| Naseema on the floor of the Howrah State General Hospital on Thursday. Picture by Amit Datta
Howrah, Oct. 16: “Itna kuchh yahan nahin hoga (All this isn’t possible here).”
Drunk at four in the afternoon, a ward boy told Naseema Begum that she could not be treated for diarrhoea at the largest hospital in a district 2 km from Writers’ Buildings.
Seventy-two hours after she lost her six-month-old daughter, Naseema was about to step into the routine that led to Shabana Parveen’s death on rally-hit Monday.
“Isse le jao yahan se (Take her away from here),” the drunk ward boy, Mohammad Suleiman, told Naseema’s relatives. It was exactly what the Howrah State General Hospital administration told her when she clutched Shabana in her arms three days ago, a few hours before she lost her.
The hospital, however, failed to turn out Naseema today. Her relatives were much better armed than they were on Monday; they had with them their neighbourhood Youth Congress leaders.
Naseema found herself on the floor of the same gastro-enteritis ward reserved for patients unable to pay for a bed. Admitted with the same ailments — diarrhoea, fever and convulsions — she lost consciousness after a few minutes.
Had she been conscious, she would have seen that doctors come to attend patients two hours after admission; or that nurses are too busy and let trainees do their job.
Naseema arrived at the hospital at 4 pm, welcomed by the ward boy. She got the place closest to the toilet in a room packed with 13 others. Nurses later said the patient to arrive last got the “worst” place. Two fans were not working in the cramped room. A nurse came and left after a look, giving the room over to trainees.
Naseema’s husband, Ashraf Khan, asked for a blanket on which she could be laid. He did not get any, forcing him to go out and buy one. The saline drip started at 4.30 pm and the first medicine she got was courtesy a prescription from a neighbourhood doctor (both bought from the chemist’s outside).
at 5.30 pm — 90 minutes after she arrived — the hospital took over. The call-book, without which doctors could not tend to her, was sent to the doctors’ chamber. “Pathachhi to, dekhchhen na (I am sending it, can’t you see)'” a nurse barked on being reminded of her duty.
The first doctor came at 5.50 pm. He was specially requisitioned from the emergency. There were only three doctors on duty in the 65-doctor hospital.
The doctor who came was not the one to whose care, officially, Naseema was given. Saswata Chatterjee saw to her, though Prabir Pal’s name was written in the patient’s hospital papers.
Convulsions followed but superintendent H.K. Chanda was confident: “This hospital will treat her.”
Silence followed the question why the hospital sent away Shabana, down with the same ailment, to Medical College and Hospital.
Hospital staff, meanwhile, tried to clean up the room. Their first targets were patients sharing Naseema’s ward. “Get out with your belongings,” a female attendant ordered. “Many people are coming to see Naseema.”
The toilet, dark until then, was lit up by 7 pm, soon after the superintendent was yanked out of his chair and forced to see Naseema. This had another effect: Naseema was stretchered to a bed in the general ward (not meant for infectious-disease patients) as the hospital bent over backwards to please her well-wishers.