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Hospital yanks off lifeline

Calcutta, Feb. 25: In a rerun of the Sushmita Biswas tragedy that occurred four months ago, a 74-year-old man died at SSKM Hospital today after a ward boy whipped the oxygen mask off his face.

Family members lodged a complaint against the doctors and the ward boy, but hospital authorities ruled out negligence, saying the patient was suffering from an advanced stage of deep-vein thrombosis and severe breathing difficulty when he was brought to the hospital.

Subhendu Bikash Ghoshal was rushed to the hospital from his Behala residence around noon after acute breathing problems. He was taken to the emergency ward, where an attending doctor asked a ward boy to put him on oxygen.

Family members alleged they had to wait for over 40 minutes before a doctor from the medicine department could be located. “We tried in vain to attract the attention of the attending doctors. They only said that the on-call doctor would arrive soon,” said Susovan Ghoshal, nephew of the deceased.

When the doctor arrived, after an examination Ghoshal was referred to the Mackenzie ward of the hospital for treatment. A ward boy was assigned to wheel Ghoshal to the ward.

“A new trolley equipped with an in-built oxygen cylinder and mask recently procured by the hospital was used to wheel Ghoshal out of the emergency ward,” SSKM superintendent Santanu Tripathi said.

After reaching the ward, the ward boy placed him on a bed and, according to the complaint lodged by Ghoshal’s relatives, took the oxygen mask off, despite protests from family members and walked out of the ward.

“He (ward boy) said the trolley and the cylinder belonged to the emergency department and had to be returned. We could make out that his (Ghoshal) condition was deteriorating, but there was no doctor in sight,” alleged Susovan.

“The ward boy also seemed intoxicated,” he said.

Tripathi, however, denied this.

In October 2003, Sushmita Biswas, a college student, died in the same circumstances when the oxygen mask was taken off by the ward boy while she was being moved from the emergency department to a ward for treatment.

When her parents met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee later, he said very touchingly that it was beyond his powers to bring young Sushmita back, but he would punish the guilty.

He kept the promise, but that was clearly not the only medicine required. The flaw in the system remains — the emergency section often has only one oxygen cylinder which the staff are anxious to bring back as quickly as possible because the next patient coming in may need it.

There was no answer today to why another mask was not put on Ghoshal as soon as the first one was removed.

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