Chennai’s Apollo Hospital where Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa is admitted for a month now, may have turned into a fortress but patients say there is not much hassle.
“There seems to be more visible security, given that your chief minister is admitted here, but then from where I come from, we all are used to much more, -- even military presence. Security is important and I have no complaints. Nor can I complain against the attitude or efficiency of the medical staff here,” said 56-year-old Ashwini Kumar Anand, an executive engineer with Jammu and Kashmir government from Srinagar, walking out of the hospital.
Helped by his wife and son Abhinav, who is the state general secretary of National Panthers Party, Anand told Hindustan Times he encountered no problems on account of heightened police presence or increase in VIP population in the hospital premises.
He came to Chennai on October 21 for treatment for liver transplant. “This is in the hands of God. But I am very satisfied with the treatment I have got here,” he said when asked how he found the place, which is crawling with security men.
Were they blocked or were their movement restricted? “We did not need to move around much as the work was cut out, and it was clear which doctor would attend. If the VIP was there, we did not get a sense of it,” he said, adding, “I pray for her early recovery.”
But security issues did impact patients in other ways. All vehicles were stopped at the main gate and only a few such as doctors’ and senior employees’ vehicles were allowed inside. Most of the patients had to walk the last 50 odd steps to the main building.
Only ambulances and battery-powered vehicles deployed by the Apollo to ferry those could not walk at all, were allowed inside the premises, drop patients and come out.
Fifty-year-old Mia Quasim Ali from Bararangrash village of Cooch Bihar district of West Bengal was wheeled out by a hospital attendant in his uniform. His wife, son and daughter, accompanied him when he went in for dressing of his infected right leg. A farmer, he is being treated for a poisonous wound for the past 10 days.
The trio show up around 2 pm, show their papers to the security at the gate before they are waved in. A waiting attendant then takes over. Two hours later, Ali and his family are out.
“Koi pareshaani nahin” (no problem) was the response to a question if going inside the hospital was difficult for Ali. “I have to come for another four days,” he said. His son, Lotif Hassan, also a farmer like his father, said, “Eventually, he has to go for plastic surgery to get his right foot completely all right.”
The family then stepped into an “AMMA” auto-rickshaw, no not an autorickshaw service launched under Brand Amma. In fact it is an auto driver, G Sukumar, who, after seeing the plight of patients who had to walk up half a km to reach the main road to board a bus or an auto, began ferrying such patients free of cost.
“I take wheel-chair bound patients, those needing urgent and emergency services, wherever they need to go, absolutely free of cost. Last evening, I dropped a patient to Madras Central (Chennai central railway station, for which auto rickhaw drivers can charge anything up to Rs 250),” he told Hindustan Times.
“I am an Amma Bhakt and do it purely as a social service. I do not take money from anyone and have been spending out of pocket,” said Sukumar. He usually earns anything between Rs 1000 to Rs 1500 per day, after deducting petrol and running expenses.
His parents do not mind his splurging on social service. “Already, I have spent Rs 42,000 so far. And my limit is Rs one Lakh. Before that only, I hope Amma gets discharged and gets home. Or else, I will have to take a loan,” he said.
“I started this free auto rickshaw service after about six or seven days of Amma coming here. Then, the road was blocked and patients and their relatives had to walk till the hospital gate. But now things are very relaxed, the vehicles are allowed up to the main gate, where they get dropped. In case of serious patients, the attendants bring either wheel chairs or stretchers,” he said.
Another auto rickshaw driver standing nearby, however said, “Apollo Hospital had deployed three battery buses to ferry patients from the main road to the portico inside. But they reduced it to two and now only one operates. And today, even that one is missing.”
So the really needy patients have only Sukumar to thank for the last “half-mile connectivity”.
But the high security has whittled down business with Apollo Hospital corporate sources indicating as much. Many people are avoiding the hospital.
In fact, Apollo Hospital had to issue a statement that it was functioning normally and that patients need not go elsewhere.