There are some experiences one will never forget. It was over two months ago, 7th March. My uncle Bala from Bangalore said it was a show not to be missed, so there we were at NCPA, Nariman Point to see the musical Million Dollar Quartet. Based on the impromptu jam session recording of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins in one room, at Mr Phillips’ Sun Studios, Memphis, way back in 1956, it was a foot-tapping performance that replayed a part of music’s history. Learnt an interesting fact – Blue Suede Shoes was first sung by Perkins, but Elvis made it so popular that people think it’s an Elvis original.
After the show we took a stroll down to Marine Drive. Minus the weekday office crowd, it’s a nice place to watch the sun set on the Arabian Sea.
One usually sees runners and walkers, lots of selfie takers, lots of youngsters, and this Saturday evening it was no different. Except that there was an unusual number of police vans parked along the road and a really long queue of people lining up on the other side of the road. We just had to find out why, from one of the policemen. “India-West Indies old cricketers match – Lara, Sachin all playing”, he said. This was scheduled at the Wankede Stadium later that evening. Probably the last cricket match for the public before Covid-19.
Apart from supervising the cricket fans on one side of the road, the police had their eyes on the sea-side too. There was a modelling shoot in progress on the tetrapods, but it didn’t last very long as the cops swooped on the boys and got them to step out.
The plan was to walk to Churchgate Station and take a Borivali local home. We’d make it back to have dinner with the boys. But this did not happen.
While crossing the road, Srivathsa lost his step while climbing onto the footpath. The mobile phone from the pocket flew out and landed in front of me. In a matter of seconds he was flat on the ground. Though visibly shaken by the fall, he was quick to get up. He put his hand to his head and soon it was full of blood. The blood was dripping, down the nose and onto the shirt. We used a hanky to stop the bleeding. Someone made him sit down on the footpath edge. Someone gave me his fallen spectacles. Someone brought water. Someone examined the head. “You will need stitches”, she said.
Unfortunately, while falling, his face had hit the steel bollard on the footpath and the spectacles took the impact digging into his face. Everyone was concerned about the blood on the hanky. The police were right there. Many of them. Where do you live? Kandivali is too far away. It was past 7 p.m. A policewoman stopped a kaali-peeli taxi. They put Srivathsa in the rear seat and told him to lie down. “Madam, you sit in front. Take them to the hospital.”
So it was that we drove in to Gokuldas Tejpal Hospital at Fort. It was a long time since we’d been to a hospital. The taxi driver was familiar with the place. He stopped at the casualty entry. It’s an old hospital building, high roofs with English Gothic architecture. The hospital was very empty, maybe because it was late evening, and a Saturday at that.
The casualty was the first door. All the rooms down the corridor were closed. It was a big room with cloth partitions to separate the beds from the rest of the room. There were many doctors around, identifiable by the white coats and stethoscopes round the necks. There seemed to be more doctors than patients. Every patient had an attendant, accompanying the patient like me. We were asked to sit. There were benches and stools. It was around 7:30 by this time.
The main doctor on duty came to us. He was a young man. He asked how the accident happened, and if the police brought us. Then a nurse came and asked the same questions. They wanted to make sure it was not an assault/ police case. The bleeding had stopped, but the nurse brought some cotton wool to use instead of the hanky.
I was given a sheet of paper and told to register at counter xx. Every counter and room has a number, but I don’t remember. The cashier was by himself. No queue. He was counting money. It looked like he was getting ready to complete his shift. I wrote the name on a paper (to avoid misspelling that always happens) and he entered the details on the computer. Rs 20 for registration.
There were two beds for patients to lie on. Actually one was a bed and one was an operation table. Both were occupied. On the bed was an elderly man who was continuously talking. He had been brought in with fever. They had tied his hands and legs so that he stayed still and didn’t pull out the IV. On the table lay a woman in a saree. A lady doctor was getting ready to give her stitches on her head.
The main doctor on duty was finishing his shift at 8. He explained to us that he had to leave, and handed our case to the lady doctor. She came and inspected Srivathsa’s face. She inspected the broken spectacles to get an idea of what had happened. “Sutures definitely. Four to six. And an x-ray of the skull – AP and lat, just to make sure nothing is broken and there is no glass piece lodged in the face.” Srivathsa and I looked at each other. Should we continue with this or should we go back to Kandivali and attend to it there. The journey was long and it would be too late. We stayed.
We needed to pay first. Rs 190 for x-ray. Rs 100 for suturing and related procedures. The counter was shut by now, but cash collection was happening at a different counter. The one where the phone booth was located. I paid and got a receipt. The x-ray department was located in the opposite building. We walked across the internal road to the x-ray room on the first floor. There was one patient before us. A lady in a wheelchair with an injured leg. We waited our turn. The technician checked the receipt to see if we had paid. The x-ray was done, but the wound had started bleeding again. Too much pressure on the x-ray board. The technician said we could leave. There would be no collection of report required. Everything is in the “system”. Just go back to the doctor and the x-ray and report will reach in a few minutes.
We went back to the casualty room. There were more people by now. There was an elderly woman and her son. He said she had been having fever for two days. Mumbai was yet to see its first Covid-19 case, but “fever” was getting attention. They were asking them lots of questions. There was a small boy who had a stomach ache. A youth was hobbling on one foot. The other foot had a deep deep cut through the centre under the foot. He must have been in a lot of pain. The old man was still there on the bed. The woman getting sutured was done. She was getting ready to leave.
The lady doctor was walking around. She confirmed that the x-ray showed that the head was alright. It was Srivathsa’s turn. He was told to lie down on the operation table. The curtains were roughly drawn. The nurse gave him a tet-vac injection on the buttock. Then another injection on the forehead – local anesthesia. “Wait”, he was told. The anesthesia needed to take effect.
By this time the ward boys had arrived with a stretcher trolley. The old man was getting moved to the ward. The boy with the deep cut under his foot was having his foot dressed in another corner of the room. We could see the boilers and steamers that were sterilising miscellaneous things – cotton and implements. We were waiting for the lady doctor to come to start the suturing. She was in the adjacent room doing some paper work.
Hovering around the sterilising machines was this man dressed in a bright orange shirt. The top two buttons were noticeably unbuttoned to reveal fancy chains. As he put on the sterile gloves we could see the bracelets on his arms. He adjusted the overhead light beam onto Srivathsa’s face. Srivathsa was clearly shaken. Who was this guy? He signalled to me and I got up. “He’s just getting ready for the doctor”, I thought. He then went to the steriliser and got the needle and thread ready. As he pulled on a face mask Srivathsa decided to handle this himself. “Aap doctor hai kya?”, he asked. Are you a doctor?
Sir, don’t worry. I am an expert at this he said. And quite truly he deftly did the sutures. He talked to Srivathsa as he worked, distracting him from the process. In the meantime, the nurse beckoned. “Here are the tablets to be taken – antibiotic, pain killer, anti-gastric. Enough for a couple of days. You’ll need to buy the rest from outside. Take for 5 days. Here is the prescription. The doctor will explain.”
Two sutures on the forehead above the nose. Four under the right eye. Neatly dressed and taped. All was done by Kalpesh – the suturing expert at GT Hospital, who could well be mistaken for a rap dancer. The doctor, a different one from the ones we’d previously spoken to looked at the prescription and repeated what the nurse had said. “Sutures need to be dressed every other day – you can do it yourself, and removed after 8 days. If this is too far you can get it done near your house.” It was past 9 p.m. by now. We said our thank yous and left the room. Kalpesh had already washed up and was outside talking to a group of friends. Waiting probably, for other suturing that may be required to be done that night.
Rs 310 is what we paid for everything – registration, consultation, x-rays, injection, anesthesia, medicines for two days. In stark contrast, removing the sutures 8 days later cost us four times as much, in our neighbourhood hospital, and the waiting time was just as long.
This was our first experience at a government hospital anywhere, and the first hospital in Mumbai. It was as good as any could have been. The hospital is clean and functional. The doctors and technicians are knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle such emergencies. Building up and maintaining government medical infrastructure is what is needed to ensure that healthcare can be afforded by everyone. Covid-19 is hopefully paving the way for this.
Srivathsa says he needs to go back to the point of the fall to see what exactly happened. Lockdown has delayed this trip, but we will sometime.