The Rediff Special/A V Ramani
This One Child
I met Arsinga Sabar in July last year at the Gangabada 'Swasthya Mela'. With much fanfare, the state government had organised this health camp, trumpeting this "special attempt to deliver health care to remote areas."
The Gram Vikas staff had been asked to inform people in the surrounding
villages about the camp.
I had gone to the camp to help. Having spent the entire morning alone,
trying to cope with a crowd of over three hundred patients, I was both
angry and relieved when the government doctors arrived past noon. Angry
that they could be so indifferent as to turn up so late for this; relieved
that the patients could now be seen faster and return home earlier.
But my relief was short-lived. The government doctors were prescribing
medicines without even examining the patients -- "you see, there is no time
to see each patient properly," they said. They prescribed injections for
everyone -- "you see, this camp is for patient satisfaction," they said.
And I felt like shouting, "No, I *don't* see."
So I walked out of the steaming hot classroom which was being used as the
examination room. I sat on the floor of the verandah of the school
building and took my time to examine patients that the field worker, Jaya,
referred to me. He had asked several patients with suspected tuberculosis
to come for a checkup. One of them sat a short distance away, on the edge
of the verandah: a 7-year-old boy.
By 2 pm, the sky was overcast with monsoon clouds. Soon there was a heavy
downpour accompanied by thunder and strong gusts of wind. Everybody ran
into the shelter of the classrooms, but I did not move because I was quite
dry and protected. And I noticed that the little boy was still sitting
there on the edge of the verandah, even though he was getting drenched by
the rain. Then his father ran back out, picked him up and brought him to
me, saying he could not walk.
That was how I met Arsinga.
He was thin, pale, and wasted. In obvious pain, he was also hunched by TB
of the spine. It had caused his vertebrae to collapse and left him unable
to use his legs. The disease had also affected his lymph glands, so that
the right side of his neck was full of sores.
My heart sank as I examined him, as I saw how weak he was, how severe the
disease was in him. He was with Kutukudi, his grandmother, who had a
hacking cough herself. I weighed Arsinga, took a sputum sample from
Kutukudi and went on with my examinations. But I could not stop thinking of
the boy and his grandmother. Both were seriously sick and all that the
government could offer them was this farce of a clinic.
We started both on anti-TB drugs which Jaya used to deliver to their home
each month. Kutukudi had sputum-positive TB and died in October last year.
Arsinga continued with the treatment.
I was in Gangabada again in February, examining malnourished children. The
first child I saw was Arsinga. But this was a smiling Arsinga. He walked
towards me, steadily, on his own two feet, while his proud father looked
on. He still had a back deformity, but his neck wounds had healed and he
had put on weight. "He even goes to the forest to fetch firewood," Jaya
told me happily.
I looked at Jaya, at Arsinga, at his father. And I realised once again that
all the months of hard work, the frustrations, were worth this one moment.
This one child, back on his feet again, on the road to recovery.
A V Ramani is a MD in Community Health from the Christian Medical College, Vellore. She works for Gram Vikas, a NGO in Mohuda, Orissa.
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