Surviving on Margins

Exclusive focus on tracing, testing and treating the Covid-19 cases is threatening the lives of patients suffering from other serious ailments reports Samreena Nazir

A group of Kashmiri doctors suggesting people to help them fight the virus

It has been 11 years since Shaheena (name changed) 46, was diagnosed with kidney failure. Since then, twice a week maintenance dialysis has become critical for her survival. To lessen the financial stress, her husband, who preaches at a masjid in Srinagar, shifted his family to rented accommodation in the city from Anantnag. The accommodation is 6 km from the private hospital, where Shaheena carries her dialysis sessions. No matter the situation, Shaheena has never missed one till last week when the first Covid-19 case was detected,  prompting authorities to lock down the valley to arrest the spread of the deadly virus.

“Over the years, it has been a life-saving procedure for me. I have been following it religiously for almost 10 years now, but last week when I saw people who were out being beaten by the security forces I refrained,” said Shaheena. “Now, my husband has somehow managed the pass to reach the hospital through restrictions, but visiting a hospital in such times is an ordeal in these days”.

Pregnancy Issues

With a pile of medical prescriptions and reports beside her, Uzma Riyaz scans every paper keenly and desperately dials contact numbers of diagnostic labs around her home. She surfs on her phone contacts but every time she dials the number, the call ends with the response, ‘sorry we are not available these days.’

Doctors in a peripheral hospital asking people to avoid visiting hospitals unless it is directly needed. Photo: Internet

Uzma is eight months pregnant and is at her mother’s home for the last six months. For the last two days, she hasn’t felt any movement and is in complete despair. “First I thought perhaps I was stressed. But today when I contacted my doctor, she said I should go for ultra-sonography but it is not available anywhere around,” said Uzma while breaking into tears.

Following the lockdown, all the diagnostic centres and laboratories have downed shutters. This has left Sumaira (24) depressed. After checking her blood pressure for the fourth time in a day, her mother wipes the cold sweat on her forehead. She smiles at mother saying, ‘Don’t worry, I am completely fine’. But her mother knows that she is not.

On March 19 when Sumaira visited an endocrinologist at SKIMS, he took no time to diagnose that she had prolactinoma (a hormone-secreting tumour) in her head. To identify the size of the tumour, the doctor suggested her to get some tests re-done and visit him after one week.

Rodents And Obstetrics

It has been two weeks since then but she hasn’t been able to get the tests done nor able to visit the hospital again. “I consulted several doctors over the phone in the last few days but without the latest reports they are not able to suggest me whether I should continue any medicine or prepare myself for surgery, I feel helpless,” she says out of frustration as she is experiencing severe migraine which makes her feel at the verge of collapse.

When contacted, a technician at a closed diagnostic centre said that because of Covid 19 patients are scared and have decided to suspend their operations. “Moreover, it is a curfew-like situation and the lab staff cannot commute to work,” he said.

Twice Failed

While these curbs and restrictions are meant for social distancing but for Abdul Hameed, a resident of Kulgam, the situation is life-threatening. In June 2019, when Hameed, a patient of cirrhosis (chronic liver damage) moved to Delhi for treatment, the doctors there suggested him a surgery. Hameed’s son Muneeb who was accompanying him decided to donate part of his liver to him but were unfortunate to have got an appointment for surgery in August, which was then delayed because of curfew.

After the curfew was lifted, many months after the Article 370 was withdrawn, the family tried their best to get the appointment again and got it in the first week of April. “I can’t afford to be unlucky again as my health is deteriorating but at the same time, it is very dangerous to move out of the home. I have my full trust in Allah may he bring us out of this situation,” said Hameed.

Akin to Uzma, days have been harsher for Razia, 30, who is expecting her first child this month. Besides, the stress and anxiety surrounding this pandemic, Razia is more concerned about life within her. The respiratory disease has created restlessness for expectant mother as she has not able to visit her doctor for weeks now.

“I am in the ninth month of pregnancy when women are supposed to visit clinics every week as well as get USG and other important tests done. Not only had I missed my appointment with the doctor last week, I am not sure if I can visit the clinic in coming days too,” she said.

Surviving Epidemics

“Moreover, it is quite risky these days to visit crowded places and hospitals.  I feel it is better for me to start with the same medication and wait until the situation improves. But then it is not necessary that every prescribed medicine would be available in nearby pharmacies, which is another concern,” she added.

   (Some names have been changed to protect their identities)

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