The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CM stick drives men, not machines

Calcutta, Sept. 5: The entrance to B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children, after the chief minister’s “shut-out-the-media” order yesterday, acquired a new address today: 40/B/H/1 Upendra Chandra Banerjee Lane.

With the main gate tightly shut following Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s directive, and even the “alternative entrance” (a partially broken gate on the eastern side) guarded by policemen, we entered the hospital campus through the slum, bearing the address given above, on the north.

Entering the wards through the main entrance was out of the question. Therefore, a shaded approach — normally used only by nurses shuttling between the hospital and their quarters and doctors intent on a quick bite at their canteen — that runs straight to the lift (behind the outpatients’ department and used exclusively by hospital staff) was preferred.

The lift operator — confident he was letting in two Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital house physicians looking for their former batchmates (that was what we had told him over the past few days) — was his normal self, musing about the high-profile “inspection” of Wednesday evening.

It was “exciting”, he said, recounting the first visit by a chief minister for “many years”. “A few things have changed but only for a few days,” he said with certainty, adding helpfully — “See for yourself” — before letting us out on the second floor.

All nine wards were a lot tidier and the toilets had been swept clean to prepare for the “CM’s visit”, a group-D attendant said.

“But cleanliness depends on many other factors besides the work culture of group-D staff,” a nurse said. She blamed the general lack of hygiene and of awareness on the part of patients’ relatives for the state of the wards before rushing off towards a bed in ward no. 8.

But the parents (in ward no. 7) were happy about another improvement: doctors’ and nurses’ “presence” in the wards.

Taking us to be doctors, they were happy at “our increased presence” and even the better quality of diet.

Ramen Das, whose nephew Subhabrata was admitted with renal infection, bemoaned how “tough-talking” nurses had given them a piece of their mind when he had protested against the quality of rice. “What do you eat at home'” they had asked him. “Certainly not any better,” they had added, Das said.

Today, the rice his 30-month-old nephew ate “tasted like rice”.

Das had another reason to be happy; the same doctors who told him that Subhabrata’s surgery would not take place before a month — there were more serious cases — asked him today to prepare for the operation on Saturday.

“Oxygen cylinders are appearing at the least sign of gasping,” said the mother of a girl. There was no time to ask her name as two nurses came at us, asking for our “batchmates’ names”.

The canteen, too, felt the increased presence of doctors. The manager admitted that he was doing much better business than “more normal” days. “My canteen is not used to so much rush,” he said.

But Bhattacharjee’s visit was not enough to change certain things: the locked-up doors and shut-up departments, for instance, and the little patients sharing beds with others like them and their parents.

The biochemistry and pathology department still had a double lock. The “ECG room” still had the lone lock, a doctor pointed out after lifting the curtain.

On the first floor, the terrace was still being used as a dumping ground for out-of-use furniture.

There was no sign either that the outpatients’ departments like eye and ENT, which once existed but don’t now, would be opened very soon.

Exit, however, was a much easier affair. The main entrance was barred by policemen and hospital guards, but not for those making their way out. The gate was also bristling with cops to shut out the media but, again, not to prevent their exit.

The last word belonged not to a patient, but a doctor. Ruing the “atmosphere of fear”, he felt that the media was being “unnecessarily” anxious about the no-entry sign it had been issued.

It was not the media that was being shut out, he felt; rather, what was happening at the hospital was a clampdown on doctors and other staff. “What people don’t realise is that fear will beget extra hours out of staff, but will not be enough to ensure any service from a run-down photo-therapy unit or an absent incubator,” he said.

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