A 73-year-old man, confined to his hospital bed for the past six days with high fever and respiratory distress, walked out of the general ward on Sunday evening. He roamed the city streets aimlessly, before returning home on Monday afternoon, as mysteriously as he had left the hospital. All the while, the police had registered a missing diary without even informing the missing patient’s family.
Chintamani Ghosh, a resident of Baranagar, was admitted to Sambhunath Pandit Hospital with high fever and respiratory distress on May 7.
On Monday morning, when Ghosh’s family members came to the south Calcutta hospital during visiting hours, they found, to their horror, bed no. 39 “empty”. They inquired about his whereabouts, only to be told by an apologetic nurse: “He has disappeared and we have failed to trace him.”
Ghosh’s family panicked and raised a ruckus, culminating in a formal complaint to hospital superintendent Sukumar Das. “We were stunned when we learnt he was missing and a diary had been lodged at Bhowanipore police station around 11 pm on Sunday. But the police did not bother to inform us. This man is very sick and may be dying. If this is not callousness, then what is'” asked Shyam Neogi, a relative of Ghosh.
A bizarre twist in the tale of the fugitive patient came late on Monday afternoon — and quite a distance from Sambhunath Pandit Hospital — when Ghosh, clad in a torn lungi and singlet, reached home and casually asked his grand-daughter Soma to “pay the taxi fare”. Before the shell-shocked family could realise what was happening, Ghosh walked into his room and went off to sleep.
“Give me some food, I am starving,” he told his anxious family immediately after waking up. Later in the evening, Ghosh narrated to his family how he — in the shirt and pyjamas he was wearing in hospital — had walked out of the ward without anybody stopping him, around 8.30 pm on Sunday.
“I walked down the streets and started chatting to some people. I must have dozed off, as when I came around, I found myself in a torn lungi and a singlet,” he added. Family members suspect that those who took his clothes might have drugged him.
“I don’t remember the name of the streets I walked, but the bright lights were quite nice to look at,” Ghosh continued.
Piecing together his sketchy narrative, family members said Ghosh must have walked along AJC Bose Road for some time, before hailing a taxi at Minto Park and asking the driver to take him to Dakshineswar.
“I spent Monday morning and some part of the afternoon listening to devotional songs and watching the puja. It was fascinating. Later, I took the same taxi home,” Ghosh recalled.
Hospital superintendent Das, meanwhile, said a departmental probe into the matter is underway. “It is surprising that someone left the hospital without the officials on duty having the slightest clue. The guilty will definitely be taken to task,” said Das, adding that the patient’s family had been warned of Ghosh’s reluctance to stay on in the hospital.
Ghosh would, apparently, disappear for a while in the hospital before returning to his bed. His family had even deputed an attendant to keep a watch over him. “The authorities told us that we could not keep an attendant after 8 pm, and the ward boys and sisters were quite capable of handling an old and ailing patient like him,” Soma said.
Ghosh is running a high temperature and is now undergoing treatment at home, his granddaughter added.
The police, of course, had the final word. “The man has returned home, so why is everyone so bothered about him'” wondered the duty officer at Bhowanipore police station.