The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pressure to pull out patient
- Virus victim turns medical reject

Calcutta, April 28: Two days after he was diagnosed to be Bengal’s first SARS victim, Asitabha Purakayastha found himself turned into a pariah.

As his hospital — the Advanced Medicare and Research Institute (AMRI) — and the government played tug-of-war over the middle-aged man, Purakayastha himself spent most of the day wondering where he would spend the night.

“I am not feeling well, believe me,” Purakayastha is reported to have told attending doctors. “I do not want to stay a minute longer than necessary, but please do not ask me to leave now,” he pleaded.

As the government found itself saddled with another confirmed SARS case (Radheshyam Gupta), besides the suspect (Jamil Ahmed) found yesterday, pressure groups emerged out of nowhere and combined to ostracise the Purakayastha family fallen into hard times. The hospital union and the party claiming to represent most of the hospital’s neighbourhood did not want him at AMRI. The hospital management, frustrated at the outflow of patients the moment he stepped in, was only too eager to agree.

The state government, too, ferreted out some World Health Organisation SARS guidelines that show he can leave. And an entire neighbourhood at suburban Madhyamgram pressed his landlord’s family to tell him at the hospital that he was unwelcome till he was “fit”.

The family, finding itself hemmed in from every side, tried to remind everyone that Purakayastha had a severe cardiac condition as well.

Ultimately, the apparently weak won. AMRI decided, keeping “family concerns in mind”, to keep Purakayastha for the night, at least.

The day started with the Indian National Trade Union Congress and the Trinamul Congress demonstrating for Purakayastha’s “eviction”.

“We want the patient to recover,” councillor Dibyendu Biswas said. “But the waste that is taken via the road in front of the hospital is used by thousands of poor people staying in the neighbouring slums. What happens if they get the disease from the medical waste'” he asked.

A little after noon, he went in to speak to the hospital management. He left after “extracting a promise” that Purakayastha would be released “before sunset”.

Before the sun set, the union took over. “We are fighting against the decision to keep a SARS patient here without adopting precautionary measures,” union working president Ramen Pandey said.

Amid the turmoil — and in the backdrop of the downward graph of the number of in-house patients (it came down to 80 against Sunday’s 86) — the hospital management kept up its parleys with the government to get Purakayastha out.

Just before sunset, chief executive officer Jose Verghese, accompanied by Purakayastha’s doctors (S.K. Todi and Shubhasis Ghosh), told the media that the patient did not have any fever or respiratory discomfort.

By the evening, the government was by the hospital’s side. “The WHO discharge and follow-up protocol makes it clear that if a SARS victim has not been running a temperature for 48 hours, has no ‘dissolving cough’ and a series of six clinical tests and X-ray of the chest shows improving changes, he is safe,” the director of health services, Prabhakar Chatterjee, said.

“Purakayastha, going by all these parameters, is out of danger,” he added.

“They forget he is a cardiac patient,” a family friend, Nanigopal Saha, said. “Unless the hospital says his cardiac state is okay, we are not taking him back.”

Shibani Dattachaudhuri, Purakayastha’s sister, claimed: “They are constantly pressing us to take him back.” Hospital authorities denied the allegation.

“They are saying that they have an ambulance ready to take him to his Madhyamgram residence,” she added.

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