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Grief, yet united in crisis

By rediff News Bureau
July 12, 2006 01:11 IST
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Sion Hospital
northcentral Mumbai

Past the emergency gate, the injured from the blast at the Mahim station were being wheeled in steadily. Fourteen critically wounded in the emergency wards -- all male -- and 47 in wards I, II and III -- again mostly men.

In the morgue lay 38 unidentified dead bodies.

"The names of the deceased will be declared later. We are still in the process of identification," said Dr M E Yeolekar, the hospital dean.

Inside the wards, the injured lay listlessly with saline drips and bandages. Some had relatives near them, still in shock from the trauma of the evening.

"Most of the critical patients are those who suffered the full impact of the blast. There are ten more emergency cases that have to be attended to," said a doctor near the emergency ward.

The injured and deceased were still being brought in at about 10 pm as concerned relatives and friends paced the corridors.

The lucky ones managed to get through to family and friends in spite of a jammed cellular phone network.

In the surrounding gloom, Alapi, a college student who had come to see her injured father, was relieved. Her dad had suffered only minor injuries.

"I don't know when he will be allowed to go home. I have spoken to him, thank god he is fine," she said, looking away from her phone.

Standing beside a frightened woman she did not know, the college student was trying to help the lady find her little boy. In between fielding calls about her father, Alapi constantly tried calling the number the lady by her side wanted -- but just couldn't get through.

From one phone to another, there were at least four people who tried reaching the lady's number but with no success. In that long corridor, amid their own tragedies and concerns, people reached out to each other. Not knowing each other's names, bound only by a crisis that united them all.


Hospital staff were making lists of the injured and putting them up outside the wards. As people looking for friends and relatives went from ward to ward.

Many people called others to donate blood. There was a continuous supply of intravenous fluid to the wards. Staff brought in glucose pouches for the patients. Volunteers distributed bottles of mineral water.

There were crowds at all the public phones. People lent their mobile phones to strangers to call home.

In one corner of the hospital a crowd of young men waited to donate blood. A volunteer said more than 100 people had turned up to donate blood.

People who needed surgery were being shifted from the wards to the emergency room. Doctors said those who had fallen or jumped out of the train did not have life threatening injuries. Only those who had been in the direct line of the blast were critical or dead.


I sat on a grubby plastic chair outside Sion Hospital's emergency ward number 9.

On one side of me was a middle-aged man, bent over, weeping. His relative, who was critical, was probably undergoing an emergency procedure inside the ward that he could not bear to watch.

On my right was a family making matter-fact, practical arrangements for care of their wounded relative. "You send so-so relative. He can be here in the hospital while we go home."

An obviously pregnant woman had tracked down her husband to Ward 9. He had a broken arm and was doing well, but could not be sent home. She spoke into her cell phone, "He is fine. We can't move him yet. We are okay. You go safely."

Relatives came hurrying in from the main entrance -- some expensively dressed, carrying expensive cell phones -- with a mixture of hope and fear written on their faces. They quickly peeked into ward after ward until with relief they located their kin. One woman broke down uncontrollably on reaching her relative's bedside and had to be led off to be comforted.

In front of me a young thin woman in a shabby salwar-kameez paced nervously, looking for volunteers who could dial the number of her husband Farooque. She had no problem finding volunteers. Everyone and anyone stopped and tried the telephone numbers for her but no one could get through to the phone numbers Hasina wanted.

"My husband works in an office in Dadar (northcentral Mumbai). And I am here because one of my sons has pneumonia and has been admitted to the hospital. But I have a second son who is at home and our hut is right in front of where the blast at Mahim took place. I want to check if he is safe."

In front of the adjoining ward sat Tarun Acharya's distraught mother. She had been sitting there for the past hour or more. Volunteers came up and offered her bottles of water or offered to call her relatives. But nothing could help. She knew her son had been injured in one of the blasts. Someone had called to tell her that. She also had information that he had been brought to the Sion Hospital. But she had looked in every ward and could find no trace of Tarun. And till 10.30 pm she had not found him.

Seventy beds and counting had been stuffed into a room just about 12 feet by 12 feet in size. Nurses, doctors, ward boys, policemen, relatives milled in and out, carrying needles, bottles of intravenous fluid, armfuls of towels, bandages. The ward resembled a hospital in a war zone with bed after bed of disoriented patients; some with no bandages lying still in beds.

Every so often there was the eerie sound of rattling and shouts of "Side, side, side!" As a gurney came rolling down the hall carrying a fresh patient in tattered clothes, hastily bandaged, seeping blood, strapped to intravenous bottles and urine bags. Perched at the end of many a stretcher was a black bag from which poked an umbrella, the kind that most train commuter carry. Some patients had no footwear or just one chappal.

And then there was the stretcher going the wrong way. Towards the mortuary.

Reportage: Archana Masih, A Ganesh Nadar, Vaihayasi P Daniel

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