It’s always a state of organised chaos in the emergency wards of Mumbai’s government-run JJ hospital. At the entrance to EW 4, a nurse takes down the names of patients as they stream in, some of them limping or bleeding, others wearing stained and grimy bandages.
Doctors in white coats rush about, carrying clipboards and x-rays. Unatten-ded children run around the beds as anxious relatives stare vacantly.
Inside a hushed operating theatre nearby, blood suddenly spurts out of a female patient’s neck as a junior resident accidentally cuts an artery while removing a cancerous tumour.
A nurse dashes out and calls in Dr Amol Wagh, 32, who had just stepped out to monitor an appendix operation in another OT. This is his sixth consecutive hour in surgery.
Wagh repairs the rupture with frantic yet expert moves. “You need to be more careful,” he says grimly, turning to his ashen-faced resident doctor.
A surgeon and assistant professor at the Byculla hospital, Wagh mans Emergency Ward No 4 every Tuesday, with his five residents. He will be on duty on January 1.
“Every year, we see a rush of abdominal, chest and head injuries on that day, usually as a result of car accidents caused by drunk drivers,” he says.
The son of retired doctors from Nashik, Wagh joined the hospital four years ago.
Every Tuesday, he wakes up at 6 am, has a quick bath and leaves the one-bedroom quarters on campus that he shares with his wife of two years. It’s a short walk to the hospital building.
Not a breakfast person, he has his first cup of tea at 7.15 am, enjoying a rare quiet moment with his fellow surgeons in the hospital canteen.
“Tea is what keeps us going through the day,” he says, laughing.
At 7.30 am, he heads to the surgical wards for rounds with patients, checking on their progress. An hour later, he and his residents are at the ready in the emergency ward, bracing for the first onslaught of outpatients.
“This is a well-known government hospital, close to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, so we get an unbelievable variety and volume of patients from across the state,” says Wagh.
Cases on an average day could include everything from gangrenous wounds to head traumas, gashes and wounds so deep that they are more like holes.
For the next two-and-a-half hours, Wagh and his team examine, diagnose and treat or admit patients, sometimes prepping them for immediate surgery.
At 1 pm, it’s time for a special batch — patients from the Arthur Road prison.
“We once had an HIV-positive prisoner who was vomiting constantly,” says Wagh. “That was quite a challenge.”
At 4.30 pm, Wagh heads home for his first meal of the day — a lunch of roti-sabzi, cooked for him by his wife Grishma, an interior designer currently on maternity leave. “My work schedule is hard on us,” says Wagh, frowning. “I’m hardly ever home.”
Wagh is back at the emergency ward by 5.30 pm. Surgeries could last anywhere from one hour to seven.
Powered by tea and a few breaks, Wagh finally rushes home in the wee hours, for a little sleep before his next shift. With a monthly salary of R45,000, his one grouse is that he doesn’t earn nearly enough to buy his own home in the city. “Given the work we do and the hours we put in, our pay is very low,” he says.
(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)