and managing various family crises.  As the financial constraints of being a single earning member began to affect her, Kamala took the bold decision to start a private practice after work.  She had to do this under the radar as regulations at the hospital did not allow employees to moonlight.  But the good faith and hard work she demonstrated at work, won her many friends. Unbeknownst to her superiors, doctors and nurses who were aware of her financial predicament, passed on details of patients requiring private treatment at home.  This goodwill and Kamala’s willingness to work hard has helped her supplement her income through this private practice.  She recalls the time when she had to fund hospitalization of her father; and another instance when her brother decided to tie the knot and looked to her for money; and when her growing son came home begging for a cell phone and computer.  During those times she says she has visited upto 10 patients after work, every single day of the week so that she could supplement her income and because she has never been able to say NO to her family.  Her self effacing attitude and commitment to the recovery of patients, endeared her to the families whose homes she visited. Some she left after her work was done, others she had to leave when therapy did not have the desired result and some others she still visits as part of long term therapy.

Kamala’s home visits have put her in touch with various types of people – some even famous.  After all the ability to use with ease, one’s limbs and joints is a universal desire that cuts across race, religion and gender.  But whoever they may be, and whatever the ailment, Kamala says that three qualities have helped her get ahead – patience, a thirst for knowledge and a love for the patient.

Like most resilient people, Kamala has dreams.  It looks like her problems at home are resolving themselves one at a time, and she knows that there will come a time when she will need to focus on herself.   And she is well prepared.  She plans to convert the ground floor of her house into a gym.  Gyms these days she says have a trainer, a dietician, a masseuse and so on. But none of them have a trained physiotherapist.  She is puzzled by this, because who knows better, the dos and dont’s of exercises than a trained physiotherapist.  She intends to correct this anamoly in her own gym.  She also plans to push her private practice to the forefront by having associations with clubs, so that members who need therapy can come to her, rather than visit hospitals or other establishments.  Kamala is anything if not prepared!

Well, I came in touch with Kamala through a family member who is a regular patient of hers.  Over the years that I have seen her, she has always been punctual, polite, professional.  I am told that during those days her personal struggles have been plenty, but like a consummate professional she has never let on.  Kamala agreed to talk to me, on condition of anonymity, because she felt it would give an insight into physiotherapy.  Of course, it was unfathomable that I may want to write about her because I just found her dignity and resilience so admirable.  And it is – for me atleast.  They say you can never keep a good person down – and in Kamala’s case, she has only risen despite the many curve balls that life has thrown her – as a professional, as a daughter, as a mother and as a human being.

 ** Name and other some other details have been changed to protect personal identity

Cover image courtesy: Flickr user Michal Wilczek

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