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Rehabilitation for both victims and their families should start at the time of admission to the hospital

Seven years ago Nithya (name changed), then 25 years old, was on the way to her betrothal ceremony, when a young man in her neighbourhood, angry that she had chosen another man over him, threw acid on her face. She was in hospital for six months and the once-lively graduate lost an eye and an earlobe in the attack.

Even though the plastic surgeon who treated her implanted an artificial eyeball and reconstructed her damaged earlobe, Nithya continues to hide behind a burqa and does not socialise. After two years of living in despair and struggling against thoughts of suicide, her doctor helped her back on her feet, she said. Now she works as a clerk issuing tokens to visitors at a hospital. When she heard that the doctor had retired, her worries returned. Would she be allowed to keep the job that the doctor had got her? Nithya’s father launched a legal battle hoping to get some relief. But the case is still being heard. She said the lawyers were discussing the punishment that should be awarded to the culprit.

I asked Nithya if she had heard of the incident in Karaikal, where a 23-year-old girl was recently injured in an acid attack. She said, “Yes, I heard that she is a B. Tech graduate.” Did she try to meet her? “No. I don’t know where she is.” I told her the name of the hospital Vinothini was admitted to; Nithya remained silent. Vinothini, who is currently undergoing a spate of surgeries at the Government Kilpauk Hospital, was not as lucky as Nithya. As in the case of Nithya, a man threw acid on Vinodhini on November 15. On Wednesday, her relatives said the doctors had begun another round of surgeries. Her relative said, “Doctors said they will have to create eyelids as they were lost in the attack.” But the family and the victim have no one to counsel them to face the inevitable.

Ideally, rehabilitation for such victims and their families should start at the time of admission to the hospital and continue till the patient has returned to living a near-normal life, says plastic surgeon V. Jayaraman, who has treated several acid attack victims.

He says studies have shown that 30 per cent of a given sample of adult survivors of acid attacks and burns consistently demonstrate moderate to severe psychological problems. “Psychological healing occurs over time commensurate with physical healing. Social re-integration is a journey during which patients gradually accept the alteration to their body image and slowly re-establish their self-esteem and independence. As the ability to preserve life in patients with burn injuries improves, so too must increase the concern for the quality of life during re-integration into society,” the surgeon said.

“Such patients require rehabilitative efforts that provide a link with healthcare professionals including a psychotherapist. The psychotherapist will help the patient resist the temptation to remain satisfied with the identity of a ‘heroic survivor’. Counselling sessions, support groups and camps for survivors can also be organised to help them re-integrate,” Dr. Jayaraman said.

Last year, the Government Stanley Hospital launched a diploma course in counselling. The course will teach social work students to work with patients and encourage them to continue treatment.

Keywords: acid attack

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