When Trolley Became Bier: Post-script of Two Pregnant Kashmiri Women

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Two expecting mothers lost their lives in the Covid-scare filled healthcare centre in southern Kashmir’s Anantnag district within ten days. The double demise has created an outrage over the squeezed room for normal medicare at a time when majority of healthcare centres have become pandemic war-theatres and doctors frontline force.

SHERBAGH, Anantnag — Old towners stood dazed on their windows on 3 May 2020, as dirges sung by some passing women on street shattered the plagued silence of their strife-battered neighbourhood. Held hostage in homes by pandemic, the weary residents saw a trolley being pushed by a howling family, heading home as pallbearers.

The mourners were carrying their dead daughter, Shakeela Akhtar of Salai Panzmulla area of Anantnag, along with the unborn child in her womb. She was 30.

As dawn rose on Sunday, she developed a minor complication in the labour room in the sub-district hospital (SDH) Seer, and was shifted to the Maternity and Childcare Hospital (MCCH), Sherbagh.

Shekeela’s inconsolable cousin blamed doctors for delaying her emergency treatment. “By the time she was shifted to MCHH, she was declared brought dead,” her cousin said.

And with that, what was supposed to be a merrymaking occasion became a mourning event.

The devastated family shortly stepped out on the streets with their daughter lying pale and lifeless on a trolley. The family’s wailing walk to home was filmed by a resident and put it out on social media, where it became an instant rage.

“The woman had pregnancy at a matured stage with silent labour,” Dr Zahoor Ahmad, Block Medical Officer (BMO) Mattan, said.

Soon, as the family protested, the BMO put the medical officer, Dr. Ridwana and staff nurse Zareefa Akhtar, under suspension, with the inquiry pending regarding the case.

“Prima facie, medical negligence that warranted immediate suspensions,” additional district magistrate, Anantnag, Syed Yasir said on Twitter. “Further action shall follow after enquiry outcome.”

Terming the incident as the “most unfortunate”, Deputy Commissioner Anantnag Bashir Ahmad Dar, said the dead body was taken away by relatives, “fearing they will have to wait for burial if sample is taken for covid test”.

The shocking incident soon became a rallying cry for justice, with National Conference Member of Parliament from Anantnag Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi demanding time-bound inquiry and action warranted in light of the results of the inquiry.

“There should be no eye-wash or cover-up as due to willful negligence of the doctors, a mother and a yet to be born baby have lost their lives,” CPI (M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, said, demanding an FIR against the culprits without any delay.

The Congress party and Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) also demanded a time-bound and a fair probe into the incident.

Perils of Red Zone

The word “Red Zone” may hunt 35-year old Javid Ahmad Paddar throughout his life.

He vividly remembers how the word echoed in Anantnag’s MCCH on April 25, where his wife delivered dead twins and, shortly died, leaving the family devastated.

Around 6AM that day, Paddar’s 32-year old wife had developed a severe pain.

Padar’s brother-in-law, Mohammad Ashraf, along with few women relatives rushed to the local gynecologist who used to treat her throughout pregnancy.

“He kept his phone off but we managed to reach to his house,” Ashraf told Kashmir Observer.

“To our utter shock the doctor refused to treat her saying that she belongs to Red Zone.”

Following this, the family somehow contacted the higher-ups directing the doctor to do the surgery at the Doroo hospital. “Even then the doctor stood adamant, and told us to take the patient to MCCH, Sheerbagh,” Ashraf recalled.

The family without wasting any more time rushed to MCCH, Sheerbagh. It was around 7:30 AM, Ashraf remembered.

“As soon as the hospital authorities came to know that we came from Red Zone, they create hue and cry. Everybody began cursing us,” Ashraf recalled.

The family was locked-up into two separate rooms and the patient was shifted to general ward.

For over two hours, Ashraf said, no doctor, nurse or any paramedical staff came to see her.

“Even her blood pressure wasn’t checked,” he said. “We were treated as Acahoot (untouchable).”

Ashraf’s wife was somehow allowed to be with the patient and quoting his wife, he said, the patient delivered the first child at 12:30 PM without any surgery, followed by another one. After delivering dead twins, the mother died soon.

She left behind two daughters, aged 5 and 7.

“Following her death, my wife was forced to clean the bed-sheet where my sister had delivered babies,” Ashraf said.

When the doctors came to know that the deceased was from a Red Zone, they took her samples for tests. A day after, reports declared the deceased woman as Covid-19 positive.

By then, the hospital had already handed over the body to the family. A large number of people attended her funeral in Kharpoora, now a declared “hotspot” in Anantnag.

Hospital administration now faces allegations of mismanagement in what are clear violations of WHO guidelines.

An enquiry is already underway, Principal Government Medical College, Anantnag, Shaukat Jeelani told Kashmir Observer.

Even District Legal Service Authority (Principal District & Sessions Judge Anantnag) on Monday ordered SSP of the south Kashmir district to hold an enquiry into the death of two pregnant women allegedly due to medical negligence.

With sharp rise in the number of Covid-19 cases, the J&K government last week directed surveys in each district to identify pregnant women and plan for their treatment in case of an emergency.

However, a trolley carrying a dead pregnant woman in Anantnag on May 3 only exposed the chinks in the existing medical emergency response system.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib did his Masters in Convergent Journalism from Central University of Kashmir (CUK) and is currently working with Kashmir Observer as Special Correspondent. He has been contributing stories for the newspaper especially on Politics, Security & defence and has a keen interest in Environment.

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