How A Terrifying Accident Revealed To Me Glaring Loopholes In India’s Healthcare System

That fateful afternoon of March 4, 2019, would open up Pandora’s box for me, unfolding the worst miseries of the world to come my way that I had hardly known. It was only three months that I had given birth to my daughter on November 30, 2018, through a C Section surgery. The entire year of 2018 had been terrible with a tough pregnancy coupled with hypertension and very high blood pressure.

Just when I had gone to my parents place at Purulia, West Bengal, in pursuit of recuperating with the entire overhaul in my life (physical and mental), I met with this massive accident which left my foot and leg literally into two pieces. A large portion of my lower leg was lying naked in front of me with no skin and muscle, the feet hanging and bones protruding. The sight was horrible. Adding on to the excruciating pain and trauma were the days to come next.

My father and uncle immediately rushed me to Purulia Sadar Hospital only for primary first aid, as, ironically, the district town which puts the state on the global map due to its world-famous Chhau dance and terracotta handicrafts, apparently had no good orthopaedic surgeon.

The scene at the Sadar Hospital was something that I wish no one had to witness ever in their life.  With no doctors and nurses to attend me, all they could do was shift me from one stretcher to another and make us run around for unnecessary paperwork for almost an hour.

After much howling, when a doctor came to see me finally, all he did was ask my father to take me away from there. I still feel the stench of the hospital and vividly remember the bleeding accident patients, plausibly from the economically and socially disadvantaged strata, running around with absolutely no one to offer them primary treatment even, let alone anything else.

A private vehicle was booked immediately, and I was rushed to Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. It was one of the nearest places which was feasible for us to reach within 2-3 hours. The doctor they were taking me to is a renowned one and runs his own private hospital only for orthopaedic cases. We tried reaching him on his mobile number to ascertain his availability during late evening hours, but, in vain. We also made an effort to somehow persuade the staff at his hospital to hold the doctor until 8:30 pm, as my situation was too grave to hold until the next morning. However, they refused.

Having no option to go anywhere else, I was admitted there. The attendant at the medicine counter happened to be from Purulia, and offered to help us by calling a staff member to help me with primary aid for the moment. Though they didn’t care to ask, I told them myself that no tetanus had been administered.  The appalling part was even after seeing my condition, the staff didn’t make an iota of an attempt to reach the doctor.

The doctor arrived at 9 a.m. My only question to him was if I would be walking again. He assertively replied that I would be on a walker in 5 days. However, after I was taken to the OT, the doctor was aghast to see my wound lying beneath the sheath of cotton and bandages. Between the time the anaesthetist injected that needle me and when I became unconscious, all I could hear was the doctor taking the staff to the task for not informing him about the gravity of the wound.

The entrance to Purulia Sadar Hospital. (Photo: Chandan Mahatha via Google)

 

By the time the debridement happened and I regained my consciousness, I was only thinking about my three-month-old infant daughter. I had never felt the restless helpless mother in me so badly, as I did on that day. I was told that it was a grade III compound fracture with both my tibia and fibula broken into pieces. But further surgeries would be stalled, until the wound gets okay. From that day onwards for the next 15 days, I was given five injections every day with regular dressings for the wound.

They took me to the OT next on March 19, 2019. Epidural anaesthesia was given, despite me showing resistance for the same. I was insisting on full anaesthesia as an epidural was already given just before three months during my childbirth. The doctor arrived, he had no assistant with him other than the nurses and the young anaesthetist. He opened up my wound and discussed with his nurses that he would go for intramedullary nailing for my tibia and reconstructive surgery for my muscle and skin loss.

When he talked to me about it while I was already numb from downwards my spine, I asked if the same could have been done on the first day itself. He ignored me and called in my husband and asked him if he could go for the same as it was the best thing to do at the time. Being a layman, my husband with full trust allowed him for whatever he feels the best.

What else could one say when the patient is lying open with anaesthesia in their spine and the wound getting no better each passing day?

The doctor conducted a flap rotation surgery and a skin grafting in the open part of my leg and continued with the nailing of tibia and setting of the fibula. That night was the longest night I ever experienced. I am falling short of an adjective to describe the pain I had on that day; I was also hallucinating.  I once thought it would be better not to survive. We pleaded the nurse to call the doctor and ask him to increase the dosage of painkiller, but nothing was done. I was told the doctor would be sleeping. When I shouted, she called on the doctor’s number only to be attended upon by his wife, who just asked me to survive through it for the next 24 hours.

I continued staying in the hospital for the next twenty days with an average of five injections continuing to be administered every day. Every time, I would go for dressing during those days, I would expect some good news hoping the worst to be over after the surgery. After twenty-one days from the date of surgery, a plastic surgeon was called in for a consultation. He said, the flap had failed and the skin had necrosed. It needed revision. The plastic surgeon insisted us to shift to his clinic wherein the revised surgery would be done. I was heartbroken.

Smelling foul, we immediately rushed back to Ahmedabad, my place of stay. From the airport itself, I was rushed to a plastic surgeon, who before I could explain my condition, asked me if the surgery was not done by a plastic surgeon. I was then informed the following: as the blood vessels were wrongly crushed due to a wrong procedure at Ranchi, the thing which could have been corrected in 72 hours, took a lengthy and complicated surgical process of over two full months with five surgeries and two-time vac therapy in between. I was discharged on May 30, 2019, with the doctor sighing with the statement that I somehow escaped amputation.

The apparently complicated yet a doable treatment went wrong only for five reasons, unavailability of sound healthcare, the apathy of state government towards ensuring the same, untrained staffs and paramedical workforce in the hospital, sound doctors being casual about the severity of a condition and attempting to do procedure beyond their speciality.

I am still on the bed and visiting the doctor for regular dressing. Due to a prolonged open fracture, the uniting of the bone has been really slow and it will take a few more months for me to start walking even with support.

Featured image for representation only.
Featured image source: Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.
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