Heart-wrenching story of a cancer patient, one of the many spending days and nights on footpaths outside India's premier hospital
Sonal Matharu | March 22, 2010
A thin, torn blanket over a plastic sheet is spread on the pavement outside AIIMS OPD. Among the travel bags, folded bed sheets and CT scan reports lay five-year-old Shyamali. A big lump on the left side of her forehead is the reason she lay still on the mat, staring at nothing in the sky.
Shyamali has brain tumor and she has spent more than 12 weeks shifting from the hard floor of the pavement and her mother’s arms.
“The doctors refuse to admit her. They do not operate on her,” cries Usha Devi, her mother.
Mukesh Singh, Shyamali’s father who is a farmer, came to AIIMS after the doctors at his home town, Matiyari district in Bihar, refused to treat his daughter.
He has spent over a lakh on medical tests, sold two out of five acre land he owned in his village and feels that coming to Delhi was the biggest mistake he ever made in his life.
“Over 20 doctors must have examined her. They recommend tests after tests but are still not clear how to cure her. She is in terrible pain,” said Mukesh.
Without a sound, Shyamali shuts her eyes tight and opens her mouth in pain when her mother tries to open her left hand which has turned inwards in a fist. The stony expression on Shyamali’s face returns in no time as her mother gives up the effort.
“Her left hand and foot stays bent all the time. She trembles in pain throughout the day and night. People who see her everyday here on the pavement know what she is going through,” said Usha Devi.
Shyamali was given glucose through drip only once in these three months, the blue marks of the needle still fresh on her hand.
Shyamali’s mother put a syringe without a needle filled with watermelon juice in her mouth and pushed the plunger. The contents of the barrel filled Shyamali’s mouth and dripped from one corner.
“She has stopped eating now. She cannot swallow even a sip of water,” mumbled Shyamali’s grandmother lifting Shyamali’s vest, revealing her sunk-in stomach.
“I do not know what my daughter is suffering from that these doctors cannot treat. I tell them to operate on her and remove the tumor. They say she is too young. They keep giving us a later date. Why don’t they give us a clear answer? Whether they operate on her and she dies or she dies without any treatment, she is our daughter. What do they have to lose?,” said Usha Devi.
With already spending Rs.500 a day, they cannot afford a room in any of the dharamshalas at AIIMS. The authorities there ask for Rs.1200 a month.
“We have to pay money for using the toilet, for washing clothes and for bathing. We cannot cook and have to buy food every time. Now all we can do is sell ourselves,” said Usha Devi.
Mukesh has started looking for work around the hospital. He has filled up a form for a constructer worker’s job at Delhi Metro’s construction site outside AIIMS but has got no response from them.
Meanwhile, the medical superintendent at AIIMS, D.K. Sharma says, “The dharamshalas we have are more or less free of cost.” He adds, “We have limited number of beds. We have a waiting list and allot the beds as soon as they go vacant but we do not refuse to admit patients. We definitely give priority to serious cases.”
“My mother-in-law has come from the village. We called her here. We do not know for how long we’ll have Shyamali with us,” said Usha Devi caressing her five-year-old daughter in her arms.
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