The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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In Mother’s footsteps, nursing for free

Bhubaneswar, May 25: In the grimy and unwashed corridors of Capital Hospital at Unit-6 here, it is easy to miss Shashiprava Devi.

Draped in a white apron and the regulation white sari, the 5 feet 8 inches, Shashiprava looks like any other nurse pacing the hospital wards. But there ends the similarity.

While other nurses get a pay cheque at the end of the month, Shashiprava doesn’t. Or rather, she has chosen not to.

Even after retiring as a nurse in Capital Hospital in 1998, Shashiprava has continued to report for duty at the cardiology department there, without any remuneration.

“I always liked attending to patients. Besides, I can’t sit back idly at home. So I just had to come back,” says Shashiprava.

The 63-year-old nurse seems to embody what Florence Nightingale said: “I don’t get repulsed if a patient is vomiting. I love my patients.”

Serving patients means more to Shashiprava than anything else, salary included. So after retiring she requested hospital authorities to let her continue working. Shashiprava’s request may have been unusual, but the authorities agreed as few could match her skill and dedication. Besides, her services were free.

A picture of quiet efficiency and selfless service, Shashiprava is ready for work at 8.30 am every day at the hospital where she has served for 20 years. Patients turn to her for solace as she moves around the ward at the cardiology department. Doctors admit they would be at a loss without the veteran nurse.

“If there is any emergency, we can trust Shashiprava to do the needful. She is a wonder in intensive care for heart patients,” said Dr Umesh Patnaik, senior cardiologist at the hospital.

Technicians and nurses have lost count how many times she has come to their rescue.

It would have been very different if Shashiprava had chosen to hang up her apron. But the nurse did not know what it means to retire.

At 17, Shashiprava idolised Mother Teresa while training as a nurse at the SCB Medical College.

All through her 30-year nursing career, she has wished she could do something “similar to what the Mother was doing”.

Says Shashiprava: “I was fascinated by the Mother’s attitude of serving mankind. I told myself I can’t be like her, but what is the harm in trying.”

The nurse, whose gentle demeanour hides a steely determination, never did get to meet her idol.

But like the Mother, she did not want to make money from serving the ill and needy. “Did the Mother charge anything for treatment' So why should I'” she asks.

This dedication to service drives Shashiprava at work. Between taking electro-cardiograms and conducting various other tests, didi, as the nurse is fondly known, has time for a quick chat with a patient who might be feeling low.

Didi is a godsend. She has been more like a mother,” said Radhika Sahu, 55, who was admitted to the cardiology ward last week after complaining of chest pain. Her son, Madhav, nods in agreement: “Didi spreads affection.”

But this epitome of compassion has had a tough life. Shashiprava’s father died when she was training as a nurse. A few years after she began working, her mother died.

Although Shashiprava was affected by the twin deaths, she did not wallow in sorrow. Immersing herself in work, the nurse found no time to marry and start a family. “Perhaps marriage would have distracted me,” Shashiprava says.

Shashiprava received the Mother Teresa award in 1995. The nurse has got many awards along the way and this has made some of her colleagues envious. Some openly question if Shashiprava should have been allowed to serve after retirement.

But this has not shaken the veteran nurse’s resolve to serve without charging a penny. After Shashiprava retired, at least two private hospitals here offered her a big salary.

But she chose to continue at her old hospital.

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