off the cuff

The victims of unending pains of empathy

Due to serious deficiencies in the system, patients have to buy their own medicines contrary to the concept of social welfare

Lalit RaizadaSpecial to Gulf News
17:30 April 2, 2018

I was appalled to learn about a grisly incident that took place some days back. Twenty-eight-year old Ghanshyam lost one leg in a bus accident. It was completely severed from his body and lay aside.

His kin took the young man to the Emergency section of the Maharani Lakshmibai Medical College in Jhansi. Another person carried the severed leg. Ghanshyam was put on a wheeled stretcher when the other person placed the mutilated blood smeared limb on the stretcher. As he was being helped in lying on the stretcher, someone wanting to raise his head slipped the leg under the patient’s head. A traumatised Ghanshyam writhed in acute pain. He twisted and twirled as others watched his agony helplessly

For some, it was a ghastly sight — a patient resting his head on his own severed limb! The incident caused uproar in the emergency ward leading to a blame game. As could be expected, the patient’s kin said the nurse did it. The nurse claimed the attendants put the limb to serve as pillow. As it happens, quite often the CCTV cameras were not functioning so the person who did it could not be identified. But that is immaterial. The hard fact is that some insensitive person thought of utilising the limb as head rest. Strange indeed!

That was not all. Later, the limb was reportedly disposed of in Betwa river in violation of the established procedure that is intended to avert chances of any contagion spreading to others. Following the uproar in the media, the government on its part did its routine exercise — suspension of a couple of doctors and nurses. But the moot question remains; how can we instil sensitivity? In an identical case that occurred in Sultanpur, neighbouring district of Lucknow, the state’s capital, a youth Atul Kumar Pandey fell from a train and lost his leg under the wheel. He was taken to the government run district hospital along with his severed leg. The young man kept lying on the stretcher for two hours along with his severed leg before he caught the attention of the doctors. As could be expected, the doctors ruled out the possibility of its reattachment.

It was too late. The limb had remained exposed for too long and there was undue delay in treatment. Then the poor fellow was referred to the Lucknow Medical College because the Sultanpur hospital lacked facilities for such a surgery. They did not have even an ice box to preserve such limbs.

These are just two cases of human negligence and ailing medical services that have come to light, thanks to the social media. In this vast predominantly agricultural country loss of limbs is a common feature particularly during the harvesting season.

With medical services at their dismal low, the poor, illiterate go to the nearest ill-equipped primary health centre or a dispensary, not worth its name, and come back home after a cosmetic first aid and inadequate treatment.

Because of abject poverty, most people from the countryside are not always able to trek to big cities where they have to stay on footpaths along with the seriously-ill patient in the hope of getting an early date for admission to the overcrowded hospital.

Greater suffering

It is pathetic to see them spending time in the open in scorching heat, harsh winter and rain. The picture is the same outside All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, or Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow, or for that matter any other state-run hospital in the country.

Owing to serious deficiencies in the system, most often the patients are asked to buy their own medicines, including costly ones, contrary to the concept of social welfare. For such reasons, many hapless people let themselves and their family member suffer blaming their poverty and destiny for their ills. Some go to the village ojha (sorcerer) and other practitioners of black magic etc and come back with greater suffering.

The Jhansi incident is a blatant example (perhaps one of the many) of insensitivity of the highest order. I sometimes wonder how a person, however tough skinned he may be, can be so insensitive. Why does not a grisly sight as that of a mutilated limb soaked in blood move him? How did the person, whoever it was, who placed the ‘pillow of flesh and blood’ under the patient’s head not think twice before doing it? The very thought is repulsive and inconceivable. For people of my ilk it was most shocking.

Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.