She entered the hospital as a child in the summer of 1968. She has spent 39 summers lying in bed no. 9 of Howrah Orthopaedic Hospital. But Bhanumati’s medical miseries are far from over.
The railway-run hospital authorities are keen on sending Bhanumati back home, but the family wants her to be fully cured.
“My daughter was just like any other five-year-old when we admitted her for a minor operation in the hospital. But since then, she has never stood on her feet,” said mother Sitamani Devi, who lives with her two sons at the railway quarters near Howrah station.
In June 2006, the family moved the high court to prevent the hospital from sending Bhanumati back home without the family’s consent.
“We want to take her back, but they have to cure my daughter first,” Sitamani wept, while Bhanumati looked on.
The 45-year-old woman spends the day lying on the bed. Efforts by Metro to speak to her did not yield any result, as she looked away.
She rarely interacts with other patients or hospital staff and opens up only to her mother, who visits her twice a day to feed her. Since 1997, the authorities have stopped serving food to bed no. 9, as Bhanumati is referred to in the hospital.
Everyone in the hospital is aware of the patient in bed no. 9, but no one wants to utter a word about the patient.
“I am not authorised to talk on this issue,” said Ashok Kumar Saha, chief health director, Howrah Orthopaedic Hospital, refusing to divulge details about Bhanumati’s ailment or her tenure of stay in the hospital.
Senior railway officials pleaded ignorance. “I am not aware of any patient at the hospital for 40 years,” said A.K. Maitra, divisional railway manager, Eastern Railway.
But the family has maintained all the records, with which it is fighting the case.
“Our father (Baij Nath) was a railway employee. But since his death, my sister is not given food in the hospital… The railway even deducted Rs 80,000 from my father’s gratuity as medical expenses for my sister,” said Siukumar, Bhanumati’s younger brother.
Siukumar, also a railway employee, was not born when his sister was admitted to hospital, but he knows the entire story.
According to him, father Baij Nath — a truck driver in the railway — took Bhanumati to the hospital after a lump on her hip started spreading. The doctors had told the family that the five-year-old girl needed a minor operation to remove the lump.
“She was operated upon on June 26, 1968… We were told that it was a minor operation, but it continued for hours,” recounted Sitamani.
But Bhanumati did not recover after the operation. The ‘lively child’ remained in a state of drowsiness for months and did not utter a word for around five years.
“We did not have the means to take her anywhere else and so, we were depending on the doctors… But we were never told about the ailment or how long it would take for her to be back on her feet,” added Sitamani, explaining the family’s faith in the railway hospital.
Today, the faith has been replaced by fury and the mother has vowed to teach the hospital a lesson. “We shall continue our fight till the hospital ensures proper treatment for my daughter,” signed off Sitamani.