Medical staff do every bit to treat and counsel them; hospitals to admit more injured

Kalpana (name changed) was brought to the Himalayan Hospital in Jolly Grant with fractured limbs, heavy bruising and dehydration. She was in and out of consciousness and each time she spoke it was only to ask about her missing family members.

The trauma of being separated from her family was more painful than her own injuries and her heart-wrenching screams and refusal to be treated shook even medical staff trained to handle and assimilate such trauma.

Kalpana has since been discharged from care, but the hospital staff are still trying to help scores of injured and traumatised evacuees cope with their grief.

“The doctors and the nursing staff have been doing what they can to calm and counsel them. For some who are really depressed and traumatised, we have had to prescribe antidepressants,” said Monika Malhotra who works at the hospital.

The Himalayan Hospital has seen four deaths so far, with nearly as many critical. The number of patients who have been discharged runs into hundreds, but there are newer cases coming in.

Most patients at the hospital are angry for having been neglected; they were stranded for days without food, shelter and any help. “It seemed we were forgotten or simply did not exist,” said Meena Rana of Delhi, who had to walk five days in the Ramabara jungles to reach Guptkashi, from where the IAF rescued her and others.

“On the third day, my husband’s kidneys failed, he was unconscious and couldn’t move. I begged a group of boys to help me carry him, but they were injured and tired and hungry too. Initially, they refused to help me, but then relented. I used my shawl to tie him and they carried him till Guptkashi,” she said, her voice choking.

Mr. Rana is now in the ICU and responding to treatment. He has met his wife and told her that he owes his life to her perseverance. But Ms. Rana’s disappointment is hard to miss.

“Why did the government wait for so many days, didn’t they realise that people were dying of cold and hunger, forget the injuries,” she demands to know.

Unattended for six days

Mitali, a resident of Maharashtra who was brought in with severe pelvic injuries, too claims they were left unattended for six days and had to trek their way from Gaurikund to Guptkashi despite injuries.

Manju Thakker, Medical Superintendent at the hospital, said her team was doing everything they could do to help patients recover from physical and mental trauma. Each time a patient leaves with the family, there is a sense of relief.

What has been hard to shake off are the memories of patients who arrived during the first few days of the tragedy. “There was a woman who came in with a fractured leg, the bone exposed and maggots feeding on it. The leg had to be amputated. A majority of them came in with dehydration, sheer exhaustion and orthopaedic complaints. The ones, who are coming in now are not so critical, unless they have been stranded in the upper reaches for too long,” she said.

At Doon Hospital in the city, rescued people are being treated for broken bones, skin lesions, lung infections and dehydration. But the most sought-after patient here is the little girl with no name, two broken legs, but a fighter’s spirit.

There is barely room for her in her own pram, it is cramped with presents, and everyday she has more and more visitors dropping in to see her, some have even offered to adopt her. There is a virtual tussle between the nursing staff and the anganwadi workers appointed to look after her — both wanting to spend more time with ‘baby’. The little girl’s parents are still missing.

With the number of evacuees expected to increase, both government and private hospitals are bracing to accommodate more. A lot of people stranded in Badrinath, Dharasu, Harsil and other parts of Uttarkashi are being provided with food, first aid and medicines, but medical practitioners are taking no chances.

“As soon as we receive rescued people, we immediately provide the basic health check, there are doctors and medical teams at the helipads offering whatever is needed. The critical ones are shifted to hospitals without a moment’s delay,” said a Uttarakhand government official, posted at the Sahastradhara helipad.

But it is not the physical injuries and the long-drawn battle with trauma that is worrying all. Somesh Kumar from Madhya Pradesh, who has been scouting hospitals for information about his wife and other family members, just wants them to be alive, even if critically injured. “I just don’t want them to be the unclaimed, unrecognised bodies that are being mass cremated. The thought of them coming to me in a plastic bag as DNA samples kills me. Everyday, I pray, I find them on a hospital bed,” he said, setting off to resume his search.

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