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Dr James Premkumar
Medical Director
James Hospital, Colachel

This is the biggest hospital here. It towers four stories above the town. Their work, after the tsunami disaster, was also towering.

"The volunteers were throwing down bodies from the two ambulances we have. The first ambulance brought 25 bodies and then it never stopped through the day," he says.

The first thing he did was to start pumping the water out of the bodies. The first priority was to get the water out of the lungs and then get the blood pumping in the heart. "Even where the heart had stopped we continued the massage. Medical school has taught us that the heart can be revived up to 15 minutes after it stops."

Fifteen doctors and 45 nurses rushed in to help from wherever they were at that time. The 60 students at the nursing school were also called for help.

On the first day, they treated 784 patients. Till a fortnight later, 4,600 patients had received medical help at the hospital. All free of charge.

"We alternated the oxygen cylinders among the most serious patients. Then we started injecting them with antibiotics. Seawater is poisonous because of its salt content. It can kill in 12 minutes while fresh water would take 24 hours."

With the victims came the relatives. Since all the shops and hotels had shut down in Colachel, the doctor made arrangements for food. It was only at 3 am that he realised how exhausted he was. He spread a sleeping mat next to the patients and lay down for a while, cuddling a small baby.

The hospital staff had used all the bed sheets and sarees they had to cover the bodies and patients. "The patients need warmth and the dead needed dignity," says Dr James.

When the district superintendent of police heard about their work, he paid them a visit. On seeing them feeding the victims, he sent them rice from the government supplies.

The hospital still houses 155 patients, along with 350 of their relatives but the doctor says, "I will look after them as long as it is necessary."

Text, photograph: A Ganesh Nadar

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