Last week, Amitabh Bachchan revealed he had tuberculosis (TB) in 2000. But the statement from one of the nation’s most venerated actors came too late for Dilip Kadam, 25, who ended his life at Sewri’s GTB (Group of Tuberculosis) Hospitals in October. He slashed his throat with a razor. Kadam, who was battling drug- resistant TB, was the third patient this year to commit suicide at the hospital.
Nurses who had treated Kadam said he had been abandoned by his family, like many other patients at the city’s leading TB hospital. His body was handed over to a relative who had learnt about his death from newspapers. HT was unable to trace his family, as the phone number they had left with KEM Hospital, where Kadam breathed his last, was incorrect. In many cases, families, who are desperate to escape the stigma of having a TB patient amidst them, abandon relatives at the hospital. To clear their tracks, they leave fake addresses or telephone numbers.
“It’s not TB, but the stigma that kills many,” said a doctor who counsels patients at the hospital. Medical experts working with TB patients said Bachchan’s statement that he had been cured of tuberculosis will raise the hopes of many abandoned patients.
Manoj Pakhre lost the will to fight TB when his family lost interest in supporting him. The 30-year-old would wait for his mother to pay him a visit, said hospital staff.
On May 28, when the wait became unbearable, he tried to kill himself by slitting his throat with a shaving blade. He survived the suicide attempt, but his body, by then wasted to 20 kilos, gave up soon. A few days after his death, his maternal uncle visited the hospital – Pakhre’s first visitor since he had been admitted to the hospital 18 months ago – only to be told that the body was in the morgue, awaiting a funeral.
While Pakhre’s body was cremated in the presence of his family members, many patients who pass away at the hospital in Sewri have a lonely last journey. According to hospital records, an unclaimed body of a patient is deposited every second day at the hospital’s morgue. Since 2008, more than 900 TB patients admitted to the hospital were abandoned. Their bodies were either taken to the Bhoiwada crematorium or sent to anatomy departments of medical colleges, to be used by medical students.
Unlike other municipal hospitals where the wards are crowded with relatives and visitors, the corridors of this hospital wear a deserted look. The 1,200-odd patients here are largely left alone. “Relatives come during the first few weeks of hospitalisation, but when they learn the recovery will take long, they just disappear,” said a doctor working here for the past 35 years.
“We shouldn’t be quick to blame the relatives. TB does not get the attention that diseases such as cancer get; here, the relatives are at risk of contracting the disease. They live in small houses with children and other relatives. Everyone is worried about contracting the infection during a visit to the hospital.”