Srinagar: Feeding her newborn child, the young woman’s smiling face belies the pain and suffering she has been through.
“I pray no mother in this world ever has to see such horrible times,” said Firdousa, admitted to Srinagar’s JVC hospital, a designated COVID-19 facility.
A resident of Hogam village in southern Kashmir’s Anantnag district, Firdousa’s ordeal started last week, when she tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to the district trauma hospital, reserved for coronavirus patients.
She was pregnant, and close to her delivery date.
On June 3, after drinking her morning tea, Firdousa’s labour pains began. She informed the other seven expecting mothers who were sharing a “small room” with her on the first floor of the hospital. They too had tested positive for COVID-19. One among them rushed downstairs for help, only to find there was no doctor around.
Scared, Firdousa phoned her sister, walked down the staircase, with the help of other patients, and decided to leave the hospital to look for a doctor.
Delivery in the corridor, newborn ‘hanging’ by the cord
“All the women patients were in tears. Suddenly, my pain became unbearable and I decided to lay down on the floor of the corridor. The women circled me, crying, perhaps thinking my end was near. After a few minutes of struggle, I delivered the child in the corridor,” Firdousa recalled.
Following the delivery, Firdousa said, the child remained “hanging” by the umbilical cord “for more than one hour” as no doctor turned up, despite repeated calls for help.
In a video that has gone viral on social media, the women patients can be seen in tears, protesting outside the hospital over the non-availability of doctors.
“She delivered in the corridor. Her child was hanging (by the umbilical cord) for a long time, in between her legs, as there was no doctor available to cut it,” a woman says in the video.
“I told a lady doctor over the phone that she (the patient) is in a bad condition, but they didn’t turn up. The men who were also admitted to the hospital for the infection tried to encourage us to cut the cord, in the absence of the doctors, but we couldn’t gather the courage to do it,” the woman says.
It was only after a protest by Firdousa’s relatives, who had reached the hospital, and patients that three doctors and a hospital administrator turned up.
“Perhaps the doctors cut it (the chord and put a clamp on it). But I remember they instantly wrapped my child in a towel, picked him up and started taking photographs with him,” said Firdousa.
She was later referred to a Srinagar hospital for removal of placenta, since the doctors had “refused to even touch her”. “I begged them to check my condition but they shouted at me and went away,” she said.
A restless husband in quarantine
The woman’s husband, Rakeeb Ahmad, and their six-year-old son were in administrative quarantine as a precaution, when he got a call from a relative at around 9 am saying that his wife’s condition has deteriorated.
He instantly dialled Firdousa’s mobile number. The call was, however, picked up by one of the women patients, who told him that Firdousa was in a “bad condition”.
“The moment I heard those words, I felt a dagger has been drawn to my heart. The thought that I won’t be allowed to go and be with my wife made me cry,” he said.
By then, Firdousa’s sister and other relatives had also reached the hospital, navigating barricades and check-posts set up by the security forces.
“We could see the women patients who had helped her (Firdousa) were in tears,” said Irfan Rasheed, one of her relatives.
COVID-19 hospital ‘without doctors’
Dr Showkat Hussain, medical superintendent (MS) of the hospital, said that they were “acutely short” of doctors and facilities to manage emergency cases.
The hospital had been initially designated as a COVID-19 centre for only asymptomatic patients. “But now they are dumping all kinds of COVID-19 patients here,” said the MS.
According to him, the hospital has just six doctors on the rolls, three of whom were sent to quarantine following their contact with a COVID-19 patient last week. “We don’t even have an operation theatre,” he said.
The MS said he has sent 13 reminders to the chief medical officer (CMO) Anantnag, for deputing doctors and the release of funds for the purchase of equipment. Two such communications, accessed by The Wire, sought the immediate deputation of 32 doctors, including gynaecologists, and operating assistants. He also asked for Rs 70 lakh to purchase equipment, including operation tables, for the smooth functioning of the hospital as a COVID-19 facility.
“I have used all means to alert the authorities about the situation,” the MS said.
Regarding the case, he claimed a doctor was “on duty”. “It took her some time to put on the protective gear and in the meantime the patients delivered,” the MS said.
The CMO acknowledged that no gynaecologist was on duty when the woman delivered. “The patient was referred to Srinagar due to the retention of placenta, since we don’t have an operation facility here,” said the CMO.
He, however, said 18 doctors including gynaecologists were recently deputed to the hospital. But the MS rebutted him, saying the staff has been sent to the nearby sub-district hospital, Bijbehara.
“We can’t run two hospitals with the same staff. There is no gynaecologist at this COVID-19 designated hospital,” said the MS.
Dr Riffat Ara, head of the gynaecology department at the Srinagar hospital where she was taken, said Firdousa was in a “very bad state” when they received her. “That there was no doctor to manage her when she delivered is criminal, to say the least,” she said.
This is not the first case of alleged negligence by doctors in Anantnag. At least two expecting mothers, one of them COVID-19 positive, have died in the district in the past two months. There have also been several cases of pregnant women who had to be referred to Srinagar after hospitals in the district refused to admit them.
The Valley has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases of late, with at a total of 3,198 patients, apart from 35 deaths. Another worry for health authorities is the increasing number of pregnant women testing positive for the infection, with more than 200 cases reported so far, most of them from south Kashmir.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg. If we don’t equip our hospitals with manpower and facilities, the coming days are going to be very tough,” said the MS.
Deputy commissioner Anantnag, K.K. Sidha, said he has ordered an inquiry into the case. “I have got the version of the doctors,” he said, but added that the sub-district magistrate will conduct a detailed inquiry.
Firdousa’s husband, however, said they did not expect the inquiry to bring the truth to the fore. “They are circulating pictures of my child with the doctors, claiming the delivery was conducted smoothly. Will somebody ask them why my wife delivered in the hospital corridor?” he said.