The late chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa, was known as much for her iron hand in ruling her state and party, as she was revered as Amma, or mother, by the common people. But since her death on Monday, of a cardiac arrest while she was recovering at Apollo Hospital in Chennai from a long period of illness, several moving stories of her kindness and compassion have emerged.
As the staff of the hospital that took care of Jayalalithaa during the last 75 days of her life convened at a memorial service, anecdotes of her wit, humanity and little-known facets of her personality were told. Her doctors recollected her as a mostly cooperative patient and quite mindful of the well-being of her carers.
"What happened over the last 75 days hit our inner hearts," said Prathap C Reddy, Chairman of Apollo Hospitals, who knew the chief minister for several decades. "There are no words to describe what she was. She had the capacity to care for people and won the respect of all."
Of the 16 nurses who took turns to care for the chief minister in several shifts, Jayalalithaa had singled out three as her special favourites. She referred to the trio -- CV Sheela, MV Renuka and Samundeeswari -- as "King Kong" for their doughty characters. She smiled at them, chatted with them, tried her best to eat as they coaxed her to, but was occasionally difficult.
Her favourite meals -- upma, pongal, curd rice and potato curry -- were prepared by her cook, who was brought to the kitchen of the hospital to prepare her food. In spite of her difficulty in eating, apparently Jayalalithaa often ate one spoon of curd rice each for the sake of the three nurses and one for herself.
To the women doctors, too, she was charming, asking one to try out a different hairdo and giving others tips to take care of their skin. "She always advised women to give themselves some time however busy they were," medical director Dr Sathya Bhama told The Times of India. Yesterday, journalist Dhanya Rajendran also recounted in The News Minute, the story of Jayalalithaa's exceptional kindness when she was molested on duty as a young reporter.
Jayalalithaa disliked the hospital coffee so much that on one occasion she invited the assembled staff over to her home in Poes Garden for the best Kodainadu tea. When British expert Dr Richard Beale tried telling her he was the boss in the hospital and she better listen to him, Jayalalithaa smiled back and, although unable to speak, made a gesture to indicate the entire state was her own turf. She had even promised to take the nurses on a tour of the state assembly.
After being admitted to the hospital on 22 September, complaining of fever and dehydration, Jayalalithaa recovered sufficiently to have ordered sandwiches and coffee. In spite of several trying weeks, she gained her spirits enough to joke around during physiotherapy sessions. She was keenly alert to all the procedures that were being ministered to her, asking questions about the medication and for the ventilator settings to be tweaked when she felt uncomfortable, a critical care specialist told The Hindu.
The end came suddenly, last Sunday, when she had recovered miraculously and was watching a Tamil soap opera on television. On entering her room, the medical attendant found her struggling to breathe. Soon she had a massive cardiac arrest from which she never recovered.
"The last 48 hours have been a humbling experience," Dr Reddy said, remembering the untiring efforts of the medical staff to revive her. "No matter how hard you try, the outcome is not in our hand. We can only work hard and pray that the outcome is good."
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