Six months ago, when hundreds of anguished parents came out on the roads to protest over the alarming death rate of newborn babies at the local GB Pant Hospital, the only children’s hospital in the Valley, the government formed an inquiry committee. The inquiry report said more than 500 babies had died at the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) from January to May 2012. As anger brewed up over the deaths, the government suspended the medical superintendent and revamped NICU. Tak was made in charge of the unit where newborn babies from all parts of Kashmir are treated for various life-threatening ailments. He did his MBBS from Government Medical College Srinagar and his MD in paediatrics from Government Medical College, Jammu. Before joining here, he also worked for three years at the neonatology department of Sher-e-Kashnir Institute of Medical Sciences.
Ever since the revamp, there is a daily mortality meeting at 9.45 a.m., and Dr Shafat is first to arrive. “This meeting is attended by the medical superintendent, his deputies and all the unit heads. Since I am taking care of the unit, I have to brief my seniors on each case.’’
After the meeting, Dr Tak rushes to his unit, wears his special uniform and is ready for the daily round along with his team of doctors. “We examine every patient minutely. At times, it takes five hours,’’ he says. By the time he completes the round, it is already afternoon. “Inside the NICU, I take a sigh of relief when I see the condition of babies improving. If there is a death, it greatly perturbs me and my colleagues,” he says.
More than 28 newborn babies are being treated at NICU. Tak says everyday four to five babies are admitted. “All the babies admitted here are critical and need specialised care 24x7,” he says.
As the hospital hit the headlines and both mainstream and separatist leaders threatened to start a mass agitation, the government panicked and senior politicians like chief minister, state and Union health ministers and senior bureaucrats started visiting the hospital. For the past five months, Dr Tak and his team have been trying to bring down the daily death count and their efforts have started showing results. The death rate at NICU has come down to half. “Earlier, we used to get a lot of VIP’s in the unit. Now only senior doctors come here to check on the babies,’’ he says.
Though Tak’s working hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., they always stretch to late night. His mobile phone keeps ringing through the night as juniors seek his advice. “Presently, two postgraduates, one senior resident and 10 nurses and nursing orderlies are at the unit taking care of the sick babies, but the rush of patients is always there and the babies who are brought from far-flung areas need special attention, sometimes more than two hours each,’’ says Tak. “Before the crisis, the NICU was located in a ward with minimal equipment and life-saving drugs. It was free for all. Every doctor, hospital staff attendant or visitor could enter at any time. Every three hours, a baby died. We could only watch them die,” he says. He could do nothing as there was a dearth of everything. “Though there is still scope for improvement, now it looks like a perfect NICU ward. Only one attendant is allowed and proper hygiene is maintained to stop babies from picking infection. Now we have latest equipment available and drugs are provided free of cost to every patient,’’ he says. He now feels satisfied as a doctor. “With the help of administration, the condition of the NICU is improving every day. I pray the system works like this forever.’’
As Tak finishes the round, it is 2.30 p.m. and he has to rush to the hospital’s conference room where a postgraduate seminar is on. “I have to attend the seminar for at least 40 minutes everyday. It is a routine here as junior doctors are given lectures by seniors every day.” On his return, he checks the availability of drugs at the NICU pharmacy.
At 6 p.m., Tak calls it a day. Before he leaves NICU, he checks the status of sick patients and hands over charge to another senior consultant for the night. “Though I leave the hospital in the evening, my heart remains here. I keep thinking about the condition of the babies and the procedures to be done the next day.’’