In the last six months, paraplegic Tukaram More Pawara has visited four hospitals in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat for a spinal surgery but to no avail. The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has forced the paralysed man to remain bedridden, as he waits for government hospitals to resume non-Covid procedures.
Pawara (42), a tribal living in a remote hamlet in Dhadgaon block in north Maharashtra’s Nandurbar, fell from a tree in March when he has collecting leaves for his goat’s fodder. He broke his spine after the fall, sustained multiple rib fractures and a chest injury.
His family hired a taxi and travelled across the state border to Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani town for treatment. An MRI showed his spinal disc had suffered dislocation. “The hospital said they can’t treat him there. They asked us to go to Mumbai,” said Pawara’s neighbour Mukund Solanki.
Pawara’s family hired another taxi for Rs 25,000 and reached Gokuldas Tejpal (GT) hospital in south Mumbai. The hospital conducted a series of tests on the dorso-lumbar spine. The D7-D8 in the dorso suffered compression, and his L4-L5 disc had bulged. He had been rendered paralysed waist down.
Pawara was slated for a procedure to straighten his spine and provide support to it when the lockdown was announced in Maharashtra. “He was forcefully discharged and had to return home,” Solanki said.
The family then took him to Nandurbar Civil Hospital, where doctors said they do not have specialised surgeons to operate upon the farmer.
Earlier this month, the family took him to Pipariya in Gujarat in the hope of a surgery. Solanki said even there, the hospitals refused to treat Pawara due to the pandemic.
Pawara has five children and a wife who have been surviving on their saved stock of farm produce. “They have no savings left to afford private care. We have been waiting for any government hospital to admit him to at least improve his condition,” said Latika Rajput from the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
The family lives in a hilly hamlet with no mobile network. Every few days, a family member treks down to make phone calls to GT hospital for a surgery date.
The GT hospital has been converted into a dedicated Covid-19 hospital since April. Dr Dheeraj Sonawane, orthopaedic surgeon at the hospital, said that since the pandemic began, a specialised orthopaedic unit run by the hospital has been treating only Covid-19 patients.
“Only emergency procedures are being taken up at JJ hospital (parent organisation of GT hospital). This patient came six months ago. We need to see his fresh X-ray to decide upon his treatment,” he added.
Nandurbar district officials said Pawara has developed bed sores and is unable to move out of his bed without support. Since the district hospital has become a Covid-19 facility, he cannot be admitted for a long period there.
In 2017, eight-year-old Ravita Valvi, from the same taluka as Pawara, had fallen off a tree and broken her spine.
Valvi had also travelled 450 km to Mumbai for surgery but could not get proper rehabilitation after being discharged. The paraplegic girl died a year later due to infection developed by bed sores.
Dr Abhijeet More from the Jan Aarogya Abhiyaan said private hospitals have started resuming non-Covid work but public hospitals are still majorly catering to Covid-19 patients. “We have demanded that the government starts non-Covid work in hospitals, but there is also a shortage of doctors to handle the patient load,” he added.
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