Another dark winter night has just enveloped Kashmir. The long,dull corridors of the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital in Srinagar appear milky in the soft glow of the white tube-lights. People bustle around in the corridors and the wards. The hospital staff roll in the trolley with food and people settle for dinner; patients in their beds and their attendants on the ward floor,in the corridor and even in the Intensive Critical Care Unit (ICCU). Dinner over,SMHS prepares to settle for the night.
For a hospital,SHMS is quiet tonight but for the occasional moans of pain uttered by the patients and chatter of attendants. The doctors,followed by nurses,arrive for the night round of the wards. After the doctors leave,the nurses disappear. In some wards they come back on their own,in other less privileged ones,the attendants have to go after them.
Around 10 pm,the noise of wailing people attracts everybody’s attention. It is from ward 11. A 70-year-old man,Munni Sheikh,lies on his bed. Dead. The former army man from Noorbagh,Baramulla has died of liver failure,a doctor informs. People and paramedics help Sheikh’s relatives wrap him in a blanket and call up a car to take the body home.
Most of the patients have to arrange the transportation themselves as hospitals ambulances are mostly unavailable. Tonight the ambulance has made two trips from the hospital to Jawahar Nagar,an uptown neighbourhood of the city,to pick and drop a lady doctor.
The car is waiting in the hospital compound,guarded by scores of dogs. “There are so many dogs here,they have become a nuisance” says Firdous Shah,a 20-year-old college student who is attending to his sick father. The car drives off with the body of Sheikh and his wailing relatives. We hurry back inside the hospital to escape the freezing chill.
Bashir Ahmad Mir,27,a resident of Palhalan in north Kashmir sits at the foot of the bed in which his grandfather,a diabetic,is asleep,snoring. Mir has been in the hospital for a week. “It has been a torture. Look,the doctor is in his room but there are no nurses around. If you need one,you have to go looking for them,” Mir says.
In Ward 12,Mohammad Ramzan Dar is crying with pain. The nurse puts him on a drip but the pain doesn’t stop. For nearly half an hour,Dar’s wife pleads with the nurses to call the doctor but she tells her the pain would stop soon. It does,after nearly another half an hour.
“The doctors today said he will have to undergo an operation. But first we have to do some tests tomorrow,” says Dar’s wife Zareefa. “But I don’t know where I have to go for the tests. You can’t even ask anyone. Here everyone is to himself”.
And when she says it,she isn’t shooting blind in the air. “It is true. But what can we do. There is so much overload here. We get exhausted. After all we are also humans,” says a nurse,who won’t tell her name. “There is no accountability here. The doctors never come on time and the nursing staff does the same. But there is no one to tell them. You can’t blame nurses for everything”.
It is past midnight. The people in the wards are beginning to retire for the night. The hospital’s Casualty Ward hasn’t admitted any new patients since evening. But most of the patients and their attendants who are already there are awake. Ghulam Qadir Rather,50,a resident of Devsar in south Kashmir,who has been operated recently,shares a bed with another patient who is asleep. There are at least four other beds in the ward shared by two people. “We have no option but to put up with what we are offered. What can we do,” Rather says about sharing his bed with other people.
“What can we do,we don’t have enough space to accommodate all the people who come here. There are less than 50 beds in the Casualty Ward,” says Chief Medical Officer of the hospital,Dr Altaf Ahmad.
It is 3 am and nearly the whole of SMHS has slept for the night. I lie on an empty bed with Firdous Shah,who has by now become a friend,in Ward 11. Close to our bed near the cabin of the nurses in the centre of the ward,two small dustbins have overflowed onto the floor.
And this is not the only dirty corner in the hospital. Nearly all the walls of the hospital are stained,the floors have lost colour with dirt and the heaters are rusting. Nearly all the dustbins in the hospital overflow and the rubbish lies scattered on the floor. In ward 4,two empty cigarette packets lie on the floor near the dustbin. Blood stained bandage and cotton lies scattered in the wards and corridors.
Around six in the morning,a noise wakes us up. It is a doctor and two nurses attending to a woman,four beds across us,who is wailing in pain. A nurse gives her an injection and she calms down. “I will come back and put her on a drip,” the nurse tells her attendants.
The bathrooms of ward 11 are a sickening sight. I try the bathrooms of a few other wards right and left but they are no better. “You have been here only a night. I have spent 10 days here and I don’t know for how much longer I will have to put up with this stink,” Shah tells me in a self-pitying tone.
Around 8 am,wails from the Casualty Ward come through the long,narrow corridor. Sadri,a 60-year-old woman from Sheerpora,Anantnag is being brought out from the Casualty Ward wrapped in a white sheet. “She suffered a stroke. A blood vessel in her brain had burst,” Zahoor Ahmad,a paramedic,says. “A woman also died of stroke in the Casualty Ward a few hours ago”. The woman was Saida,a 45-year-old from Kulem,Kulgam. Saida had said farewell to SMHS and to the world at four in the morning.
At about quarter to nine,I go back to Ward 11 to say good bye to my friend and to get my bag.
The nurse has not come back to administer the drip to the woman whose wails had woken us up in the morning. “I went to the nurse but she said she would come after taking tea. It has been nearly an hour since then,” said the woman’s husband,Abdul Salam.
Outside in the corridor,Zareefa is waiting with some papers in her hand. “The doctor had told me to meet him before doing the tests. I am waiting for the doctor. He hasn’t come yet,” she says.
As I walk back through the long corridors to the door,people are bringing in breakfast. The sweepers are cleaning the floors,blowing dust into the air and into the patient’s noses. The broken,rusty windows of the corridors open to the compound that looks like a junkyard. Broken furniture,hospital trolleys and beds lie scattered in wild grass under the watchful eyes of stray dogs.
I walk out of the hospital into a sunny winter morning. My first night in a hospital is over,and by hospital standards,it was not a bad night