I ran with my dying wife from Nanavati to Cooper to KEM to JJ
A poor man’s damning testimony of our emergency services
Lata Mishra and Jyoti Shelar
Cover story Mumbai Mirror
This newspaper has run a series of stories on the hit and run accident that led to the death of the wife and unborn child of a construction labour in Juhu.
The circumstances that led to the accident; the police’s hunt for the mystery man who dropped Ram and a bleeding Reena Kutekar to the hospital but fled soon after; and finally, his surrender ten days later at the insistence of his family after they had read about it in Mumbai Mirror.
But there is a larger story that still remains to be told.
Ram Kutekar’s desperate hunt for a doctor and hospital that would save his wife’s life, and his frantic 16-hour journey from Nanavati to Cooper to KEM to JJ Hospital across Mumbai puts the spotlight on everything that is wrong with emergency medical services in the city. And why its poor can never bank on them.
• First, Nanavati Hospital refused Reena the operation she so urgently needed because her husband, a daily wage worker, couldn’t put together a deposit of Rs 25,000 (He was falling Rs 10,000 short, which he promised to raise as soon as he could).
• At Cooper Hospital, the next stop, there was no CT scan facility which meant Reena had to be taken to a private clinic close by leading to precious loss of time. The results showed Reena had suffered serious head injuries and needed urgent surgery.
• But Cooper had no neurosurgeons on call at the time, so Ram was asked to take his wife, battling for her life, to KEM Hospital in Parel.
• At KEM, there were no beds available in the ICU. Ram was told to head to JJ Hospital.
• By the time Reena was put on a ventilator at JJ, it was 11 pm. The neurosurgeon that operated on her told Mumbai Mirror she was in critical condition when she was brought in – “her brain was swollen, her blood pressure had dropped alarmingly”.
Reena - five months pregnant - died three days later. The baby inside her, doctors said, had died one day before her.
“It’s not just that young man who killed my wife,” says Ram Kutekar sitting in a cramped room in a Vile Parle chawl. “The doctors are equally responsible.”
In the Hipporcatic Oath which all doctors have to swear by before their passing out, there’s a line that reads so: “I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.”
There is also a Supreme Court directive that says emergency patients must enjoy all the rights of a consumer even before they pay any money to hospital. Nanavati management, however, insists the hospital flouted no norms, as it was only at the second level of treatment that they asked for the deposit. “We admitted the patient, thoroughly examined her, and concluded she needed ICU care,” Dr Ashok Hatolkar, Medical Superintendent at the hospital, said. “Our policy clearly states that a deposit of Rs 25,000 has to be paid upfront for an ICU admission.”
The distinction between the first and second line of treatment is specious. Reena Kutekar was examined merely physically. There were no tests run to gauge the extent of her concussion. Tests she needed urgently and which, as later events proved, could have saved her time.
“I remember waiting nervously at the reception as Reena was taken for a preliminary examination. Then the doctors told me she would have to be shifted to the ICU. This was at around 8.30 am… the nurse came around and asked for a deposit of Rs 25,000.”
Ram had around Rs 200 on him, and Siddharth Pandya - the man who had been behind the wheel, and who had dropped them to the hospital - was his only hope. He spent 20 minutes looking for him… in the car park, in the washrooms. By this time, Ram was joined by his brother Sachin, and sister-in-law, who he had asked to rush to the hospital with as much cash as they could manage. “We were still falling short by over Rs 10,000,” he says, “I pleaded with the doctors to not stop the treatment, while I arranged for the money.”
Instead, Nanavati provided Ram with an ambulance - for which he paid Rs 600 - to take them to Cooper Hospital. “By the time we got there at noon, my wife’s condition was deteriorating, I was told that she was bleeding internally, and that the injuries to the head could prove fatal.”
Following the CT scan at a private clinic, which cost Rs 3000, Reena was put on a ventilator and Ram was asked to wait. At around 4 pm, the Cooper authorities said no neurosurgeon was available, and suggested Ram take his wife to KEM Hospital in Parel. “All this time, I kept telling myself that the doctors knew best; that my wife was in safe hands and that she would be alright. I followed their instructions, ran from Nanavati to Cooper to KEM. I told the doctors that they were like gods, and that they had the power to save my wife and our unborn child. They kept saying, ‘don’t worry, just take her to so-and-so hospital’,” he says.
By the time the couple reached KEM, more than eight hours had passed since the accident, and here they encountered the most common problem poor patients face in Mumbai: No beds. “I was told there was a long waiting list, that the ICU was packed beyond capacity. The authorities asked me to try my luck at JJ Hospital,” he says. Yes, the words emergency medical services and luck are closely linked in this city, and unfortunately, the Kutekars had none.
While Reena was operated upon at JJ, she passed away three days later. When Mumbai Mirror spoke to neurosurgeon Velu Varnan, he said she had been brought there in “extremely critical condition”.
Nanavati Hospital authorities say they “sympathised” with the victim’s family, but add that they were “helpless” under the circumstances. Medical Superintendent (Nanavati Hospital) Dr Ashok Hatolkar said, “We never flouted any directive. From our end, we did everything we could to help the victim. We only asked for the deposit at stage two, which is ICU treatment and surgery. It is unfair to blame the hospital for the death. We treat poor patients who ahve requisite documents but can’t treat everybody as we don’t get funds from the government.”
Ram, who earns around Rs 4,000 a month working as a daily labourer, says Reena supplemented the family’s income by working as maid. “Just a few days before the accident, I had told her to stop working as she was more than five months pregnant. In a matter of hours, my family was gone.”
On paper there are several schemes to enable the poor patients to take treatment at the private hospitals. The newest of them all is the Rajiv Gandhi Jeevan Dayi Yojna that promises free treatment for over 972 ailments. The problem is, none of the private hospitals want any part of it. These hospitals feel that the price list offered by the government is extremely low and they want a better price to be a part of the scheme. Medical superintendent of south Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital, SK Mohanty, says, “We had agreed to be a part of the scheme assuming that the rates would be fair if not at par with our charges. But the rates are so low that we would have to bear huge losses if we agreed to be a part of this scheme.”
For instance, the state has set the cost for a bypass surgery at Rs 1.30 lakhs while packages at most hospitals are above Rs 1.65 lakhs. For an angioplasty, the state has set the cost to Rs 50,000 while the actual packages range from Rs 1 lakh and above depending on the make of the stent.
“We need a viable policy or else we won’t be able to run our hospitals with the new scheme. Also, the government should not force us to be a part of this scheme and it should be left to us to sign the agreement or not,” says president of Association of Hospital (AOH), Dr Pramod Lele.
The hospitals say that they already need to keep 10% of their beds reserved under the Bombay Public Trust Act (1950) for the poor. In addition to this, they have to set aside 2% of their revenue as an Indigent Patients Fund (IPF) for subsidising treatment for poor patients. If they are asked to be a part of this new scheme as well, they will not be left with any profits.
The IPF is yet another scheme aimed at benefiting those below poverty line which has hit a roadblock, again due to the negative response from these hospitals.
In this case, private hospitals claim that they were not properly explained the details of the scheme. “We were under the impression that the state will pay us some minimum amount under the scheme for the two per cent indigent patients that we already treat as per the charity commissioner’s rule. However it turned out that we were expected to treat yet more poor patients,” says a senior doctor attached to a private hospital on condition of anonymity. “We will suffer losses running into crores of rupees if we start doing charity this way,” he adds.
The government on the other hand had already collected a database of over 2 crore people across the state who will be benefited under the scheme. While earlier, the state had made it optional for the private hospitals to join the scheme, recently they announced a compulsory reservation of beds under the scheme. Early this month, health minister Suresh Shetty requested the chief minister to consider withdrawing the compulsion.
Last year, more than 14,000 people were benefited under the scheme and the state spent over Rs 110 crores. However, the scheme covered only four diseases and several hospitals complained about delay in payments.
(With inputs from Santosh Andhale)