The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Light green masks, swift exit routes Rumour rife, fear runs high
- Authorities demand victim shift as ailing flee hospital, nurses shun cabin

At 4 pm on Sunday, AMRI Apollo Hospitals’ notice-board showed a list of 104 patients. Moments later, a fresh list was hung up. The number of patients had slipped to 86

At the other end of the city, doctors and staff at Sunflower Nursing Home were panicking. The ICU was closed after fumigation

Both medical units, one in Dhakuria and the other near Shyambazar, were struggling to cope with life after SARS

Even as Asitabha Purakayastha was confined to cabin 401 at AMRI, almost every patient who could, fled the south Calcutta hospital on Sunday. Relatives of those who could not be shifted out continued to fill up the fast-emptying corridors in the hospital, but the fear of the mystery menace filled the hospital.

The light green masks, selling swifter than medicines, were everywhere and even nurses were reported to be shying away from the fourth-floor room where Purakayastha was shifted on Saturday, from the ITU which he shared with eight other patients for the past 48 hours and more.

With patients desperately seeking the exit door — and relatives signing undertakings of responsibility for any consequence of their premature release — the hospital management tried out various crisis-management measures through the day. Finally, late on Sunday, the authorities made it clear that the SARS patient must go.

“We want this patient shifted out of our hospital immediately,” said Jose Verghese, CEO, AMRI Apollo Hospitals. “Everywhere in India, all such patients have been shifted to ID Hospitals. We have conveyed this to the health department but they have asked us to hang on till Monday.”

Earlier in the day, Verghese had pinned the blame for the patient exodus on the media, “for triggering unnecessary panic” about Purakayastha.

On a day that saw one of the patients who had shared the ITU with Purakayastha till Saturday succumb to jaundice, rumours ran wild and fear ran high at AMRI. Nabi Saidul, who had come from Bangladesh to have his wife, Nihana Begum, operated, was one of those who chose to beat a hasty retreat. Admitted on April 23 and awaiting surgery, she was whisked away by her husband on Sunday. “I don’t know where I will take her, but first, I just want to take her away from this place,” Saidul asserted.

Somnath Ray, however, couldn’t leave, as his five-day-old baby developed neurological problems. “Four other babies have been taken away from the paediatric ward by their parents and now, my child is the only indoor patient there,” said Ray.

The hospital staff, including nurses, was gripped by the SARS scare. “The management will be held responsible if anything happens to members of the staff,” warned AMRI Employees’ Union working president Ramen Pandey.

Up north, at Sunflower Nursing Home, the doctors, too, appeared jittery. Debasis Chatterjee, who had treated Purakayastha, said: “I was exposed to the patient for the entire period of his stay here, but there has been no word from the government about what we must do next.”

As a precautionary measure, the ICU where Purakayastha had undergone treatment has been shut, said a nursing home official.

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