My recent sojourn to the emergency ward of a famous 5-star hospital in Mumbai made me wonder about the frailties of life and led me to pen this down. Our 89-year old visually impaired neighbour, who also happens to be my wife’s kaka, took a tumble down a flight of stairs and injured himself grievously. This incident occurred late in the evening and led to kaka bleeding copiously from his forehead and the back of his head, among other minor injuries. Kaka, blissfully kept saying that he is perfectly fine, but all of us family members were alarmed and it took a herculean effort on our part to convince the obstinate man that a visit to the hospital was mandated.

We arrived at the OPD of this prestigious star hospital way past 11 pm. I was in for a shock seeing see the state of the emergency ward, and some of the other patients lounging in it. The ward was overflowing with patients in various states of distress – compared to them I can positively say that our perception of kaka’s injuries were an exaggeration. There were two patients laid out on stretchers in the lounge outside the OPD (no beds available inside). One of these patients was gasping for breath and was being fed some pulpy liquid intravenously through a tube in his stomach. An oxygen mask along with the obligatory tank had been provided but it was a sorry sight to see this beleaguered senior struggle to breathe. Thankfully he was wheeled into the OPD after some time and later into the hospital, hopefully for admission to intensive care. The other patient just lay quietly on his assigned stretcher staring at the lights in the ceiling – one look at his face convinced me that he must be having a silent conversation with some divine receptionist, checking on his room reservation in Heaven or hell (as applicable). Surprisingly, he was given some perfunctory medication and was asked to return home as the hospital had no beds to admit him! His wife had apparently come prepared for getting him admitted, as was obvious from the suitcase she lugged around, but was stunned into silence and driven to despair by the unavailability of a single bed space in this reputed hospital. During all this, a middle-aged man walked in holding his profusely bleeding hand. He looked to have been in injured but was able to walk in on his own. But following him was a retinue of eight people, who apparently had come with him for “moral support”. The entourage then plonked themselves in the lounge outside the OPD and proceeded to turn the hospital into a virtual marketplace, with vociferous discussions and deliberations, notwithstanding the grim environment around them.

Kaka was made to sit on a wheelchair inside the emergency ward, with the assurance that a doctor would be present with him shortly. The doctors on duty (interns I suspect) were going crazy handling the unprecedented inflow of human beings. Some of these doctors looked so young that I felt this superfluous need to ask for some proof of age before I could let them attend to kaka! Somewhere close to midnight one of the young doctors came and had a comfortable conversation with kaka and asked probing questions to get instant answers, which we had earlier struggled to eke out of him. As a precaution, we had applied turmeric over the wounds for which we were thoroughly chided by her. Later the doctor sheepishly admitted that though turmeric is a good antiseptic, they found it difficult to cleanse the wounds when coated with it! She advised us to pay the OPD fees and procure the receipt, after which she would counsel us on the next steps to be taken. So my sister-in-law went to the surreptitiously located “Information Desk” for further assistance. This desk seemed to be a misnomer since the person at the desk initially maintained deathly (pardon the pun) silence to all her queries, and then when she persisted, rudely closed the counter. Now, my sister-in-law is not someone who takes such things lightly, and she gave the pathetic man an earful which quickly made him very garrulous. The billing counter then took its own sweet time to accept the payment and issue the obligatory “receipt”. We finally handed over the document to the doctor who went on to examine kaka thoroughly and proceeded to announce that he needed a CT-Scan and X-ray done to rule out any internal bleeding or injuries, prior to his wounds being sutured. Another relative then went to make the payment for these procedures and that was a misadventure in itself. When she did not return after about half an hour, I went to investigate and found that the payment was held up as the billing clerk could not find the right “computer code” for the CT-Scan! Luckily for us, a doctor friend of kaka’s son turned up like manna from heaven and used his clout in the hospital. He raised his voice, and being a doctor himself, was attended to immediately. The wretched “information-man”, who astonishingly also turned out to be the night manager, appeared like a genie and suddenly became our best friend and everything went smoothly. Kaka was taken for the CT-Scan and X-ray, and he returned with the news that there was nothing wrong with him internally. The doctor then proceeded to take him for the suturing of his wounds. We were extremely anxious about the well-being of the doctor and the nurses attending to kaka, since his temper tantrums are legendary. When he was finally wheeled out after over sixty minutes, the doctor and patient seemed to be in high spirits and kaka was conversing with the nurses as if they were old acquaintances – so much for our anxiety!!! Finally after advising us and our doctor friend about the precautions to be taken, we were allowed to leave for home with kaka.

Though I have tried to infuse humour into the forbidding settings, the insights gained from the condition of the ward, the harried doctors on duty, the rude administrators and patients who come there, is an eye-opener, making one realize how grossly ill-equipped and ill-prepared our hospitals are. We were lucky enough to have some clout in the hospital, but what about those who are less fortunate – who helps them? While the genuine patients are being attended to, some of the relatives who accompany patients seem to have a gala time – undying hope and unfortunate despair under one roof! The first-hand witnessing of that frightening stage of life, where some of the actors wait to take their final bow, while others painfully continue to play bit roles, will move even a non-believer to make a silent prayer to The Almighty, to keep them hale and hearty always…


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