Mumbai: Ignored by striking doctors, senior citizen dies at KEM

67-yr-old Malad resident brought to Parel's KEM Hospital with breathlessness and fever; family says there was no doctor to even look at blood report

All they had to do was tell us that the doctors were on strike. We could've taken our father elsewhere and he would probably still be with us."

Jayashankar Dhivar fell ill while in Varanasi. His family brought him to the KEM Hospital directly from the station
Jayashankar Dhivar fell ill while in Varanasi. His family brought him to the KEM Hospital directly from the station

Also Read: As HC assures probe panel, Maharashtra's doctors withdraw strike 

In just 12 hours, the Dhivars' world came undone. Jayashankar Dhivar (63) suffered a painful, mysterious death at Parel's KEM Hospital on Friday as his helpless family pleaded, cajoled and grovelled before the hospital authorities to attend to him. The family was one of the 13 casualties in the city of the state-wide strike announced by Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD).

As many as 4,500 MARD members went on strike on Thursday to extend their support to the indefinite stir since April 3 of JJ Hospital's resident doctors, demanding the transfer of two senior doctors at the state-run facility. The strike was called off on Saturday afternoon after the HC assured the agitators of setting up a probe committee to look into their allegations.

Not only did KEM Hospital neglect its patient in a fallout of the strike, but also allegedly washed its hands of performing a mandatory post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death.

The nightmare
Jayashankar, a resident of Malad, was brought back to Mumbai from Varanasi on Friday, where he had been treated for a week for an unrelenting fever and breathlessness. "He didn't have a history of a medical ailment, which is why we were worried. We wanted to get him treated at KEM Hospital since our past experience there had been satisfactory," said Manoj Dhivar, Jayashankar's son who, along with an uncle, brought him back in a train early on Friday.

KEM Hospital. Pic/Ajinkya Sawant
KEM Hospital. Pic/Ajinkya Sawant

But the family hadn't the slightest inkling of the storm brewing in the medical fraternity. "My brother's condition was stable when we arrived at the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus around 2.30 am. We took a cab and went directly to KEM Hospital, instead of going home," said Dayashankar Dhivar, Jayashankar's younger sibling.

The family took Jayashankar to the casualty ward of the hospital, from where he was shifted to ward 11 around 10.30 am. It was then that the family was finally told of the resident doctors' strike. But the hospital authorities also assuaged their fears, saying senior doctors would attend on Jayashankar.

No Plan-B
At the ward, though, the hospital's lack of preparedness for exigencies showed through. "There was no doctor around to even look at the blood test report. A nurse pointed at a doctor in civil clothes, but he merely said that the platelet and RBC counts were low and threw the file aside. We never saw him after that," said Dayashankar.

Manoj Dhivar (in pink shirt) with his uncle Dayashankar (right) at KEM
Manoj Dhivar (in pink shirt) with his uncle Dayashankar (right) at KEM

As the confused Dhivars waited for more information, around 3.30 pm, the nurses told them of the urgent need to raise the platelet and RBC counts. The hospital's blood bank, however, was shut since it is run by resident doctors. No alternative arrangements were made by the hospital for the strike.

"There was just a clerk there, who told us that the hospital didn't have a supply of RBCs or platelets," said Manoj. Again, no help was forthcoming. "No one told us what to do next — whether we should contact a private blood bank or seek help elsewhere," alleged Manoj.

The helpless family started making the rounds of the casualty ward – which was the only spot where doctors were available. The doctors there, however, allegedly refused to attend to patients in wards.

"When we asked a nurse about the availability of doctors, she said senior doctors were around. She kept mum when we asked her if a senior doctor would come see my father. The entire hospital, barring the casualty ward, was deserted. My father's condition kept worsening," said Manoj.

Jayashankar slipped away as the family scurried around. Manoj and Dayashankar were told of his death half an hour later when the hospital tried to put him on a ventilator.

Rules flouted
In case of a patient's death in the care of a hospital, the management has to file a medico-legal case under Section 174 of the CrPC (requiring police investigation), submit an accidental death report and get a post-mortem examination conducted. But KEM Hospital allegedly flouted this rule.

"The authorities gave us a letter, bearing the hospital's letterhead, and told us that if we would sign that, we would be able to take the body home soon without a post-mortem examination. All we wanted at that time was to take the body home as soon as possible. So, we signed the letter," explained Dayashankar. Jayashankar's body was then handed over to the family without so much as even a cursory examination.

"Whatever the differences between doctors and hospitals management, why should people have to suffer?" asked Dayashankar, still struggling to come to terms with his loss. Ashok Dudhe, DCP (zone 4), said the police are collecting details on the allegations. Sagar Mundada, president of MARD, said it was wrong to attribute the cause of death to resident doctors' absence.

Charge false, says dean

Dr Avinash Supe, dean of KEM Hospital, refuted the allegation that there weren't enough doctors available at the hospital.

Dr Avinash Supe

"We had doctors handling emergencies. There is a possibility that RBCs or platelets were not available at the blood bank, which isn't a serious issue. Lecturers and other staff handle the blood bank; there is very little interference from resident doctors there. None of the services was affected by the strike," he said. He refused to comment on the charge that the hospital tried to absolve itself of the patient's death.

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