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Lost and found in 48 hours
- Family put patient in private care, throwing state doctors off track

SARS-infected Asitabha Purakayastha dropped off the government radar for a full 48 hours last week and shared an intensive therapy unit with eight patients in a private healthcare institute, even as state health department officials struggled to track him down through their “doctors’ network”.

A day after Pune’s Institute of Virology confirmed that Purakayastha had tested positive for SARS after a Singapore-China tour, the state health department tried to wriggle out of the embarrassing lost-and-found faux pas. The official salvage line was that the patient had developed a cardiac condition, forcing Beleghata’s Infectious Diseases (ID) Hospital to discharge him on April 22, the day after admission.

Purakayastha was taken to Nilratan Sirkar Medical College and Hospital for a check-up and advised to proceed to SSKM Hospital. His family members said they would take him to Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital but, instead, proceeded to AMRI Apollo Hospitals at Dhakuria. This move by the family threw the government off-track.

Purakayastha got through Mumbai airport, where he landed from China, as the SARS symptoms had “not developed” till then. The procedure was repeated at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport on April 19. Purakayastha was admitted to north Calcutta’s Sunflower Nursing Home on April 20 following a heart attack. Doctors, however, advised his release the very next day, when they discovered “SARS-like symptoms”, Sunflower Nursing Home proprietor Sudarshan Pande confirmed on Sunday.

Purakayastha was then taken to the Beleghata ID Hospital, where he was tested for SARS. The samples were sent to the Pune-based institute but his cardiac condition deteriorated on April 22, forcing the hospital authorities to shift him elsewhere. “The hospital is not equipped to deal with cardiac patients,” said a senior hospital official. “Besides, we put Purakayastha down as an ‘inactive’ SARS patient and, therefore, agreed to release him,” he added.

When Purakayastha’s family headed straight for AMRI (instead of the two state hospitals) on April 22, the government lost track of Purakayastha’s whereabouts. Health officials used their “personal network” to finally find ‘their’ patient in AMRI, 48 hours later.

More was in store. For the next 48 hours, the government did not tell the hospital that Purakayastha was a SARS suspect. So, he went on sharing the ITU with several other patients. “We informed them (AMRI) that Purakayastha had SARS at 4.15 pm on Saturday,” admitted state director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee. Purakayastha was finally shifted to 401, a single cabin, on Saturday evening.

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