iconimg Friday, September 04, 2015

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
Bhopal, January 20, 2013
Regretfully, a few days back I had to take an accident victim to the emergency ward, and thereafter to the general ward, of a prominent government hospital in Bhopal that goes by a ‘numerical’ name. I shall attempt to recount the experience without prejudice, difficult as it may be.


While by definition hospital ‘emergency’ wards should have a flurry of activity - with doctors and nurses rushing patients in - this one had queues. Two queues to be exact. One was of the injured and suffering, going all the way across the hall to the sole doctor on duty. The other was of their kith and kin, trying to slip in the hospital fee through the iron bars of the cashier’s enclosure.

Suddenly, two groups arrived, shouting and holding up their patients - injured in a fight -- like trophies. The animosity between the two hadn’t ended, so amid cries of pain they continued issuing death threats to each other. Before I could witness more of this bloody saga, we were called in by the doctor.

Seeing that my patient was merely injured and not about to kick the bucket, the doctor lost interest and started filling up a form. After a few pat-downs (things they do at shopping malls and cinemas) in the name of treatment, he said, “Get him admitted. Need to observe.” Why? What’s the problem? Is there anything to worry about? The answer was same for each - a cold, impatient stare.

After yet another visit to the cashier’s iron-clad chamber, I and the patient made our way to Ward No. 2 (male). The staircase -- strewn with bandages soaked in bodily fluids, bloodstained cotton balls, paan-laden spit and much more - was seeing some action too. A couple was sorting out marital issues by raining blows on each other. The wife seemed to have been winning, and the crowd gathered around loved that. Rudely interrupting the goings-on, we proceeded.

Ward No. 2 (male) was a microcosm of all that is wrong with our public healthcare system. Almost every bed was occupied, patients surrounded by relatives (it was 10 pm, way beyond visiting hours) who were gossiping, crying, knitting, breast-feeding babies, eating or sipping chai bought from a chai-wallah who was walking up and down the ward like a visiting specialist.

At one corner, an attendant was trying to ‘unscrew’ an oxygen cylinder by hammering it with a piece of stone. At another, a patient needing his bed to be raised leg-up hung on for dear life as a wooden bench was shoved beneath it giving it a precarious 120 degrees tilt. Thankfully, the bed that my patient got was level. There was even a sheet on it. And it bore marks of several battles for life waged, and hopefully won.

The medical care at this ward was esoteric, consisting largely of needlejabbing by a nurse who had a bad day and eternal wait for a doctor.

“This is real India, you snob,” one might jeer. But does it have to be like this? Even after six decades of the Republic?