This report is a day late. As it has been these past six days with the security lockdown in place across the Valley, and all communication lines downed. Restrictions on movements during the day are stringent and it’s only when darkness descends that people in desperate need of medical assistance try to venture out. The cover of darkness becomes their passage to the city outside the four walls of their homes.
Shops remain shuttered, and the streets are almost empty barring the security personnel enforcing the prohibitory orders. Behind closed doors, people wait patiently. It’s an anxious wait — of patients desperate to reach the nearest health facility, of patients discharged from hospitals but unable to reach their homes, of parents waiting for word from sons and daughters studying outside the Valley, of worried migrant labourers waiting for relaxation of prohibitory orders so they can head home to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital, usually packed with patients and attendants every night, now receives a trickle. Its corridors and wards are more or less empty and ambulances are stationed outside, in a row. A doctor at the hospital told The Indian Express: “There were days when there would be no beds available for patients and we would accommodate two patients on a single bed. But as you can see today, the beds are empty.”
“We receive very few patients in the emergency section as well. We are worried about patients who need critical care. Every day, we used to receive over two dozen cases of heart attack. Only a few are coming these days, mostly from Srinagar. What of the others? We don’t know.”
Ali Mohammed had to stop at 11 checkpoints to get to the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) to show his ailing son to a doctor. “At all checkpoints, we were asked to show a pass, but we had none. My son has been unwell since Monday morning and I took him to a local doctor. Today, there was no option but to bring him to SKIMS.” A resident of Pantha Chowk on the outskirts of Srinagar, Ali showed the doctor’s prescription to security personnel.
At the SMHS Hospital, Aziz Najar, from Baramulla district, has a similar account. “I travelled from north Kashmir with a relative to the hospital. But during the one-and-half hour journey, we had to get past scores of barricades, concertina wire spools, first on the highway and then on the city roads leading to the hospital.”
It’s 10 pm and police and paramilitary personnel deployed on the roads have started to withdraw from the city roads, but the roads around SMHS Hospital are still barricaded with spools of concertina wire.
Bilal Ahmad and his wife have been waiting outside the hospital’s main gate for an ambulance or any vehicle to take them home to Shalimar, less than 15 km away.
“She developed acute pain and I rushed her to a nearby hospital in Habak. They referred us to JLNM Hospital (in Rainwarai) from where we were brought here in an ambulance,” Bilal said. “She has been discharged. We have been waiting here for the past three hours for someone to drop us home. I told an autorickshaw driver I will pay double the fare, but nobody dares to move out.”
The ambulance drivers have been busy too. Feroz Ahmad, one of the drivers, said: “We are supposed to bring hospital staff, doctors, technicians from their homes and drop them when they are done. On the way, if there are patients who need a ride, we drop them home as well. And we do not ask them to pay. I have not gone home in five days.”
Even with an Essential Services identity card, Ahmad says it is not easy to move around since the government has not declared a curfew, only imposed Section 144. “We cannot get curfew passes because authorities say there is no curfew. So when I step out, even this ID card does not always work.”
Nisar Ahmad, sitting outside the hospital with his parents, said: “We came here on Monday, my mother needed treatment. Now we have to go home. We have been waiting for an ambulance from Shopian, hoping it drops us home.”
SMHS Hospital medical superintendent Dr Nazir Hussain Choudhary declined comment: “I am not authorised to speak.”
It’s the ailing who are worst hit by the lockdown. The patient flow in most hospitals is a trickle. “The number of patients reaching us is very low. We are getting mostly emergency cases,” a SKIMS official said.
Ishtiyaq Ahmad, an employee of a dialysis centre, said it has shut for the last three days. “We don’t know what has happened to our patients who are supposed to undergo the dialysis cycles.”
Patients are trying to reach hospitals at night because movement restrictions are more stringent during the day. At Lal Ded Hospital, a maternity hospital, a woman said: “We left home last night at 9.30 to reach the hospital. Our appointment with the doctor is scheduled for tomorrow. We were not sure if we would make it during the day.”