By Uma Sudhir
The police escort was in the line of a verbal firing. I was at Osmania General Hospital in Hyderabad, in the RMO’s room, where a convict brought in from Chanchalguda central prison for a medical check-up was bewildered, looking on in total confusion over what the fuss was all about.
“Isko to ECG ke liye yahan bhijaye hai. Tum isko ultrasound ke liye kyon le gaye? (He has been sent here for an ECG, why did you take him for an ultrasound?)” asked the RMO, poring over the convict’s medical records, very angry.
“Madam, ECG ka counter do ghante se band tha. Doosra room khula tha. Wahan paper dikhaye, tho woh test kiye aur report diye. Hamein kya maloom kya test karana, madam, ” (ECG counter was closed for the last two hours. The other room was open. I showed the papers there and they did the test and gave the report. How do I know what test is to be done) was the escort constable’s defensive reply. The RMO glared at him and if hitting a man in uniform was not an offence, she probably would have.
“Kal court mein pesh karna hai, wahan heart attack aake mar gaya, tho court mein ultrasound ka report dikhaoge kya,” (Tomorrow he has to be produced in court. There if he dies of a heart attack, will you show his ultrasound report) the RMO was exasperated. The person incharge in the ultrasound section got a mouthful as well.
All that morning I had been trying track Rajitha, an 8-year-old orphan child, a victim of domestic abuse, who I had met the previous week at a government hospital in Mahbubnagar. I had learnt the child was brought to Shishu Vihar in Hyderabad. From there to Niloufer Superspeciality Hospital. I had to physically check the Children’s Ward there before finding out the child had been sent to Osmania Hosptial for an emergency orthopaedic surgery on her broken left arm that had since got infected.
I had rushed to Osmania so that I could see Rajitha before the child was wheeled in to the operation theatre. The surgery was to take place at 4 pm but even an hour later, no doctor or nurse was around to even find out when the surgery would take place. And the frail child was half unconscious, having eaten nothing since morning. That’s why I had gone in to see the RMO.
The RMO was responsive and immediately called the ward to check. “Rajitha was taken to the operation theatre about 15 minutes ago,” was the reply. “So if you wait for another 45 minutes, we would be able to tell you her condition post-surgery,” the RMO offered, pleased that not everything was wrong in her kingdom.
I thanked her and decided to go and wait outside the ortho ward where Rajitha had been admitted. Only to find Rajitha was still very much on her rexin bed, all shrivelled up. Whoever had answered the RMO’s phone had preferred to lie. Presuming that no one was going to come in and physically check in any case.
It took some more chasing before Rajitha was finally taken in for surgery. But not before a duty doctor came in and poked the back of her palm (for the drip) with a blunt, fat needle apparently meant for adults. The nurse pointed that out to him when Rajitha bled and screamed. After all she was already a very weak child, only bones, no flesh or muscle, weighing less than 12 kg even though she is 8 years.
But then these are `minor’ errors for which no one asks any questions. There are a lot more grave things to worry about in hospitals like this one.
All around the ortho ward, in the corridors, everywhere, there are nightmarish scenes. People with broken bones, some in bandage, blood stains here and there, some waiting for attention, some screaming in pain, some too tired and defeated to even complain. All waiting in the hope that they would get the healing touch here and walk out healthy and well one day. After all, they have no other place to go. Government hospitals are the only place they can afford.
Overstretched, undermanned, often not run in either the most efficient or professional manner but that is what we have in the name of public hospitals all over the country. The sheer magnitude of the infrastructure is mind-boggling and yet it often seems a miracle that it provides healthcare to so many with the capacity to knock no other door.
My colleague Sanjay Tiwari after a visit to Jagdalpur hospital in Chattisgarh, where those injured in the attack on the civilian bus were admitted, requested the SP of Dantewada, Amaresh Mishra if he could try and get the blood-stained bedsheets changed. “It has been three days since they were admitted there, Sir and they have to sleep on those sheets, all blood-stained,” Sanjay explained.
“I will try,” promised Amaresh, pointing out how on the evening of the 17 May, the day of the attack when the bodies were being brought to the health centre at Sukma, one of the first jobs he did was to sanction the purchase of bulbs to instal at the centre. Shocking. Would the 40 W bulbs offer any light at the end of the tunnel, I wonder.
I remember how a few years ago, a pregnant woman refused admission to a government hospital in Hyderabad, delivered her baby in the parking lot of the same hospital. The report provoked outrage. What did the government do? It banned the media from entering hospitals across Andhra Pradesh. The reality of the world inside hospitals need not be known to the world outside. Shoot the messenger. Problem solved.
When a jadoo ki jhappi cures the ailments of the public health service system in a hospital, the film is a superhit. Unfortunately in real life, the system needs much more than a jadoo ki jhappi.
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