When the phone screen glowered ‘Emergency calls only’

| Updated on September 02, 2019 Published on September 02, 2019

Representative image.

A first person account of medical emergencies a young woman faced in the time of a communication lock down in Kashmir

Everyone was in a sombre mood on the shuttle to the plane at the New Delhi airport.

A young Kashmiri girl sat next to me and we tried to make conversation to relieve the heaviness both of us clearly felt. “…my sick, elderly parents are in Kashmir and I have had no contact with them over the last 48 hours...” We both choked up with tears and held hands.

I had sent my flight details to my parents on August 5 — my last message to them before communication was locked down in Kashmir. They begged me not to come. They weren’t sure if someone could pick me up from the airport; conditions in Islamabad (South Kashmir, Anantnag) were worse than the rest of the Valley.

Srinagar airport was rife with emotion. Before I knew it, one uncle spoke to another, who found a family travelling to Anantnag. There I was — a young woman, hitch-hiking home with people I didn’t know in the middle of a strict curfew in one of the “most dangerous places on earth”. Yet, I didn’t have an ounce of fear. I would never venture to do such a thing anywhere else in the world.

When I reached home, my parents stared at me in disbelief. They broke down as we shared long hugs.

August 9

It was 9 am and mother, an early riser, was still in bed. She hadn’t been able to sleep last night. As I routinely checked her blood pressure, my heart stopped. It was 200/100 — high enough to cause a stroke or a heart attack. I instinctively picked up my phone to call my uncle, a physician. Ironically, the phone was of no use and displayed a message ‘Emergency Calls Only’.

This was a medical emergency but I still couldn’t call anyone. I rushed to my uncle’s home, 10 minutes away, via inner roads. As a healthcare professional, I knew that for blood pressure so high, 10 minutes were too long.

My uncle hurried in and gave mother some SoS medicine to bring her BP down. I went to the other room and burst into tears. What if I hadn’t made it back in time? My heart was heavy knowing I wouldn’t even be able to reach my siblings to tell them if something had happened to mother.

In the evening, my 80-year-old father had a fall. He had no injuries but howled in pain as I helped him up. I instinctively turned on my phone to Google home remedies for pain, just to be reminded again: ‘Emergency Calls Only’. The next morning I pleaded with some Army men to allow me to go to the pharmacy to find medicines for my parents — only to reach the store to find out they were out of stock for most of the medicines we needed.

It felt as though I was living alone, on an island with the weight of the world on my shoulders.

August 17

We braved the curfew and drove to Srinagar so my mother could meet her elder sister, an 80-year-old with severe rheumatoid arthritis. Landlines had just been restored in this part of Srinagar. We learned that a relative had passed away two days ago. He had suffered hypoglycaemic shock. Stopped multiple times en route hospital, he passed away within minutes of reaching SKIMS Hospital. His wife, who was away at Hajj, still had no idea about her bereavement as there was no way to telephone her.

*The writer’s name has been withheld on the request for anonymity.

Published on September 02, 2019
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