Last month, a senior resident working on the late-night shift at Lok Nayak Hospital's emergency room was slapped by a distraught mother who wanted him to spend more time treating her son.
"The three-year-old was brought with an asthma attack late at night and I put him on a nebuliser to help him breathe. His breathing stabilised and I started treating other patients but the mother became hysterical and slapped me. She said I wasn't doing enough to help her son," said a resident doctor who did not want to be named.
Another intern posted at the orthopaedic emergency was threatened by the family of a man with a soft tissue injury. "He asked me to hurry up as he had five people with him and another 70 downstairs, who would get violent if there was a delay," said the intern, a woman.
Threats and violence are part of the daily grind of doctors at the emergency department of the hospital located at Delhi Gate in central Delhi. At any given time of the day, 8-9 doctors are present to handle a daily inflow of about 400 patients -- all in a rush to get treated.
"The doctors work in six-hour shifts and since the patient flow is high, we have to prioritise treatment depending on the severity of the case," said the doctor.
"Over the last six months, three FIRs were lodged against families who roughed up doctors, but incidents keep happening," said Dr Muneesh Sharma, president of the Resident Doctors' Association at Lok Nayak "After last fortnight's strike, home guards have been deputed, which has improved security somewhat but the staff still doesnft feel safe," he said.
"The system is overworked. We cannot refuse treatment to anyone. We are equipped to handle a certain number of cases and if more people come, we have a shortage of everything -- doctors, medicines, beds. No tertiary care hospital can function properly if there is no limit to the number of people it has to take in," said Dr Siddhartha Ramji, former medical superintendent of the hospital. Dr YK Sarin took over from Ramji superintendent on July 6.
About 1,000 people queue up daily at the sample collection centre for free diagnostic tests such as liver function test, kidney profiling, lipid profiling, haemogram, etc. The blood collection centre has one registration and report collection window and six cubicles for sample collection.
Reshma, who goes by one name, 24, wanted to get a simple blood sugar test done for which she had to visit the hospital for three consecutive days and wait seven hours each day. Since patients are handed tokens for tests between 8am and 11:30am, she had to leave as her turn didn't come.
Her sister Parveen, who accompanied her on the fourth day, said, "We reached here at 6am, it is already lunchtime. She's got a number today; I hope the test gets done."
"Violence is common here. The place is so crowded and everyone wants to get their tests done," said a watchman on duty.
Sometimes even if the patient reaches the window the samples are sent back with a note, 'not available'. This means the hospital has run out of test kits or chemical agents. "We donft have a choice," said a lab technician.
The corridors are littered with bloodsoaked cotton and gauze and cleaners pass the buck. "My job is only to clean the toilets, corridors and grounds. Only the permanent government workers are supposed to clean the wards and dispose of the (biomedical) waste as they get masks and gloves," said a contractual safai karmachari, who did not want to be named.
Patients and their families sit among dogs and beggars who come looking for shelter from the sun and rain. "It is hot outside and the dogs sleep here, we don't drive them away," a safai karmachari said. The path connecting the old building and the new one is full of the homeless and beggars, resting in the air-conditioned corridor.
"We cannot stop anyone from coming because they may actually have a genuine problem," said a watchman, who has been working at Lok Nayak for six years."We can't do much about the beggars and dogs. We had reported the matter to the MCD. But all they did was to catch the dogs and release them at some distance from the hospital. The canines find their way back," said former medical superintendent Ramji.