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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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RAY OF HOPE

In Calcutta, narrow shaves are cause for far more relief than expected. The fire adjacent to the paediatric unit of the Seth Sukhlal Karnani Medical Hospital gave rise to panic, but, fortunately, did not result in tragedy. How far the more acutely ill patients were traumatized by their guardians’ frantic rush to safety with them late in the evening is not something that can be immediately known. The best that can be said in a city still struggling to come to terms with the tragedy of the AMRI hospitals, Dhakuria is that no fatality was reported. Some lessons may have been learnt. Evidently the paramedical staff were generally helpful and the hospital authorities were quick to put up a night shelter for the young patients where doctors could examine them. In spite of the confusion of parents rushing around with their wards, things apparently moved smoothly.

The question, of course, is whether this should be cause for satisfaction. Or, to go further, whether satisfaction at this outcome does not indicate frighteningly low expectations, as though Calcutta, if not Bengal, were operating about thirty years ago. It is great that nothing terrible happened, but there is always the feeling that it could have. Is there any hope for Calcutta’s hospitals to travel beyond this sense of the ad hoc? There is little faith that proper fire preventive technology is in place in all hospitals and that personnel are properly trained to respond, each according to his or her job, to an emergency when it arises. If the fire did start, as is being reported, from an overheated air-conditioning machine, why are such machines still in use? Apparently, this is the second such fire in the same hospital, and it is only now that AC machines that switch off automatically are being thought of. Maybe the machines will really be replaced before they cause the third fire.