Squeezed

Lack of space and a huge rush at the chemotherapy ward at SKIMS adds to the sufferings of hundreds of cancer patients, Syed Asma reports

It is 12 noon and Ahmed has been waiting for his turn since early morning. Accompanied by his mother and elder sister, the two-year-old child is watching other patients getting their doses of chemotherapy. He looks scared of the painful prick that he is about to get.

Ahmad begins to cry and begs his sister to take him home. Nobody is listening to his screams, not even his mother. He yells, “I want to go home. I don’t want the injection. I want to go home.”

When Ahmed was one, he was diagnosed with an infection and had a fever.

“We treated him in our local health center but when the fever could not be controlled for months, they referred him to SKIMS where doctors said that the infection has made its way into Ahmad’s blood,” says his mother. The doctors have now prescribed chemotherapy, which is being administered to him for last six months.

Ahmed’s father is a labourer and can’t afford to miss a day’s earning. He does not come to the hospital and usually sends his wife with Ahmad.

Waiting for their turn they are huddled on bed, occupied by two other patients. They are taking their doses through drips.

The ward has 15 beds and belongs to three different departments – five for radiation oncology, seven for medical oncology, two for hematology and one is left for push doses. The room looks overburdened. These 15 beds serve at least 60-70 patients every day. The nursing staff is around 15. “This ward has very little space and there is a shortage of nurses,” says a doctor who was attending the patients.

The room was a canteen, which was converted into a ward for disaster cell used for treatment of accident cases. The signboard on its door still reads “Disaster ward”.

The ‘ward’ that caters to at least 60 patients a day lacks oxygen lines and has only a few suction lines, which are not in a proper condition.

In a ward with four dozen patients, where each patient has at least two attendants with him, Ahmed finally gets his turn. Today he is here for a ‘push dose’, where a patient is administered medicine through injections. It takes less time than other doses as those given in drips.

For a push dose, a patient is made to sit on a bed where most of the bed space is covered by the medicines and at least two patients are administered medicines at a time.

Ahmed, after receiving the push dose, leaves for his home… crying. “His hand must be paining,” says his mother. “He is too young to bear this pain; he is still on breast feeding.”

Ahmed and his mother were lucky to occupy a corner in a bed, many patients are administered chemotherapy sitting on the floor. Rehana is one of them. She is an eight-year-old girl and has been coming to the hospital for treatment for many months. She has a pale face with beautiful blue eyes, which fill up with tears on seeing the approaching injection needle.

“Please wait for some more time, may be a bed is free by then. How long will she sit in my lap,” Rehana’s mother pleads before the nurse. Finally, Rehana gets a chance to sit on a bed after nearly two hours.

Due to the heavy rush of patients the treatment is delayed for many. “Due to less space we have to arrange the patients and give dates accordingly, it sometimes delays their treatment,” shares a nurse.

Meanwhile there was a small commotion among the paramedics who had detected that prescription files of two patients had got mixed up. Luckily the error was detected before the patients were administered the medicines.

Interestingly, the confusion which could have cost lives surprised none. “It happens here, seeing the heavy flow of patients and less space these confusions take place in here quite often,” said one of the nurses in the ward.

Lack of space not only makes the patients uncomfortable but also increases the risk of cross infection among them. “Ideally the distance between the beds should be five feet but in this ward it is less than one foot. Each patient here is sick and has little immunity to fight the infection. The proximity can cause them cross infection,” the nurse said, “besides their drugs also emit some radiations.”

This one foot space hinders the doctor to examine the patient comfortably. “This space does not allow a nurse to assist me; neither can a patient be examined properly. There are privacy issues also,” says a doctor.

“It is chaos,” confesses another doctor, “a patient who has a fatal disease cannot even relax while taking his medication.”
The overcrowding also hampers proper counseling, they say.

The Day care ward had a different room two years ago. “We had our own ward and was bigger than this one but two years back it was given to the Swine flu patients though the number of patients infected with that disease was negligible as compared to the number of cancer patients,” said the nurse.

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