At 6.30am on Wednesday, a group of nurses started decorating a room in ward number 4 of KEM Hospital with flowers, ribbons and balloons.
In less than an hour, the room wore a festive look as the new curtains, bedspreads and pillow covers replaced the old ones and a small air cooler made its way to a corner. After a while, the patient in the room, Aruna Shanbaug, was helped with a new blue gown.
The occasion was Shanbaug’s 63rd birthday. Shanbaug, a former nurse of the hospital, has been lying there in a vegetative state for the last 37 years, after she was sexually assaulted by a hospital sweeper in November 1973. This year, the nurses of the hospital who have been tending to Shanbaug wanted to do something special for their former colleague.
By 8am at least 30 nurses along with the dean, Dr Sanjay Oak, gathered near Shanbaug’s room to celebrate her birthday. “We cut a cake on her behalf, fed her a small piece and prayed to god for her well-being,” said Dr Sanjay Oak. “When we told her that it is her birthday, she made few noises,” said matron Suman Bhonsale.
After the cake cutting, the nursing staff gifted her an air cooler. “Given the hot weather, we thought an air-cooler would make her feel more comfortable,” said Jayashri Tarkar, treasurer of the Nursing Welfare Society of the hospital.
This year is special for Shanbaug since in March the Supreme Court had rejected a petition filed by author Pinki Virani seeking mercy killing for Shanbaug. KEM Hospital’s management and nursing staff had opposed the mercy killing plea.
In the afternoon, nurses fed Shanbaug her favourite dish, fish fry.
“We had prepared some fish curry and fish fry for her. We fed her a small piece of fried fish,” said Anuradha Parade, secretary, Nursing Welfare Society.