While working with Swasthya Swaraj, getting back to my field area in Bhawanipatna, Odisha, after a week is always exhilarating. I feel like I’ve done enough and now is the time for weekend reward. Throughout the week, I work at Kerpai village. When I initially came here 10 months back, the only way to go back to Bhawanipatna was by the office jeep, which reached our clinic in Kerpai on Tuesday and went back only on Saturday. There was absolutely nothing else to take you back. You need to have patience while you are 100 km deep inside in the grip of the forest. Even if you try to run and escape, you would just get lost into nothingness, finally succumbing to the vast emptiness. It’s a pursuit in waste!
Once you walk away from the Swasthya Swaraj health clinic, you will see trees with different colors, on either side of the way. You will notice hills with thick dense trees and feel like they don’t have any end. To me, they seem like a graph of cosine function, whose definite axis is almost impossible to find. At dusk, I sometimes try to catch the sunlight running through the trees before the actual sunset. I try to chase the last leaf reachable, through which the sunlight passed just before the sun went down. At times, when there is no work, this is an extremely entertaining as well as exhausting activity.
Recently, someone started a bus service from Kerpai to Bhawaniptna. That modest man made us really happy, but to his disadvantage, his sheer negligence and lack of awareness led him to realize that he started this noble service without taking an official permit to run the bus between two points. Bus service was stopped in 15 days by the Road Transport Authority. But, he had firm determination and within no time, he completed all the legal procedures. Now, since past two months, we have a regular bus from Kerpai to Bhawanipatna, and back. It leaves at 6 in the morning and gets you to Bhawanipatna by 10, and leaves from there around 13:30, coming back by 18:30. It’s like a lifeline for us.
In the beginning, I was hesitant to use the bus service since I was not confident of the driver’s skills, but slowly I got used to it. Since last few weeks, every Saturday morning, I take the bus back to Bhawanipatna, while listening to music, reaching there by 10 am, having an entire day ahead of me. In a delightful mood, I reach office by 11, absorb myself in some productive work or learn something new and focus on the task till 4 pm in the evening, post which I take a tea break, pondering over everything and anything in the universe.
About a month ago, as I was working at the Bhawanipatna office on a Saturday afternoon, I received a call. With a hint of what would it be about, I picked it up, “Hello Mahir! There is a patient from Reupen. You remember she was admitted yesterday?”, Angelina Ma’am said from the other side.
“Yes, I remember her”, I replied.
“We have brought her to Bhawanipatna. She immediately needs blood transfusion. There is a community nurse accompanying her. Please take care of the patient and make sure they reach back”, she instructed.
“Sure, I will take care of it”, I said.
I rushed to the district hospital and was so disgusted to see the poor maintenance. It felt like I had come to a garbage pit. Hospitals are one place that are supposed to be clean and if they aren’t, people accompanying patients end up falling sick mainly because of the poor hygiene. Plus, the way staff treats patients there, is just inexplicable. They are seen as cattle, especially if you are from outside and don’t know the local language properly, you will be mocked and tortured till you voluntarily run away from the place.
When I met the patient, she was scared to death, as if she had been brought to a different planet. She knew nothing and her husband, with limited level of literacy, kept trying to understand the system but failed miserably. Such is life for tribal people living in Thuamul Rampur block. They have been neglected for so long that they feel completely isolated. For sixty years, this place has been how it is. Yes, SIXTY YEARS! While the country changed in those years, this place didn’t, simply because of negligence and corruption on the government’s side.
Getting back to my case, the patient was scared as hell and doctor wasn’t around. We were told that the doctor will be coming tomorrow and that the patient can spend the night here. In my broken Odiya, I told the patient, “tame ine rahiba, ami kali sakale asu chu, chinta nai kari” (You can sleep here, I will come tomorrow morning. Don’t worry!). As soon as she heard that, there was a natural innocent smile on her face. It might have given her the confidence that I will take care of her. Whatever the case may be, that smile made my day. I got the most amazing sleep that night.
Even though, I am not a doctor and on no grounds I’m qualified to give any advice on what doctors or nurses should do, I think it is extremely necessary that the first thing medical colleges should teach our future medical practitioners, is how to communicate with a patient. For them, a doctor is a ray of hope. They come with so much expectation, and to treat them without dignity, is egregious, unethical and totally unacceptable.
Next day, I again went to the hospital for the follow-up. There, I met the doctor who was even more egoistic than the nurses. She asked me to get a velocity test done for the patient, to which I asked her, “Where can I get this test done?”. She pointed her finger in a random direction and wasn’t even looking at me. For the next few minutes, I was scouting the entire district hospital for this test, before finally reaching the Pathology section, where I asked, “Do we do the velocity test here?”. The lady there looked at me and turned her face, ignoring my question, in spite of listening to me. I asked again, and got the same reaction (or lack of it)
What kind of people do these district hospitals hire for pathology? I don’t understand. All I know is that she was neither deaf nor dumb. Later, I found that velocity test is actually pregnancy test, and velocity is just the name of a brand. No one fucking cared to tell me this!
Eventually, I got the pregnancy strip from the nearest pharmacy and gave it to the patient. Once the test was done, she was given the required amount of blood. After a day-long struggle, I managed to get the patient in the bus and send them back to Kerpai. This was an eye-opening experience for me, in terms of people here working within the health care system and them being egoistic, crooked, corrupt and negligent, in their attitude & behavior, which forms my assumption for the rest of India. If we want to change the farcical health care system in India, we need to first work on changing attitude of such distorted people masquerading as doctors and nurses.