• A doctor with seven years’ experience decides to let a six-month-old girl go just because her unlettered parents — who, between them, cannot distinguish between ‘fever’ and ‘febrile convulsion’ — want to take her home
• Another doctor decides to refer the same patient — in her second round of stay at the hospital — to a bigger hospital, without clarifying the ailment with which she is being referred out
Welcome to Howrah State General Hospital, the most recent entry in the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s hotlist of horror hospitals. Almost exactly halfway through its first five-year term, Bhattacharjee’s government is discovering that improving the health of the state-run healthcare system takes much more doing than issuing a letter of intent.
But by the end of Wednesday, the Howrah State General Hospital administration had decided that it was politics, not patient-handling, michhil, not medical mess, that was to blame for little Shabana Parveen’s death.
Overlooking the wrong-doings by his colleagues at the hospital, superintendent H.K. Chandra said the traffic snarl on Canning Street had been responsible for the six-month-old’s death on Monday.
“They left the hospital at 1.10 pm on Monday,” Chandra said on Wednesday. “Medical College and Hospital, the closest referral hospital, is barely four kilometres away and, in the absence of the traffic snarl on the streets, was reachable in half-an-hour,” he added.
Chandra, probably, was not far from the truth when he was lambasting — by implication — the rally by the student and youth wings of the Left Front partners, that held up central Calcutta for hours on Monday afternoon. But a reconstruction of the events that led to Shabana’s death would show that the hospital, too, did its bit to push the only child of a van-puller to her death.
Shabana, daughter of Ashraf Khan and Naseema Begum, was admitted to Howrah State General Hospital for the first time on October 11. She was suffering from diarrhoea and had been admitted under the care of Mousumi Mukherjee.
By nine the next morning, however, Shabana was a little better. This, according to hospital officials, was enough for the attending family members to plead that they take her home.
The family’s anxiety to take the child back home was hardly uncommon, but what has surprised the health department brass at Writers’ Buildings was the Howrah hospital’s decision to give in to the family and allow little Shabana to go home with her mother at 10.30 am on Sunday.
The next day, however, Shabana returned to the same hospital. The diarrhoeal attack she had suffered two days ago was now compounded with convulsions. She was admitted again, this time under the care of S.P. Gupta, and put on anti-convulsion medicines and drip.
By noon, on Monday, her condition had worsened. Doctors diagnosed septicaemia, meningitis and an electrolyte imbalance in Shabana, forcing doctors at Howrah State General Hospital to refer her to Medical College and Hospital.
The referral slip, however, mentioned nothing about the three complications Shabana had developed in addition to fever, diarrhoea and accompanying febrile convulsion.
Besides, there was no ambulance to take Shabana to the central Calcutta hospital. Officials there told Shabana’s parents that they could, instead, take a taxi, they could ill afford.
Director of medical education Chittaranjan Maity said late on Wednesday that the Howrah hospital authorities would be asked to explain why they had let Shabana go. “We are going to probe the circumstances under which she was shifted to Medical College and Hospital,” said Maity, signalling that it was time for minister Surjya Kanta Mishra’s department to be put under the scanner, yet again.