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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Craters cripple city on move
- Spine damage linked to potholes

Hurrying back home after work, Srimanta Bhattacharya, 55, had hopped on to a Kasba-bound minibus near Howrah station. Seated at the rear, he was thrown off balance when the bus fell into a crater on AJC Bose Road. Paralysis set in on all four limbs a few days later, with doctors blaming the jerky ride for the damage to Bhattacharya's brain cells.

The city's potholed roads are the cause of the crippling, partial or total, of many of its residents.

Around half the patients suffering from head or neck injuries and 30 per cent of those who fracture their limbs are victims of rides that are bound to be bumpy, given the condition of the roads.

Rash driving, too, is responsible for such injuries.

'We are worried that such cases are increasing by the year,' said Tapas Banerjee, head of the neurology department at National Neurosciences Centre. 'The ill effects often last long, but awareness among the people is very low.'

The most vulnerable are children, adults on the wrong side of 50 and patients suffering from osteoporosis or extremely low calcium levels.

'Whenever a vehicle hits a crater, the spine sustains a lot of pressure,' said Buddhadeb Chatterjee, orthopaedic surgeon at Apollo Gleneagles Hospital. 'The spinal muscles overstretch themselves to compensate for the jerk. We get many patients suffering from spine fractures caused by rides on potholed roads.'

In the case of a child, the sudden, split-second forward and backward jerk of the body, whenever the wheels hit a pothole, is too strenuous for the spine, leading to significant or even permanent damage.

'The driver must exercise maximum caution whenever children are in the vehicle. He must avoid the potholes, though on most occasions, there is very little one can do,' said paediatric surgeon Ashok Roy.

Even tripping on a pothole can be dangerous. Last week, 10-year-old Alokesh Bose, a resident of Biren Sashmal Road, had tripped while walking his Golden Retriever. 'I did not feel anything then, but a few days later, my leg was swollen and I could not walk,' he recalled.

He was taken to SSKM Hospital, where doctors diagnosed that his ligaments had been damaged badly. He was advised two months' rest.

'In most cases of pothole-induced mishaps, the vertebra gets damaged. The patient has a residual backache throughout his life,' said Chatterjee.

In extreme cases, an apparently minor injury in the head aggravates to such an extent that the patient slips into a coma. In some cases, the outer covering of the brain starts bleeding because of a traumatic haemorrhage.

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