Sunday, December 7, 2014

a hospital delivery

The young woman who helps me in the kitchen was pregnant with her second child and went to one of the Government facilities in the city here in Bhopal for the delivery. She is an undernourished woman who works much more than she should. In her first delivery she bled heavily and needed three units of blood transfused. This is her second child after a gap of seven years. Let us call her Meera.

She was in hospital for three days, having had leaking of the amniotic fluid, and therefore unable to just stay at home. A doctor saw her once on the second day of her admission and told her all was well. When she was in pain and wanted to go to the labour room, the nurses repeatedly turned her away, saying they would call her when necessary. Four other women were admitted in the same room as her. Her older sister (who is also expecting her second child) stayed with her in the evenings after she finished her round of domestic work. On the second day, one of the women delivered a dead baby, which worried the remaining women. On the third day (Wednesday) Meera's pains increased in intensity and the nurses would still not examine her.

Meanwhile, the woman in the next bed (a primi - first pregnancy - who had been admitted for eight days) went to report to the nurses that she could not feel the baby move for the past hour. The nurses scolded her and sent her back to the bed. When her husband arrived in the evening, she informed him and he went and raised a ruckus at the labour room door. At this, one of the nurses came to examine the primigravida, listened for the baby's heartbeat, and then informed her that the baby was no longer alive.

Hearing this, the remaining two women in the room were taken away by their relatives to some private nursing home. Meera remained alone in her room, and when her sister arrived, told her all about this, as well as about her increasing pains. Her sister was scared now, and they did not have the means to go to a private nursing home. She went up to the labour room nurse and offered her Rs. 200, asking her to examine her sister. The nurse told her the amount was not enough. Meera's sister assured her that she would bring the rest of the money later, and the nurse told her that in that case she would also examine Meera later. The sister collected some more money and finally offered the  nurse Rs. 500, after which she allowed Meera to enter the labour room. A second nurse was standing and glaring at them, so she was given Rs. 500 as well. She was warned not to tell anyone that she had given them money, or else "acchha nahi hoga" (it won't be good for you). The delivery then proceeded, and Meera gave birth to a healthy baby boy on Wednesday night.

"That was the only expense at the hospital", Meera's sister told me yesterday when her sister was discharged  -"the hospital provided good food three times a day to my sister, and all the medicines were free. Only problem is that the nurses are very rude, and to enter the labour room we had to pay the nurses Rs. 1000. I had saved it for my own expenses during delivery, but had to spend it.You can be sure I am not going there for my delivery. I don't know where I will go but not to that Government hospital."

Saturday, November 29, 2014


i have just returned from a short trip to malkangiri district, dipping my toe there, i guess. i went to the district headquarters for a day, and spent the next three days in mathili. we chose mathili as part of a study since it happened to be the block with the highest proportion of tribal population in the district.

we drove through beautiful forest, and along a river and several streams, the road being a single road and bumpy for most of the way. once we were stopped by some BSF jawans, complete with bullet-proof vests, automatic rifles, and sniffer dog - and asked about where were coming from, where we were headed, etc. but apart from that, though we met them at various places, we were not stopped anywhere. there is a heavy presence of security forces in the district.

View from the road.
i went to the district headquarters for a meeting (huge no of vacancies there in all sectors), and to mathili block where i went to a nearby village called kosabahal, and a V4 village called puttugaon. everyone we met cautioned us to return to the main road before it turned dark, due to security reasons. our choice of village to visit was, therefore, limited by this factor too.

mathili block has had 6 maternal deaths since april this year - those are the reported ones. this is worrying. the universal complaint even in balasore  was that 102 does not respond, that janani express was much better as it was decentralized and the woman could reach the hospital at least.

The UP school at Puttugam

puttugaon lies in a shallow valley and is accessible now with the construction of a bridge and a culvert, but even so, we could only get there over a deeply rutted kutchha road - vehicles will be mired in the mud in the rainy season - all the deliveries seem to be at home since once it is dusk the ambulance refuses to come there. even in the daytime, it often takes so long that the woman delivers before the ambulance arrives. women in labour, or other sick patients have to be taken on a motorcycle, or carried the 12 kilometers to the  roadside.

everyone - men, women, adolescents - are all illiterate, they had no clue about why open defecation can be a problem or what problems unclean water can cause. the men, however said open defecation is now a problem since the forest has been cut and they have to go far for it. the women understand oriya but spoke in a dialect that we could not understand. i can see where basic communication can be a real problem. most of the men spoke oriya.

School student helpline number displayed prominently
there is a school in the village - with over a 100 children between grades 1 and 8, and three teachers. the teachers say they cannot control the students ever since they have been told they cannot strike / slap / beat the students. the students come out learning nothing - but did the beating ever result in better learning levels? but they have convinced the parents that their children's poor literacy skills is the not the their (teachers') fault. the teachers all come from far away - i am not sure how may days a month they actually turn up. and i wonder how many of them can communicate with the children in their dialect to teach them anything....

the encouraging thing here was that everyone eats the chatua (which is the supplementary food provided by the ICDS to young children and pregnant and lactating mothers)even if all members in the family share it, in contrast to balasore where no one did.  and a young 22 year old ANM, who passed out 2 years ago is living in the village. she is from malkangiri and trained in koraput. orissa took a decision a few years ago to open nursing schools in the tribal districts and take only tribal students, in an attempt to try and overcome the problem of absenteeism - it seems to be paying off. this ANM who looks more like a high school student, has conducted several deliveries in the village.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

In pursuit of dreams

Migrants at Lucknow station queue up to board the unreserved coaches on the Pushpak express to Bombay.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sati ki chori

A child in Sati ki chori village, Udaipur district, Rajasthan.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jambuda, Rajasthan

from my notes yesterday:

sitting in a village shop in Jambuda village, where an antenatal clinic is in progress. the shopowner lets his shop for half a day each month for the clinic, with his wife standing there keeping guard on the provisions. i am pouring sweat in the heat and humidity, and the flies swarm all over me, driving me to distraction.
The shopowner's wife keeps guard

i am here to train the nurses on how to examine pregnant women, and what questions to ask - a large number of gaps in their knowledge and practice, and i need to be patient while they learn. outside the under-3 children cry as they are weighed....
The omnipresent and irritating flies
the son of the shopowner lies the entire time on a dirty mattress and when i asked the mother she told me he had a cut on his left knee six days ago and now cannot walk. a closer examination reveals a sick and toxic child, his left knee swollen, and i worry that he may have septic arthritis. we take him back in the jeep to the clinic, clean the wound, pump in strong antibiotics, that he will  need to continue for three weeks. at 8 years of age, he weighs 15 kgs (33 lbs).
this is rural rajasthan, udaipur district, and a community of meena tribals. the men are all labourers in ahmedabad.
Mawa, the malnourished son of the shopkeeper, with ?septic knee joint.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Horseshoe Falls, Niagara

Looking down from Terrapin point on the American side towards the base of the Horseshoe falls on the left. The tourist boat, called the Maid of the Mist, takes thousands of tourists daily to close to the base, where everyone is sprayed with a shower of water. A cape is given as a souvenir, but you get soaked anyway. It is an exhilarating feeling.

The Horseshoe Falls belong to Canada, and about 90% of the water in the Niagara goes over this. The American falls are less specatacular.

The Maid of the Mist going towards the base of the Horseshoe Falls, Niagara. Seen from the Amercian side.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Road to Barkakana, Jharkhand

7 pm, 31.3. 14
Barkakana Junction. The road from Ramgarh to Barkakana is a veritable nightmare. Potholed, with no tarmac to speak of, damaged by years of overloaded trucks coming from what the taxi driver told us were “Colveries” up ahead. I have a choice of keeping the windows up and slowly suffocating inside, or rolling them down and choking on the thick clouds of dust that swirl all around you inside the car, and in your nose, mouth, hair, eyes, nose and ears. My eyes water, I sneeze and cough, and wonder how daily commuters put up with this. The last three km from Ramgarh to Barkakhana takes us 20 minutes to cover with luck favouring us all the way – the level crossing is open, and there is no truck or jeep overturned or with a punctured tyre blocking this track. I wonder how the driver can see where he is driving or where the edge of the road is.

We finally decide that suffocation is preferable to death by dust, put up all the windows, and drive on; the driver perspiring with the effort to keep the car on the so-called road.

The road to dusty death - Ramgarh to Barkakana
The railway station at Barkakana is a small affair – you climb a flight of stairs (like an overbridge), walk 50 feet over railway tracks below, and descend to a courtyard which you cross to enter the main platform. This is brightly lit, the announcement board for the trains dark and the display switched off; the enquiry counter has its shutter firmly down.
Barkakana railway junction. The entrance to the main platform is beyond this overbridge

Looking down from the overbridge. The main platform of Barkakana is across the courtyard to the left of this photograph.
The 2nd class waiting hall where I sit is done up in pink – pink tiles line the walls chest high and also the slabs for people to sit on. A lone man wrapped in rags sleeps on the slab at one corner, oblivious to the mosquitoes buzzing around, and the noisy announcements.

The ladies and gents’ toilets are, mercifully, not smelling. Perhaps no one uses them, since there is no water in the basin at least.

The Upper Class waiting room, strangely, is not unisex, like the 2nd class one is. The ladies’ room is locked from within, while the gents’ room shows moulded metal chairs instead of a tiled slab to sit on.

I wander up and down platform 1, in search of a drinking water tap and fail to find any. At one end I spot two enterprising youth unhooking the large pipe (that is used to fill the railway coaches), opening the valve and having a drink in the gush of water.. I don’t fancy doing that, and walk back to the stationmaster’s room to enquire. He informs me that it is on platform 2 – I have to cross the tracks or go on the overbridge if I need a drink of water. Otherwise, he adds helpfully, just go to the railway canteen at the end of this platform and there is water there in the basin.

That is precisely what I do, though getting inside requires skill and maneuvering between the cartons of mineral water bottles that have been stacked like sandbags in front of a VIP residence. I edge in sideways to find a spotlessly clean and empty restaurant. The manager (a youth of about 25) edges in after me, asks what I want. The menu is in English and in Hindi, at least 50 items on it, put up on the board like a roll of honour. I have no intention of eating there, but keep up a discussion about the various items as I stroll casually to the basin and wash my hands. I tell him I will think it over and return, and edge out – what subterfuge to be able to wash one’s hands!

A little later I walk past the same canteen and drop some waste paper into the dustbin kept outside. I hear two of them mutter among themselves – she is the one who said she will return in half and hour….. meanwhile I have crossed the tracks to reach the second platform for my train.