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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: A Night Call

Looking Back

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Friday February 26 2020-

Looking Back: A Night Call

From February 1897, an account of a late call-out for a missionary doctor in Pune (called Poona under British rule), India.


By Miss L. C. BERNARD, M.D., Poona

IT is eleven o’clock in the evening. We have just taken the last turn round the wards, and are thinking that bed will be very pleasant, when among the multitudinous sounds outside comes one that our Ramoosi (night watchman) distinguishes, and we hear his voice answering a call.

One’s heart sinks a little as one sees two men following him up the garden, but wishing to know the worst at once, I lean over the balcony which forms the passage between our rooms to ask what it is. “A man from Hardupsar,” is the answer; “his uncle’s wife is in trouble, and they want you to go there.”

Hardupsar must be close on five miles from the Hospital. This, and the prospect of a probably difficult operation in one of their small dark rooms, is not encouraging, and I do my best to get them to bring the woman to the Hospital, pointing out that in that case there will be nothing to pay, and the arrangements will be much better. They say little, but evidently hold to their desire, and the husband takes a seat on the ground, where he apparently means to stay till he gets what he wants.

“But the carriage has just come in, and can’t go so far.”

“They have a tonga at the gate.” It is evident that go we must, so I withdraw to change my dress, and to tell the night nurse to get the box of instruments ready, and to wake up Leahbai, the dispenser, who is my usual companion and assistant.

We two start with the tonga-driver; our Hardupsar friends are to follow when they get another conveyance. We pass through the uneven streets of the native town, then through the broad smooth roads of the camp, looking perhaps a little enviously as we pass at the two quietly sleeping Mission Houses.

We are out in the country now, and when we have passed the last policeman’s box our driver frugally puts out his lights and we go on by starlight, occasionally passing dimly-seen ox-carts. We seem to progress slowly, but at last we arrive at the village. No signs of our guides yet; it is to be hoped the driver knows the house, for we don’t!

We draw up at a house, indeed our farther progress is arrested by an ox-cart drawn up for the night in the middle of the road. In response to the driver’s call a man comes out, but he seems in the dark as to what we want. The driver explains, but he does not seem to know the woman. I contribute “L----‘s paternal uncle,” but at the question “what L----?” I am at a loss. However, he seems to understand presently, and says he will show us the house.

The first step is to move the ox-cart out of the way. We go on a little, the road is narrower and steeper, and there is another ox-cart! I suggest that we might walk if it is not far, and the driver is much in favour of this plan. We pick our way as best we can by starlight. It is not very easy walking. The path is of large stones about the size of paving stones, but of no particular shape, and not apparently arranged with any reference to each other. We pass dimly-seen sleeping bullocks, or sometimes hear their regular breathing out of the shadows.

The man stops at another sleeping house and rouses the occupants; as he does so a perfect chorus of barking dogs bursts on us from both sides of the road, not very cheerful! for these village dogs have a bad name. However, they go no further than barking, and the fresh man takes up our box and becomes our guide.

From under the verandah of a larger house we see light through the manifold cracks of a door. Some one is awake here, and entering, we find half-a-dozen women in attendance on the patient. The room is a good-sized one, and divided by a thick impromptu curtain, behind which lies the patient on the floor. The only light is from one or two cotton wicks soaked in oil. At once I demand a bed; there is some demur; but I say, “Yes, there is a bed, L---- said there was, and it must be fetched at once.” This produces an effect, and the bed is brought and the patient lifted on.

There is an anxious time, but by God’s help the woman’s life is saved. We make her as comfortable as we can in the circumstances, and leave some medicine.

L---- and his uncle have meanwhile appeared, and conduct us back to the tonga. We are not, it seems, to leave the village till we have the money, and this is being fetched from the Wani’s (the general shop). It is solemnly counted out to us, and we are glad to tell them that it will go towards the Hospital.

Then home through the starlight, arriving shortly before 3.30a.m., tired but thankful that we have been allowed at least to give the woman a chance of life.

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