India Interior

The healing touch in troubled times

Gulzar Bhat | Updated on January 11, 2020 Published on January 11, 2020

How a hospital in rural Kashmir coped during the lockdown

Battling ovarian cancer, 36-year-old Rubeena (name changed) was home after going through a series of chemotherapy sessions at a hospital in Srinagar. A few days later, on August 18 last year, Rubeena suddenly felt a searing pain and her family, amidst a total lockdown of the Kashmir Valley, made a desperate attempt to race her to the hospital from their idyllic village tucked away in thick apple orchards, some 14 km from Shopian town.

Traffic movement on streets, alleyways and thoroughfares of the Valley had become Herculean because of security restrictions following the bifurcation of the State into two federally controlled territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — on August 5, 2019. Worse, most communication lines were cut off.

As her pain worsened, Rubeena’s family decided to take her to the Shadab Memorial Hospital (SMH), a facility run by the Shadab Memorial Trust, in Shopian town. There was no oncologist at the hospital but Srinagar with medical facilities was 50 km away. It was a rather desperate predicament for Rubeena, and patients like her.

However, a Resident Medical Officer (RMO) at SMH made a dash for the District Magistrate's office, a short distance away. From there he managed to call one of the hospital’s visiting super-specialists in Delhi. “He advised us over the phone about the medicines and a post-chemo vaccine to be administered. We followed the instructions and the patient became better. Fortunately, the cell phone at the DM’s office was working,” recalls Mir Faizan, a young medical entrepreneur and chairman of the Shadab Trust.

Consultation over phone

According to Dr Irfan Bashir, an oncologist working at a reputed Delhi hospital, in many life or death situations, the doctors at the Shopian facility would seek his advice over phone, thus saving lives.

During the long-drawn-out lockdown in the Valley post August 5, SMH treated several patients from adjoining areas battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases. The problems faced by patients became more pronounced after the principal tertiary-care hospitals in Srinagar shut elective theatres and were catering only to emergencies.

Zareefa from Shopian, suffering from acute calcular cholecystitis (a condition triggered by gallbladder inflammation), was sent home because one of the tertiary-care hospitals in Srinagar could not take up her surgery since only emergency cases were being attended to in the aftermath of August 5. Within 24 hours Zareefa found herself in excruciating pain and was rushed to the SMH. “She had to go under the knife immediately otherwise things could have gone downhill,” says a surgeon of SMH. A team of doctors hurriedly readied the operation theatre and successfully operated upon Zareefa. Similarly, Mohammad Hussain, a resident of Rajouri, was operated at the hospital for appendicitis after he found it difficult to reach Srinagar.

In mid-September, when the Valley was still in the middle of the crisis and a large number of drug stores, particularly in rural areas, were running out of supplies, Shadab Trust’s Faizan flew to Delhi to procure emergency medicines for cancer patients in SMH and other hospitals nearby. He also posted a message on the hospital's official page asking Kashmiris in Delhi to contact him in case they wanted to send medicines to patients in the Valley. “A few contacted me and gave me medicines with addresses where they had to be delivered,” says Faizan.

The communication blockade had affected work in all major hospitals in the Valley. It could take a doctor an hour or two to physically reach a senior for simple patient-related advice. Under normal circumstances this would have taken only a phone call. “Communication blackout was one of the major problems faced in dealing with critical patients during troubled times. However, the way some smaller hospitals managed their patients was no mean feat,” recalls a doctor at SMH who did not wish to be identified.

SMH illustrates the commitment shown by small facilities in the face of a crisis. There are sure to be many SMH-like facilities scattered across the Valley, but their stories remain to be told.

The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist pursuing a Ph D

Published on January 11, 2020

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