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Some Congress leaders once went to Sewagram for Gandhi's advice. They found him busy giving wet sheet-packs and hip-baths to two ashramites suffering from fever. One of them asked; " Must you do all the we things yourself?" Gandhi replied: " who else is to do it? If you go to the village, you will find that out of 600 there 300 are ill."
From boyhood Gandhi had a passion for nursing. After school hours he ran back home to nurse his ailing father. He gave his father medicine, dressed his wound and prepared drugs prescribed by the vadyas. As he grew older his craving for serving the sick grew stronger. He decided to devote two hours daily for nursing in charitable hospital in South Africa. There he learnt to dispense over many legal cases to a Muslim friend as he could not attend to all the legal work brought to him.
When Gandhi came to India in 1896, for a short time, he kept very busy in informing the Indian leaders about the plight of the Indians settled in South Africa. His time was taken up in writing and distributing the Green Pamphlet. Yet the moment he learnt that his brother -in-law was seriously ill and his sister could not afford to employ in nurse, he brought the patient to his house, put him in his own room and nursed him day and night.
For about a month Gandhi dressed the wound of his eight year old son who fractured his arm. Gandhi undid the doctor's bandage, washed the wound, applied a clean earth poultice and tied up the arm till it healed. Another ten year old son had an attack of typhoid. For 40 days Gandhi nursed him. He wrapped up the child's body in wet cloth enclosed in dry blankets in spite of his piteous cries. He took great care of and showed tender love for his patients but did not allow any lapse in treatment. While nursing another typhoid case, Gandhi for a fortnight applied earth treatment and hip-bath to a child. Every hour and a half he placed on its abdomen a new pack of mud one inch deep. after remission of fever, the held was allowed to have a diet of ripe bananas. Gandhi himself mashed the bananas for 15 minutes and coaxed the child to eat it. He did not entrust that work to its mother lest the patient was overfed. While treating the sick, Gandhi tried to keep patient's mind at peace. He was against boy was ill and craved for a cup of coffee, he himself prepared it and gave it to him.
In spite of heavy pressure of work Gandhi never failed to inquire about the sick inmates of his ashram every day. He sponged the patients, gave enema and baths and applied mud-poultices. He was more than a nurse to his patients. He had no fear of any infections. A leper beggar once came to him. Gandhi offered him shelter, dressed his wounds for some days and later sent him to a hospital. One fellow prisoner developed symptoms of leprosy. Gandhi got permission to visit him regularly. He was later sheltered in Sevagram for years. Gandhi daily dressed his wounds.
On two historic occasions Gandhi found a greater scope for offering his service as a nurse. One was the Boer War and the other the Zulu rebellion. On both the occasions he raised an Zulu Ambulance Corps that tended the sick and carried the wounded. He proved an able leader of the nursing squad and marched miles bearing the wounded on stretcher. He was a happy to nurse the Zulu who were flogged and left unattended, as even the white sisters of mercy refused to nurse them. Their wounds were festering. Gandhi also dispensed prescriptions for the white soldiers. For his service he was awarded the Zulu War Medal and theKaisar -I Hind gold medal.
When plague broke out in the gold mines of south Africa, many Indians labourers fell sick. The moment Gandhi heard of it, with four assistants he went there. No hospital was nearby. A vacant godown was broken open, some beds were installed in it and 23 patients were removed there. The municipality thanked Gandhi for this prompt action and supplied him with disinfectants and sent nurse. She had a good stock of brandy as preventive. Gandhi had little faith in it. He gave medical aid and cleaned the patient's beds, sat by their beside at night and cheered them up. With the permission of the attending doctor he applied earth treatment to three patients. Two of them survived. All others, including the nurse, died . To keep fit for rendering service he considered to be as much a duty of a nurse as to look after the needs of a patient. He always took precaution and never ate to his fill when overworked. Gandhi was an expert in giving enema, hip-baths, sitz-baths, oil-massage and in applying mudpacks and wet-sheet-packs. Fro bringing down his blood-pressure he often applied mud poultice on his head and interviewed important persons with that earth bandage on. To the Japanese poet Yone Noguchi he said: " I sprang fro Indian earth and so it is Indian earth that crowns me."
He seldom got disturbed at the critical turn of a patient's condition and with cool nerve nursed his wife and sons. Kasturba twice fell seriously ill in South Africa. Doctors gave little hope of her recovery. Gandhi, with patience, courage and alertness nursed her, gave her enema, cleaned her bed-pan and once tried to comb her hair. Early in the morning he carried he rout from the bedroom and laid her whole day in the open air, under the shade of a tree. As the sun changed its course, he shifted the bed.
To get a trained Indian nurse in South Africa was difficult and there was every chance of a white mid-wife's refusal to attend a coloured woman. When Kasturba was bearing a child, Gandhi made a study of midwifery and helped the safe delivery of his last child.
In the Aga Khan Palace, during Kasturba's last illness, Gandhi tried give her relief by giving hipbaths. He then was 75.
This nurse -cum-compounded was highly praised by the nurses who attended him when he underwent an operation for appendicitis in Yeravda jail. A nurse said: " Nursing is not always a joy but it has been a pure joy and a privilege to nurse Mr. Gandhi. The doctor told me, 'You did not use to print your reports like this before.' I told him, 'Nor had I such a patient before."