Doctor Sanjay Upreti in truest sense is the saviour that we need, him battling for his life should all be a part of concern and a genuine conscience, of how terrible the crime of December 14 truly was. It’s left Sikkim’s uprising health sector amputated, it’s left Dr. Sanjay, the rarest of rare cardiologist in Sikkim amputated for life. There is no coming back from that.
At the scene on that day, seeing a colleague sanitary attendant Kala Chettri getting stabbed with a looming threat to other similar staffs, Doctor Sanjay put his body on the line, to save many lives. Many lives, if he had not taken the knife upon himself. He is the saviour of Sir Thutob Namgyal Memorial Hospital, of the countless in and out patients, of the conscience that ‘we go to hospitals to be saved, not killed’. Saved by doctors, but killed by passer bys with intent.
The crime accused, himself seems a bigger victim of the society, so vindictive, that we judged him so quickly even before understanding what his real problem was. Unkept, shabby, downtrodden, seems more like an addict, were all the words that crossed our mind. But what prompted him to take that step, rejection from his family, maybe the loved one, as has been largely portrayed by his clear admittance to the ‘ethically incorrect media’ throwing questions on him, we have laid out a verdict for a crime that is strictly societal induced. It is more than a problem of a single man, who lost his senses when a woman didn’t pick his phone call. The patience is lost in this, but the patience is gained in shoving the entire episode of STNM under other piles of information thrown from every left and right, against the centre of concern.
When the COVID 19 treatment had its first success in Sikkim, the doctors, nurses, sanitary attendants, technicians and even the patient himself walked out of STNM Hospital to a much fanfare. Those were the times the narrative delved on “The health sector are our heroes”, the government jumped on the narrative “we can save everyone”. We lost the plot in between to natural causes, but perhaps not lose a plot “when the doctor gets stabbed in the hospital”.
The fanfare faces gloom in STNM, not so much in the patients and their safety, as only those patients reach STNM who are in dire need. Those that can be airlifted, those that can afford the right connection, will have a barrage of 40 party workers or constituency level supporters making a barricade for the patient admitted in a private cabin. The gloom is upon the doctors and the health workers, it’s stabbed their morale. To save lives or to work for whom, the stabbing kind of by passers or those with enough strength and power to compel a doctor to come for the treatment, no matter how he or she might be feeling.
We made our health workers a hero, the crusaders who fought back the pandemic, but just as we airlifted the problem from STNM, our narratives have changed. The rushing of the Chief Minister to the hospital a day after is praise worthy, but the football game? The CBI ushering in Sikkim? Hell, we can’t even find 50 well guarded police personnel inside the STNM to avoid a crime that in all inevitability, could and should have been avoided.
The day after the victim doctor and sanitary attendant were airlifted, over 500 healthcare workers at STNM staged a silent protest. Those in different district hospitals extended their support, all in hope that safety of the doctors, nurses and the due respect is given to them. That narrative has gone stale steadily. We are quick to forget what happened or just pretend that it was one time incident. What the healthcare workers are genuinely demanding is their safety inside the hospital, is that too much to ask? Promises are for metal detectors and stringent security, but even the 50 plus CCTV cameras installed in STNM couldn’t warn the doctors of the incoming threat. The question arises, what are those CCTV cameras for, to maintain evidence after the crime has been committed or to avoid the crime before it happens? Who mans these cameras and where were they?
The blame game is also thrown on the lack of security personnel, it is less undoubtedly. But to directly blame them for the crime, is discouraging, as in the future, they will first run for their lives than save those in need. Reminds me of that episode at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games when a bomb exploded and the security personnel first on the scene Richard Jewell was blamed for the crime, instead of the real culprit. Had the culprit in our crime not been so casual to walk out of the hospital with relative ease and had an organized escape route for himself, the blame first would be rushed to the security personnel.
Some of the real problem in STNM is its dark corners, the sections were no one stays, goes or avoids, the parking lots, the abandoned rooms in some floors and empty staircases, where crimes can be found even if not shared or made public. Spare a thought for those young nurses who park their scooties in the strange, dark parking lots, what if the next rejected phone call and the ensuing incident happens to them.
People in Sikkim jump on the narrative that doctors and nurses in the government sector are rude, but appears there is a reason they are rude. They don’t get paid or the job profile doesn’t entail them to be friendly with patients who call them in wee hours over excuses for what medicine is needed or other medical emergency and those sweet talks on the phone is when the psychological episodes tend to be born. Soon the phone calls become a regular thing, ‘khana khanu bha? (Did you have food)’, ‘Are you on duty this afternoon?’
The incidents in Central Referral Hospital over the years have been similar as well. But atleast, they have a well managed security system and lesser dark corners. But who can forget the patients dying before the emergency door could even be opened? Who could forget the barrage of political milestones with narrative ‘Kakra (cucumber) kha ke kaise Marta hai’, where were the steps taken as such and threat that “if you can’t run the Hospital (CRH) allow the government to?”
Now a heinous crime has happened in a government hospital, where is the government to run errands? Instead, sections of party supporting doctors and nurses are curtailing the protest of those doctors and nurses who are genuinely concerned for their safety, all for what, “We are under better governance than before?” Or “The crime rate has come down than in the previous regime?”.
A doctor, one of the best Sikkim ever produced is battling his life, after the amputations he may not be of service to the State as he intended to. The other best doctor is by his side, leaving behind so many cardiology concerns at bay, hoping his best colleague makes it out alive. No one has quite spared a thought to how the life of Kala Chettri may change after this incident, she too is not out of the danger zone fighting for her life. But even if she does, how quick are we to point fingers on her or question, “what lured that man to stab her?”
Perhaps what STNM Hospital and it’s doctors and staffs need is more attention to their impending problems, there are genuine concerns portrayed in their fear, more so when they are avoiding the media attention, knowing the narratives change just as quickly. We have all learned of a memorandum being submitted, with the Health Minister being a doctor himself, few in the opposing legislation also being doctors, Sikkim has an abundance of doctors turning politicians, but are they working or will they work in honesty for their own brethren is left to see.
By Pankaj Dhungel. He can be contacted at [email protected]