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Unexpected lessons from a surgery

By Veenu Sandhu
November 15, 2019 11:49 IST

'It was to be a two hour long surgery and anything could go wrong,' recalls Veenu Sandhu.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

 

Three weeks ago, I went under the scalpel for the first time in my life.

A tumour, thankfully benign, near the right ear, needed to be removed.

Given its sensitive location, it was a job best done by a head and neck surgeon, a specialist familiar with the anatomy and physiology of the region.

What made the surgery tricky was the proximity of the facial nerve, which controls the muscles of the face.

The surgeon has to be careful to not snip this nerve, else the face is thrown out of whack.

As the day of the surgery approached, I found myself surprisingly, and impressively, calm.

That is, until the HR department sent out an e-mail about a notification from the Employees Provident Fund Organisation.

It is mandatory for all members to name a nominee to avoid 'hardship to the employee's heirs in receiving the provident fund, family pension, (and0 insurance fund accumulations of a deceased member', the mail read.

'Deceased'.

What a horrible word to encounter just before a surgery!

The wheels in my brain started spinning.

It was to be a two hour long surgery and anything could go wrong.

They could over-anaesthetise me.

Or the surgeon could be sleep-deprived.

Or could have been drinking the night before.

What if his hand slipped?

There was only one thing to do: Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Whoever said that never made more sense than now.

I got down to work.

The EPFO Web site threw several hurdles my way, but in the end I had my nominee in place.

Relieved, I had almost settled back into my state of calm when a tiny voice in my head whispered: 'Do you have a nominee for your bank account?'

I was pretty sure I did, but nevertheless decided to check.

"No, ma'am, there's no nominee," said the bank lady on the phone.

Panic.

The surgery was five days away and my bank account had no nominee.

Did my other measly savings have a nominee?

I needed to find out.

As he helped me with the nomination form, the young man at the bank looked a bit concerned when I asked: "What happens if something happens to the account holder and there is no nominee?"

And even more so when I enquired: "And if something happens to the nominee too?"

I gave him my most reassuring smile, but thereon he kept throwing sidelong glances at me.

The experience was by and large the same at the other places too.

Unfazed, I persisted and by the end of the week had the nominee business all sorted.

"Now all you need to do is write your will," remarked a colleague, shaking her head.

For a moment, I considered the idea, but then decided that would be extreme.

Anyway, the surgery went off well.

The facial nerve is intact.

The doctor showed me proof of that on his phone -- a picture of the inside of that part of my face, nerve, veins, tissue and all.

The experience has left me with new respect for the complexity, and resilience, of the human body.

It has also made me -- and those around me -- think about it more closely.

One fallout of the surgery was that initially, sensation to the external part of the ear was lost.

Sitting at the dining table, my mother felt her own ears and said, "We never quite feel them, do we?"

But for the right earlobe, the sensation to my ear, meanwhile, is largely back.

The earlobe isn't really considered to have a major biological function, so that's a relief.

But then the earlobe isn't all useless either -- a body part that evolution will eventually discard.

"My fiance says she likes my earlobe," said a colleague, which promoted me to turn to Google to discover that for some people, the earlobe is an erogenous zone.

The face and the facial nerve have been other areas of deep reflection.

"Come to think of it, we don't really see ourselves. We think we do, but we actually see everything else and everybody else, but ourselves," said my husband, reflectively.

"Even when we look into the mirror, we see ourselves as the reverse image of how the world sees us."

The camera, too, doesn't give us our real picture; it captures only a tiny fraction of us.

For example, I have no idea what I look like when I am furiously angry.

Or embarrassed.

Or feeling silly or ignorant.

Or tearfully happy.

So much of myself I have not seen.

And probably never will.

That's some realisation.

Veenu Sandhu
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