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St George's Hospital struggles to cope

A correspondent in Mumbai | August 25, 2003 18:56 IST
Last Updated: August 25, 2003 19:09 IST

The first impression was one of utter madness. But a deeper look revealed a method behind it. It was the desperation to quickly render aid.

Around each bed there were at least a dozen doctors, medical interns, students, nurses and assistants, each doing a variety of jobs. The most important was to remove shrapnel and glass pieces, and to stitch wounds.

St George's Hospital, near Chhatrapati Shivaji (formerly Victoria) Terminal, is one of Mumbai's busiest. Today, it was busier, handling those injured by the bomb blast at the Gateway of India.

On the beds lay patients, most of them still in a state of shock, barely comprehending what was happening. The medical fraternity surrounding them gallantly battled to ease their pain.

The medical fraternity was wearing white uniforms or overcoats with green plastic aprons. Bloodstains were everywhere. The cleaners were constantly clearing the medical waste -- numerous bandages and wraps that littered the floor as doctors removed first-aid bandages to stitch wounds.

About 25 patients were brought in with injuries. Senior doctors rushed to tend to the most seriously injured, and even as I watched, a lady was placed on a trolley and wheeled into the operation theatre. Her injuries were too serious to be treated in the ward.

On a nearby bed lay 65-year-old Khetabhai Dinabhai. He had suffered injuries on his legs, arms, chest and stomach. For over two hours, doctors and nurses were tending to him, removing shrapnel and glass pieces.

Medical students were present in large numbers both to render assistance, where needed, or simply to observe and learn how to handle a crisis. Yet at one point Ward Number 5 became so crowded that a senior doctor yelled, asking that some students leave the ward. The effect was telling; soon the huge room appeared more spacious and less congested.

Dr Vikram Parekh, head of surgery, with his necktie tucked in his shirt, was going from bed to bed.

In the midst of all this chaos, Maharashtra Minister of Health Digvijay Khanvilkar made a flying visit to see the patients. Surrounding him was a huge crowd of policemen, doctors giving advice, and of course, the ubiquitous media searching for that elusive byte. Khanvilkar did not trouble the doctors much; he soon moved out and then right outside the ward, he stopped to answer questions posed by some television journalists, effectively blocking easy access to the ward. Mercifully, it didn't last long.

Inside the ward, some of the less seriously injured patients opened up to the journalists. One such person was Salauddin Ibrahim, 30, who had a foot injury. Ibrahim works as a photographer at the Gateway of India. Many visitors without cameras approach photographers like Ibrahim.

"An Arab gentleman along with two young men asked me to take his photograph. He wanted to be photographed feeding the pigeons, and was moving towards kabutar khana (pigeon house) to buy some nuts when the blast took place. The sound was deafening and pieces of glass were flying around. One such glass piece hit me on my leg," said Ibrahim.

Ibrahim has no idea where the Arab gentlemen are, and thinks they may have gone to a private hospital. "They must have been badly injured because they were much nearer the place where the blast occurred," he added.

Another injured, Haresh Soni, a resident of Chira Bazar, south Mumbai, had gone to collect a photograph of his that was taken on Saturday, August 23, when the blast occurred, injuring his right hand.

Gaurav Deshmukh, 20, ekes out a living by washing cars that are parked outside the Taj Mahal Hotel, opposite the Gateway of India. He was doing his job when the blast occurred, injuring him in the legs and hands. "A Taj employee took me inside the hotel for immediate first-aid treatment. Then I was put in a cab and sent to this hospital," he said.

Just as you enter the St George's Hospital, there is a huge foyer that is crowded on a regular day. In one corner, behind curtains, are bodies of 14 blast victims, including two women, and a two-year-old girl. They were brought in dead.

The bodies were covered with white cloths. Their names are being withheld pending notification to their relatives.

The bodies were burnt as they were closest to the blast. The police struggled to keep the curious away who were keen to have a glimpse of the bodies.

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