When Deepak Jain got hold of the Cobalt 60 samples sealed in lead boxes, he thought it was some “expensive metal” and kept the “shiny material” safely in his scrap shops.
For nearly a week, he unknowingly exposed himself to radiation from the metal—a radioactive isotope of cobalt, a hard, lustrous, gray metal. On April 3, he fell unconscious. His nails had gone black and he had lost most of his hair. His family took him to Kalra Nursing Home which referred him to AIIMS.
“We took him to AIIMS. His health was deteriorating. Despite our requests to admit him, the doctor insisted on the tests first,” said his cousin Rajesh Jain, 32, a journalist with Public News, a local newspaper.
“Since no one attended him at AIIMS, we took him to Apollo on April 4,” he said. At Apollo, Jain was diagnosed to have been exposed to severe radiation. The hospital informed the government on April 5, said BARC officials.
In a press statement, Apollo said, “His bone marrow is significantly suppressed and his condition is serious. Currently, he is in the ICU. A multidisciplinary team of doctors is monitoring his progress.”
“His chances of survival are low because the level of exposure to the radioactive metal has been high,” said a radiation therapy expert.
Jain wasn’t the only one who had suffered radiation. Four of his workers—Gaurav (19), Rajender Prasad (35), Ramji Yadav (33) and Ramkalp Yadav (29)—too had suffered from it and were taken to Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital, which isn’t equipped to handle such cases.
All four patients were shifted to AIIMS late on Friday, when the condition of two patients worsened. All day, DDU MS Dr Jille Dhar maintained that the patients were out of danger. “Two of them were bleeding from the mouth and rectum and had low platelet counts,” said Dr Dhar.
However, when HT spoke to Dr Dhar at 7. 30 pm, he was himself transporting the patients to AIIMS. “We decided to take them to AIIMS.”
Radiotherapy experts in the city are puzzled as to why they were taken to DDU. “DDU is not equipped to handle radioactive exposure cases. There is a specific line of treatment to handle such case, and the fact that they have not been kept in a life island or hepa room in complete isolation is enough to suggest the mismanagement of these poor patients at DDU,” said an expert.
“These patients are in real danger,” said the expert. “This case is not to be handled by medical experts alone but needs radiation as well as medical oncologists. DDU does not have an oncology department,” said the expert.
According to radiotherapists, DDU should have informed the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board immediately. “We informed the National Disaster Management Authority,” said Dr Dhar.
Angry at this mismanagement, radiotherapists say, “Ignorance is no plea to innocence. This delay may just cause the poor patients their life,” said a senior AIIMS doctor.
Experts say, the drop in platelet count was enough to suggest that the patients were deteriorating. “While it starts with skin peeling and discolouration, body immunity is suppressed causing the platelet levels to fall. This leaves the body open to all sorts of infections, which could lead to septicemia, gastrointestinal ulcerations, pulmonary infections, nervous system break down, total organ failure and eventual death,” the expert said.