A recent alleged healthcare negligence case might have sealed a private hospital block in Srinagar, but Kashmir’s ailing healthcare needs a bigger treatment. In this harrowing piece, FPK’s senior scribe details her ordeal inside Kashmir’s top hospital.
It was supposed to be a sentimental sabbatical where I was attending my sibling’s memorable motherhood. But I didn’t know that it would soon turn out to be such a sore experience—compelling me to unleash my journalistic instincts to report one of the most harrowing stories of my life.
The nightmare began the very first night when a man lying in a bed was watching full-volume videos on his cellphone. He was laughing while many patients were groaning in pain. His intrusion in a ward full of distressed patients, surprisingly, went unnoticed.
What also went unnoticed was a free-passage of street beggars and junkies in the wards. The patients were pestered by paupers in their painful plight. I saw a dippy beggar hurling abuses on a couple for not fulfilling his demands. “You’ll die of painful diseases,” he told them. Despite all this, the nurses attending the ward stood silent. No security guard was around to take him out.
“We cannot stop people for they can be attendants,” this is how a medical officer responded my query on this ugly ward episode.
Forget ward monitoring, the healthcare workers are of no calibre. While my patient was feeling nauseated to the time she vomited, I called upon a nurse for at least 10 times. Then I went near her and after calling her for the fourth time, she yelled at me, “Kya hai?”
I told her about the condition of my patient and she said, “Tou mai kya karun? Jao doctor ko bulao” (So what can I do? Go and call the doctor). They even missed an antibiotic dose of Metrogyl after my patient’s surgery.
The blood sample of my patient was wasted twice—because a nurse did not know out of three tests, two required only one blood sample. To top it all, for another test, we had to take the sample outside the hospital. But the lab technician dismissed it as a spoiled sample. When he asked the nurse whether she had put anticoagulant in the container or not, she had no clue of what that was and said, “We don’t put that here.”
One of the first things you would notice in the corridors of the hospital is a barking quote against bribery. However, apart from the section that provides free medicine to the admitted patients, all the employees are hungry for under the table notes.
I saw a matron sitting outside a doctor’s cabin, letting patients in and out. She was cursing a man after he offered her no money. “I worked so much for him,” she said, “and yet he did not even give me some Chai”. Nearby, the overburdened security guards were greasing their palms for allowing some attendants in.
While I was taking note of these normalised healthcare practices, a woman was shifted to a bed next to us inside the post-operative ward. She had delivered her third daughter. From the family side, she only had her husband with her along with an Asha worker.
The woman was screaming in pain and her bed-sheet was full of blood. She needed a sanitary napkin and only Ayas aka Maasa put that on. She had been begging one Maasa to put it on for her but the hospital help was acting too busy.
Some half an hour later, I felt obligated to help her. I went to the Maasa but she did not turn up. I went ahead and put on her sanitary napkin. After it was all done, the Maasa arrived and checked on her. “Who made you wear this?” she asked. “I did,” I replied. Instead of feeling ashamed for her negligence, she smiled and said, “Who will give me some Chai now?”
For two days, we asked the same Maasa to change our bedsheet, but she paid no heed to it. I had to go, get the bedsheet, choose the cleanest one from the dirtiest lot and get it changed.
The only times I saw the staff cleaning the wards and the washrooms were when the doctors would come for the rounds. The excreta, the blood, overflowing dirty water would all be in a washroom that patients prone to infections ought to use. A constant pungent smell was coming from the washrooms and the windows, making the patients, as well as the attendants, feel nauseated.
On the day of admission, I remember, we were asked to wait in a ward for a doctor. After waiting for around 3 hours, I went to the doctor’s room. “Go inside if you want to,” the security person outside warned me. “You will come back crying!”
I still went ahead, waited for my turn to speak and requested the doctor to examine my patient. Despite the request, she didn’t come.
Oftentimes, the hospitals come with a clarification after a medical negligence case that the reading of the patient was fine or normal a day before the incident or so. But what I witnessed in the hospital was shocking.
In the casualty ward, the junior doctors would come and without even touching the patient write normal BP, temperature and other readings.
My patient is hypertensive. On seeing the normal blood pressure reading, we were shocked. We called a doctor and she shifted us to a bed where her BP could be continuously monitored. Ironically, the monitor was not even working. The switchboard was faulty as well.
The doctors rarely use a screen. My patient was uncomfortable in letting doctors examine in a room packed with male attendants. She called me to get a screen for her. One screen wasn’t enough, so I went to take another one, but a nurse barred me from taking it. Even a quick official call didn’t help.
Such was the level of the hospital hostility that a female security guard yelled at me for asking where the nurse was. “Go and treat your patients yourself,” she screamed. “Get the hell out! You fakeers, third class people!”
Most of the patients aren’t in a condition to talk for themselves. The patient-nurse ratio is not 1:1 at the hospital and yet, no attendant is allowed to be with the patient.
The doctors come, check the patients, discuss the case for five minutes and leave. There is minimal doctor-patient interaction.
I remember a time when my patient’s condition was too fragile. I was holding her, screaming at the nurse to come and help. She was nowhere to be seen. I was to get the medicines and injections. I was to hold her and I was supposed to call the doctor at the same time.
But while I was struggling with my patient, I saw attendants being taken out by the security guards despite the painful state of their patients.
Luckily, I was with my patient. Even by the end of it, even after filing so many complaints, things did not change. And perhaps, they never will.