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Docs battle Suchitra scare

Mamata Banerjee steps out of Belle Vue clinic after meeting Suchitra Sen. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

Suchitra Sen still wants to have a few phuchkas, if she has her way, the only glimmer of hope on a fluctuating Friday when doctors worked overtime to help her breathe easy.

“I want to have phuchka,” the 82-year-old screen icon reportedly told Mamata Banerjee when the chief minister asked her late in the evening if she would like to have “khichuri” with, maybe, some “beguni”.

Doctors have been struggling to make Sen eat over the past few days and the low intake has left her weak and drowsy. Only if they could provide her what she really wanted.

For almost three-and-a-half hours, the chief minister emerged as a counsellor for the patient in Belle Vue Clinic’s intensive therapy unit (ITU), said sources.

Moon Moon was seen sobbing as the chief minister comforted her and then coaxed her mother to eat something.

“Aapni thik hoye jaan, amra khichuri khawabo apnake. Ki diye khaben, beguni? (Do you want khichuri? With what? Beguni?)” Mamata said at one point. That is when Sen rolled out her real choice.

Sen had a light breakfast in the morning along with tea and biscuits. But she didn’t have lunch.

As the day wore on, her coughing and wheezing increased and the oxygen saturation level in her blood plunged.

Sources said Sen refused ventilator support even when she was finding it difficult to breathe and doctors had advised its use.

“She has categorically refused to be put on the ventilator. The family is also supporting her decision and the team of doctors is respecting that,” said a friend of the Sens.

The oxygen saturation level dipped to 77 (out of 100) in the afternoon, which was a cause for alarm.

At her age, the oxygen saturation level should be at least 85. Anything below that is alarming, said doctors. Low oxygen saturation leads to less supply of oxygen to the lungs, heart and brain.

Around 4pm, a tube was inserted into her lungs through the larynx to suck out secretions that she had been unable to cough out because of her weakness, said sources.

The procedure appeared to have worked. The oxygen level inched up to 90 late in the evening.

“She is feeling better. Her condition is still critical but stable. There is no trace of any fresh infection,” critical care expert Subrata Maitra said around 9.30pm.

“She is weak but she spoke to the chief minister. Her daughter (Moon Moon) and two granddaughters (Raima and Riya) were also in the room. She wanted to sit on a chair but we couldn’t allow that as her health still doesn’t permit it.”

Over the past three-and-a-half years, Sen has had oxygen support at home.

She has been at Belle Vue since December 23.

“She is critical, not out of danger, but stable. Stable because her heart rate, pulse rate and blood pressure are satisfactory,” said Maitra.

A medical bulletin issued by Belle Vue at noon said: “Although Suchitra Sen’s condition remains stable, her dependence and demand of oxygen still remained high. Her cardiac condition continues to be stable. She could tolerate the prescribed diet well and she looks brighter today.”

The bulletin also said that supportive therapy like nebulisation, intermittent non-invasive ventilation and physiotherapy were continuing as before.

However, unlike previous days, she was put on non-invasive ventilation only in the morning.

Then, from afternoon, things went downhill, only to be arrested late in the evening.

“Her condition did become critical. But she has been able to recover by herself. We did not do anything new. The presence of her family members must have had the effect of counselling. I even saw her smile,” said Maitra.

Mamata — named “Magic Mamata” by Moon Moon for the positive effect that her visits have on her mother — entered the hospital at 6.38pm on Friday, after calling on President Pranab Mukherjee at Raj Bhavan. She finally left Belle Vue at 9.20pm.