Fifteen people were rushed to the PGI, Chandigarh, last week after eye surgeries at a private hospital in Ambala went wrong. All barring one are expected to recover their vision. A year ago, 38 people, mostly elderly, had contracted severe infection after eye surgeries at a camp in Gurdaspur. But they weren’t as lucky – most of them lost their vision, partially or completely, at an age when they need it the most.
A similar thing happened in Panipat in March this year where 17 people were affected, showing that no lessons have been learnt. The authorities gave routine assurances and promises. HARKIRAT SINGH, VISHAL SALLY and VISHAL JOSHI revisited six hapless victims to bring stories of their terrible pain and suffering.
‘Govt is blind to our suffering’
Gurmeet Kaur, 50, of Balleywal village, who lost vision in one eye, is crestfallen. Her life has been in turmoil ever since she went for surgery at the eye camp a year ago.
“My husband is handicapped and my son quit his job in Mumbai and came back for my treatment. I am being made to suffer for no fault of mine,” she said. A domestic help, she lost her sole source of income after losing vision in her right eye.
Recalling the “black day”, Kaur said she felt extreme pain and went to hospital but they did not help. Her son Vikramjeet spent Rs 1.25 lakh on treatment at hospitals in Amritsar and Chandigarh, but without any result.
The family, dejected with the government response, accuses it of turning a blind eye.
“When I requested the deputy commissioner for compensation, he asked for documents. We completed all formalities, but nothing was done. If the government didn’t want to help us, why did it make false promises,” she said.
However, the district social welfare officer said the monthly pension was delayed due to technical formalities. “We have got required sanctions from the department now.”
Livelihood lost, she awaits pension
Ninder Kaur, 53, of Gagomahal regrets the day some people descended on her village and started an eye camp. As she had blurred vision in the right eye, she also decided to visit the camp.
Ninder and 12 others were taken by camp organisers Netra Chikitsalya, a Mathura-based non-governmental organisation, to Ghuman with the promise that their vision would be restored. But just the reverse happened. Her right eye has been rendered non-functional. The other eye also got affected gradually.
Confined to four walls of her small home, Ninder, a domestic worker, lost her livelihood and seldom ventures out. “We do not let her go out alone ever since she fell on the road,” said her daughter Rajwinder.
The compensation of Rs 1 lakh she got was spent on treatment that has been of little help. “Doctors said partial vision could be restored in the right eye. We were misled. These people don’t spare even the poor,” she said.
When Ninder visited Government Medical College, Amritsar, she found that her right eye could not be treated. And, she is still waiting for the monthly pension the government had promised last year.
Trying hard for compensation
A year after losing his eyesight, Tersem Lal, 65, continues to face the trauma. He has been running from pillar to post for the `1 lakh compensation and monthly pension announced by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for victims of botched surgeries at a hospital in Ghuman.
Recounting his horrific experience, Lal said he had gone to Guru Nanak Multi-speciality Hospital after hearing about the free camp and was advised surgery in his right eye. On the night of November 3, 2014, the surgery was conducted and he was discharged along with other patients.
Lal felt pain, watering and decreased vision in his eye and visited the hospital, but was told that the doctor who conducted the operation was in Jalandhar. He was told to visit the doctor in his private hospital for treatment.
“Within a month, I completely lost my sight. I have been doing the rounds of government hospitals at Gurdaspur and Amritsar,” he said. The doctors have advised him to visit the PGI, Chandigarh, as the infection is affecting the vision of other eye.
Ajnala’s Iqbal Masih makes himself count
Despite his blurred vision, Iqbal Masih, 58, is not content sitting at home. He does not want others to consider him a burden. He wants to contribute to his family’s income even if it is at the cost of his vision.
Masih, a resident of Sofian village, used to earn his living by stitching clothes, but the loss of sight in the right eye after the botched surgery changed his life. While he tried to continue his tailoring work with one eye, the strain severely affected the vision of the left one too.
“The vision in the left eye did return with the help of medicines, but it is blurred. I cannot stitch clothes,” he told HT in his small two-room house. Masih now keeps himself busy by taking up work under the rural employment guarantee scheme.
“It gets me a small amount, but I don’t feel I am a burden on the family. I am coping as best as I can,” he said. Though Masih received the promised compensation, all of it was used for paying treatment and medicines. He is still waiting for the monthly pension.
Blind and bedridden in house she ran
Pashi Devi, 70, of Bhodwali Majri village had gone to the eye surgery camp, hoping it would help improve her reduced vision, but it drastically changed her life.
After the surgery, she not only lost vision in one eye, but infection also spread to her left eye on which she had had a cataract surgery a year ago, making her blind. The result: a woman, who managed family-owned agricultural land and tended to five to six cattle heads on her own for years, is completely dependent on her family now.
Pashi Devi feels helpless, needing support to walk around in the house she ran for long. “I never sat idle, but I cannot do anything now. I am virtually bedridden,” she says. Her voice trembles as she recalls the acute pain she felt after the surgery due to severe infection in the right eye. “When I found that I totally lost my vision, I was unable to sleep for weeks together,” she adds.
Sight gone, spirit remains intact
Shanti Devi, a resident of Patti Kalyana village, has lost her eyesight, but not her spirit. The 62-year-old woman is fighting at different levels.
Shanti, who belongs to a poor family, is waging a legal battle against Samalkha-based NGO Samaj Sewa Samiti and the erring doctor for the botched eye surgery camp. Her sons had arranged `2,500 for the eye surgery, but it all went wrong. She lost sight in the left eye and is unable to see from the other.
Lying on a charpoy, Shanti, who also battled tuberculosis, says the doctor and the camp organiser have ruined her life.
“Due to their fault, I cannot do anything and am confined to bed now.”
The one-time homemaker is upset with the system for not being of help. “We are suffering for no fault of ours, but the accused doctor and others are moving freely. It is business as usual for them. They are busy making money,” she says with a painful look on her face.