A dazed 16-year-old Sahil walked into Al Hind Hospital in Old Mustafabad Wednesday afternoon with a bloody scar across his head. He had been hit by a stone late Tuesday, caught in the violence in his neighbourhood. A team of doctors rushed to deftly stitch and bandage the wound. “Thank you, Doctor Saheb,” the boy said softly.
Over the last four hours, Sahil was the seventh patient to walk into this hospital that became a lifeline for residents in the riot-hit Mustafabad area of northeast Delhi.
Over the last two days, doctors at the hospital said they attended to scores of patients with bullet injuries, pellet injuries and skull fractures — they also recorded seven deaths, including four declared brought dead.
But since Monday, there was no room for any patient inside and the violence had, effectively, walled off the hospital from the city — its supplies depleting, patients stranded.
That changed Tuesday night when the Delhi High Court, well past midnight, ordered the police to ensure safe passage for the evacuation from Al Hind of those critical.
By the time the order came, things were dire: the first line of defence of just four doctors had just four bed rests, no ventilators, neither an ICU nor a blood bank. All they had left was one oxygen cylinder, medicines foraged by compounders who made their way through riot-hit areas, and empty paint cans for disposal bins.
“For two days, hospitals had been turning away our patients. We don’t have the infrastructure to treat them. I saw a dead man being brought into my hospital, and the least I could do was convince the family to get the post-mortem conducted,” said Dr M A Anwar, who runs the hospital.
With the court order came hope. So when he was informed by a local hospital in Karkardooma Wednesday that they would not admit his patient, he shouted a warning into his phone about “contempt of court” and turned to his patients.
Over the last two days, Anwar and his team of doctors have rushed back and forth between the hospital and police barricades, arguing with policemen to let them get their patients to GTB Hospital in Dilshad Garden 8 km away, the nearest facility with the equipment needed.
Tuesday was a challenge. Riot victims came in with skull injuries, one with a bullet in the ear. “We had to make calls to others in the medical community. I spoke to doctors at AIIMS and begged them for help. The policemen at the barricades told us that a head constable had died and they did not have the time for my patients,” Anwar said.
A few late-night phone calls to senior police officers helped them cross the barricades. But just when they got out of the narrow lanes, their ambulance was pelted by stones and chased by sword-wielding mobs. Doctors said they begged with the mobs to let them go, and escaped with their lives.
Back in the hospital, meanwhile, the medicines ran out. “We were short of painkillers, antibiotics, injections and dressing material,” said Waseem Akram, the hospital compounder.
When the influx of patients increased Tuesday, the doctors were overwhelmed. However, the team of 10 nursing staff rushed to keep up. One of them said the least they could do was check patients’ vitals, while doctors laid out carpets on the first floor and tied ropes across the rooms from where they hung drip feeds.
Relief finally arrived from the High Court.
In an order issued Tuesday night (12.30 am Wednesday) a two-judge bench — Justice S Muralidhar and Justice Anup J Bhambhani — referred to a call received by Justice Muralidhar from Suroor Mander, an advocate, that “certain grievously wounded victims of the riots taking place in the North Eastern district of Delhi, were unable to be removed from the Al Hind Hospital… a fairly small hospital which lacks the facilities…for treatment at the GTB Hospital in Dilshad Garden.”
Noting that the plea “prayed for urgent orders for safe passage of the ambulances”, the bench directed police “to ensure such safe passage by deploying all the resources at its command” so that “the injured victims receive immediate emergency treatment, if not at the GTB Hospital, then at the LNJP Hospital or Maulana Azad or any other government hospital.”
Following the order, scores of patients were shifted. But they left behind scenes from a nightmare. In the casualty section were a 16-year-old girl, who was pelted with stones while looking for milk; a 24-year-old man with a bullet lodged in his shoulder for the last two days; and, an 82-year-old man with an injured leg after his house was set on fire.
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