Handling a large group of men and their families in the foreign port of Kiel, West Germany strewn all over the city was indeed a major task. Their various needs, welfare, wellbeing and movements had to be closely monitored all the time. For these purposes, this large group was divided crew wise for monitoring of their health, accommodation and other basic requirements.
Medical cover was being provided by a panel of German doctors and hospitals for all. Small ailments used to be managed at a clinic close by and larger ailments would be referred to empanelled civil hospitals. Since many members of the crew present there were either single or unmarried, it used to be a gigantic task to make the German medical authorities share with us, the officers responsible for their well-being, the type of ailment that any patient was suffering from. As per German patient confidentiality norms they would only disclose the type of ailment that the patient was suffering from to the family. This was alright for those whose families had accompanied them but for all single men, it was a daunting task to make the medical authorities talk to us. Much of our time got wasted in coaxing the doctors that we officers were the family of this body of men and therefore they had to disclose the ailment to us in order for us to monitor their progress.
On one such occasion, a sailor named Nath our Radar Chief, took ill with an apparent stomach infection. Our normal breakfast banter amongst officers included statements spoken jocularly like, “big chief, no shit” causing a lot of mirth amongst all. After the initial doctor’s visit the medical condition of Nath deteriorated day by day. After a few more doctor visits, the medical clinic referred him to a civil hospital for admission. Now our jokes at our breakfast table changed their tune to “big shit, no chief”. Nath being admitted in hospital was regularly monitored daily by scheduling visits of crew members in turn and I had visited him every four to five days. About two weeks elapsed in such a manner and there was no sign of recovery at all. In fact, on one fateful day, his condition worsened and the hospital sent a message to me that his family should be called.
Alarmed at this development, I informed our Executive Officer Mac about this development and we decided to visit the hospital together and speak to the doctors personally. On reaching the hospital, we were stonewalled once again about the medical ailment that our sailor was suffering from and then in an agitated state we moved up the hierarchy in the hospital to converse with all the specialists to find out as to what was exactly wrong with our man. On interrogation of the doctors it turned out that they could not diagnose his ailment properly terming it as some tropical stomach infection. After having disclosed that we were military officers and wanted quick answers, we went to the ward to see our man.
As we entered the ward and reached the bedside of Nath, I could observe that he had lost a lot of weight in the last couple of days since my last visit, had sallow skin and was dozing. Gently, I spoke to him and he opened his eyes with great difficulty and I could see recognition in his eyes of Mac and me visiting him. He tried to sit up but apparently had no energy to do so and hence I told him to relax and remain in the sleeping posture. I could sense that he was repeatedly murmuring something deliriously.
Mac and I exchanged glances and we stepped back a few paces to get out of earshot and conferred as to what was to be done now. We were indeed alarmed to see Nath in such a critical medical condition in this sudden turn of events the previous day. Nonetheless, we decided that we would spend some more time by his bedside and cheer him up. As I was making some comforting statements to Nath, I could feel that he wanted to speak something. His voice was so low that I couldn’t hear anything except to see that only his lips were quaveringly moving. I tried to hear by placing my ear to his lips to understand as to what he wanted to say. In my limited experience, I felt that he was on his last breath, then I heard faintly some words of the language Malayalam. Immediately, I told Mac that he was speaking in Malayalam and that he should listen as to what it was that he was trying to convey. Being a Malayali himself, it was now Mac’s turn to put his ear to Nath’s lips in order to listen. Mac came up with an incredulous expression on his face and told me that he was repeatedly saying “curd rice”. Both of us looked at each other in shocked disbelief. I then asked Nath in English if he wanted curd rice and he gave his assent by blinking his eyes.
Mac took an immediate decision to go to his home and prepare some curd rice for Nath. We sped off in my car to Mac’s house and requested his missus to prepare some curd rice immediately which she willingly obliged in quick time. We conferred that we would take this curd rice to the hospital and make Nath eat some. But now, there was the problem of giving outside food to the patient. Food from outside was totally forbidden in the hospital and we would have to smuggle it in. Hence, Mac decided that we would take this curd rice wrapped in foil hidden in our coat pockets and feed Nath.
Soon we were back in the hospital after about two hours after our last visit. The doctor and duty staff were quite perturbed that we would be disturbing their patient and we once again had to throw our weight to a different set of people that we were military officers wanting to see our man. Once in the ward, I drew the curtains around the bed, made Nath sit up and I fed him curd rice teaspoon by teaspoon. I could see the joy on his face and gratitude to us by giving a smile for the first time in so many days. After a few teaspoonfuls he soon drifted off into a deep sleep. Mac and I soon left the hospital and he decided that he would tell his wife to prepare curd rice for Nath daily and send it to him. For the next week, we smuggled curd rice into the hospital and fed Nath. It was some miracle that had happened before our eyes. Right from eating the first morsel of the “magical curd rice”, his recovery graph went upwards. Slowly, Nath got back on his feet and was ever grateful to Mac and me for bringing him out of his ailment.
I do not know what magic there was in the curd rice or whether it was homesickness and craving for a home cooked Malayali meal that Nath became fully free of his stomach ailment soon after. The German doctors would never have agreed to feed him curd rice nor allowed us to do anything else.
Such is the love for our men whom we command, that we would do anything to keep them happy and fighting fit.
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