| AMRI Apollo Hospitals’ ambulance at the hospital gate to whisk away Asitabha Purakayastha to Beleghata ID Hospital. The vehicle waited from around 2 pm to well after dusk for the tug-of-war over the SARS patient to end. Picture by Amit Datta
After a two-day tussle between the government and his family over where to treat him, Tuesday night saw Asitabha Purakayastha, Bengal’s first confirmed patient of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) back in the state-run Infectious Diseases (ID) Hospital in Beleghata.
Purakayastha, with only his spectacles showing above the mask, was brought from the Advanced Medicare and Research Institute (AMRI) in south Calcutta under heavy police escort and readmitted to the ID Hospital, which he had left on April 22 with a cardiac condition.
“I am perfectly fine. I don’t know why you people (the doctors) are doing this to me,” said Purakayastha, while being examined in the emergency department before readmission into the isolation ward. “I did not want to come back to this place,” he told Metro.
His family had taken him out of ID Hospital on a “risk bond” and put him in AMRI, where the doctors were unaware that they had a SARS patient on their hands, till his blood report arrived from Pune’s National Institute of Virology.
On Sunday, the AMRI authorities wanted to release him against the wishes of his family. The government, too, gave Purakayastha a clean chit, declaring him “SARS-free” on Monday, and fit to return home. But, in a U-turn on Tuesday, it said the patient must be shifted to the ID Hospital, the only one equipped to declare a SARS victim ‘clean’.
At Writers’ Buildings, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the government would have Purakayastha shifted to ID Hospital. But his family threatened legal steps if the health department forced the shift.
Bhattacharjee held a meeting with chief secretary S.N. Roy, home secretary A.K. Deb, health secretary Asim Barman and senior health officials and reportedly expressed his unhappiness over the way senior health officials had handled the case.
“Unless he (Purakayastha) is admitted to our hospital and we test his blood samples according to the WHO protocol, we can’t say he is cured. He will have to go to ID Hospital,” said health secretary Barman. The government has provided the hospital with a ventilator, monitors and a few cardiologists.
Earlier, at AMRI around 3.30 pm, chief executive officer (CEO) Jose Verghese received a message from director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee, asking him to send Purakayastha to Beleghata. But, an hour later, Purakayastha’s family said it would not allow the government to take him away from AMRI. “As far as we are concerned, he will stay at AMRI and only after we obtain a second report on his health will we take him home,” said Purakayastha’s sister, Shibani Dattachaudhuri.
AMRI CEO Verghese contacted director of health services Chatterjee, waiting with director of medical education C.R. Maity at Beleghata for Purakayastha, and conveyed the family stand to him.
Finally, at around 8 pm, the deadlock was broken and Purakayastha’s family agreed to him being shifted to ID Hospital.