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Bahadur Nishad with a photo of his son Deepak, one of the 30 children who died in BRD Hospital at Gorakhpur. Photo: Nikita Doval/Mint
Bahadur Nishad with a photo of his son Deepak, one of the 30 children who died in BRD Hospital at Gorakhpur. Photo: Nikita Doval/Mint

Gorakhpur tragedy | ‘My son loved bike rides... I had to bring his body back on it’

The death of Bahadur Nishad's son Deepak in official records is listed as Sepsis, but Bahadur says he saw doctors struggle with his son for two hours, working on a 'pump' as he calls it, before declaring him dead

Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh: A black Hero Splendour stands at the entrance of the mud house. The number plate proudly bears the legend Bahadur, the name of its owner. Bahadur Nishad, a 28 year-old house painter, purchased the motorcycle in 2010, three years before his older son Deepak was born. “He used to love bike rides. And then I had to bring his dead body back on it," Bahadur says, without a trace of emotion, staring into space as he talks.

Bahadur’s four-year-old son, Deepak was one of the 30 children who have died in Gorakhpur this weekend as oxygen supplies failed at the Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College, leading to 63 deaths, 30 of which were of children.

On paper none of the deaths, most of which happened on the intervening night between 10 and 11 August, are due to lack of oxygen, the supply of which was cut off to the hospital by the vendor due to non-payment of dues on 9 August, although at least one death, that of Subhash Prajapati’s six-day-old daughter, who is simply identified as NBF (new born female), has been listed as low birth weight respiratory distress syndrome.

Deepak’s death in official records is listed as Sepsis but Bahadur says he saw doctors struggle with his son for two hours, working on a “pump" as he calls it before declaring him dead at 10:00 am on the 10th.

Only a proper inquiry will unearth the cause of deaths. The state government is pointing the finger at Japanese Encephalitis, which has traditionally been a problem in Gorakhpur.

“See, 20 children dying in a day in this season in Gorakhpur is not a big deal. It’s a harsh statement but it’s the truth. This is the season when encephalitis ravages this region and children bear the brunt of it," says a doctor on condition of anonymity. What is shocking is that the children may have died because the hospital ran out of oxygen.

Prajapati, 32, was woken up at 1:20am on 10 August by an announcement of his name, asking him to come to the intensive care unit. His five-day-old daughter, one half of a twin pair, was born a month premature and was admitted there. The other infant was with the mother in the general ward.

“I was given the pump and asked to keep pumping it. I kept doing it. At one point of time they tried to take blood from her. Finally the doctor told me she’s gone." The mother Jeena Devi who is cradling her other child says she didn’t even get to see the child. “I wanted to call her Divya," she says. Prajapati was in Bengaluru when he was told that the babies were arriving early.

In every corner of the hospital there are stories about patients left scrambling for answers as well as supplies. Bahadur was asked to arrange for syringes for his child.

It was in 1978 that Acute Encephalitis Syndrome was first recorded in Gorakhpur. Over the years it is estimated that more than 25,000 people have lost their lives to it. A mosquito-borne disease it peaks during the monsoon. “Paani ki wajah se, gandagi se, bahut kaaran hai (because of water, dirty surroundings, there are several reasons)", says 27-year-old Govind Sharma clutching onto his 18-month son Ramesh. His son has been diagnosed with encephalitis too and was in hospital that fateful night but did not face an emergency. “The doctors say recovery will be long but he’s in no immediate danger."

The locals know the disease as mashtishk jwar (brain fever) and while there is enough awareness on ground about it there is little knowledge about how to tackle it.

Patients, even if they are willing to shell out money for private treatment, still have to head to BRD Medical College as it is the only hospital in eastern Uttar Pradesh with the facilities to treat encephalitis. Doctors share tales about being overworked during this season with families camped out in corridors as the children are treated.

In a letter dated 8 August sent by Pushpa Sales, the oxygen suppliers to the medical college, a copy of which has been reviewed by Mint, the vendor clearly states that they only have oxygen supplies for two or three days more and asks the hospital to arrange for jumbo cylinders.

The supply has now been restored but it’s too little too late for people like Bahadur and Jeena Devi.

Bahadur had to bring his son’s body back on the bike because there were no ambulances and a private vehicle wanted Rs1,500. His younger son, 17-month-old Diwakar too is down with fever but he is scared of taking him to “medical" as he refers to the hospital. “I have one son left. I’d take my chances rather than take him there," he says, still staring into space.

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