Fringe Elements

As I return to my column after a longish break,  desperately  hoping that I was missed, I am numbed by a recent happening and intrigued by the coincidence. I had last written on how we Indians live precariously. Now I am compelled to write this one about falling off the edge. It seems, if you live on the fringe, falling through the gap is inevitable.

88514677-7A97-461D-9D7F-65C4658EFD01He was  still practicing paediatrics at the age of eighty one, mostly for charity. He was a published writer and had authored many books. His last one Amrit Kalash about practical tips on infant care and breast feeding, was just out. When he had visited a week before the incident he was  busy making copious notes for his next book. He had mellowed a little but still lived up to his moniker ‘Garam Chacha’,  a name I had given him as a child and that had stuck because of his temperament. He hadn’t lost his firm, somewhat opinionated voice and his dry sense of humour. After dinner at our place he told me that though the kadhi I had made was nice he would have to teach me how to make spongy pakoras with holes on the surface.

On his journey back home he slipped while getting on the train and was caught between the platform and the train. His right leg got crushed before the chain could be pulled and the train stopped. He lay bleeding on the platform, writhing in pain while his  gynaecologist wife who was traveling with him tried to do what she could. There was no first aid box, no splint to support his leg and no way to start an infusion. After waiting for the ambulance  in vain, he was  shifted to the district hospital in a three wheeler, the only available vehicle that could accommodate a stretcher. Further delay was caused by  the numerous rallies and religious processions slowing traffic on the way. The district hospital  wasn’t equipped to deal with the emergency so he was taken to the military hospital. Valuable time was lost  on the  logistics of this transfer. By the time he reached a centre where something could be done nothing could be done. He bled to death, all the while offering suggestions on ways he could be saved. 

This lack of basic medical amenities could have been forgiven had this happened in one of those villages or small hamlets that dot rural India, but this occurred in a district, a place of great religious importance. As we gear up for elections and are surrounded by promises of bigger hospitals with more sophisticated equipment, we should probably just  ask for basic medical services, not on paper, but in place! Services that are readily available when needed. 

Meanwhile like all average Indians, the family has made peace with the situation. To the extent of saying that he was fortunate to have died in the holy city,  where people camp for years seeking deliverance. That the pain and agony he suffered in the last hours of his life would rid him of any past sins and ensure salvation. While I don’t fully buy that theory I do agree that he had lived a full and fruitful life. But this fact  doesn’t reduce the despair or excuse the mismanagement.  He had so much life left in him, so many dreams for the future, so many unfinished poems and untold stories. He shouldn’t have died, and in any case, not the way he did.  It will always hurt me that a person who spent his entire life treating others and fathered three doctors, one a neurosurgeon in the army, died for want of basic medical care. 

Why am I writing about this, because although he was my chacha  he could very well have been yours. 

( published in my column in the Tribune on 27/4/19)

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8 thoughts on “Fringe Elements

  1. Rohini sehgal says:

    Very touching
    Such an irony that a person who saved others died for want of timely care
    Sometimes the whole system fails
    sadly he was in the wrong situation at the wrong time
    I have seen this happening in the best of institutions where a series of errors cost a life
    You have written it so well

  2. AnjuSingh says:

    Oh its so unfortunate……

  3. Anjali Bansal says:

    This is a l sad incident and reflecting a real light on emergency trauma handling in our country. Written as usual dilse but dil bhar aaya.RIP such a great soul.

  4. Suman Bishnoi says:

    Manju ,so sad to read about the tragic death of your chacha the way it happened but your write-up is so beautiful as if it was happening in front of our eyes and we could do nothing …

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks Suman di
      It was very tragic indeed…

  5. Anshu S Johri says:

    Manju Di, So sad to read this again. Had experienced a similar helplessness few years ago when my dad was in Bangalore and I realized that were so few hospitals who could offer ventilator support. Eventually he was admitted in Apollo and recovered but I distinctly remember the night when I sat in utter helplessness thinking that in a city like Bangalore my dad risked not getting the required medical treatment. I remember you talking about him when we met . Remember him very vividly from my few visits at Shikha’s place.

  6. Ranjana Parihar says:

    Sad and tragic… can understand that feeling of helplessness your aunt must have gone through all this time… Emergency medical service , is still a far far dream for this country whose supreme is talking about going to MOON. May the departed soul RIP

  7. Mitra says:

    Dear Manju
    Really hurt and helpless ..
    Sometimes one can only question the justice of God if he really is up there ..
    A horrible accident and a worse rescue scene …as if all agony in our lot ..My heart goes out to all your family members and I wish to apologise on behalf of our health care system, to such a dynamic man ..for failing to provide basic life support even

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