A young boy’s fall triggers results in a critical medical emergency, and Kane Ryan of Dirty Wall Project finds himself facing India’s medical system and a life and death decision.
The clack of my flip flops echo off the dimly lit stairway as I take two steps at a time. I rush past an altar and the flames from the candles flicker, casting an eerie shadow of myself on the pale hospital walls. It’s 11 pm and the hospital is nearly deserted. Rounding a corner, I startle a group of young nurses and mumble my apologies as I rush past. I finally reach the emergency ward counter and repeat the name “Moshin Shaik” several times while a young women types away on her key board.
I reach into my back pocket and fumble with a bundle of money and start counting, “Ek hazaar, teen hazaar, das hazaar…”, handing the woman 20,000 rupees. While she counts my money, a siren from an approaching ambulance brings me back to reality. The ambulance pulls to a halt and a stretcher is wheeled toward the entrance. The woman behind the counter hands me my receipt as a women in her 20s groans in pain as she is pushed by the counter. I watch as grief stricken family members follow the stretcher and then I continue down the hallway and back to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Earlier in the afternoon, Moshin was playing at the top of some stairs, choosing to slide down the banister like he has done so many times before. He lost his balance and his grip and fell eight feet onto the cement floor, cracking his head and losing consciousness. Moshin was rushed to a nearby hospital by a neighbour but the hospital couldn’t deal with the severity of his injuries and he was shifted to the private Holy Spirit Hospital. We received a call at 4 pm from a frantic Shalru (his auntie who looks after him) asking us for help.
I met Moshin eight months ago outside of our school in Saki Naka, when Shalru was in need of educational support for Moshin. His parents both died of TB a few months after he was born and Moshin has struggled with medical ailments most of his short life. Dirty Wall Project (DWP) had him tested for HIV and met with doctors in an attempt to get him vibrant and healthy in time for the new school year. Moshin’s overall health improved and Discover Urjaa and DWP paid his school tuition for a year.
Ashley and I arrive at the hospital and begin searching for Moshin but no records can be found. (Private hospitals refuse to admit patients until a substantial deposit is left). Shalru finds the neighbour who brought Moshin in and we discover that he is being kept in the ICU but he has not been treated because there has been no deposit made. I quickly remove 8000 INR – $180 CAD, hand it to the cashier and we head upstairs to find Moshin. We are only permitted to see him through the window of the ICU while the doctor in charge fills us in. Moshin has suffered a serious blow to the head and needs an immediate CT scan. With the deposit now in place, the doctors begin treating him and Ashley and I head across town to another hospital where DWP has another patient in an ICU.
I reach home at 9 pm, tired from the stress of hospitals and the constant hardships I witness while working in these poor communities. I unpack my tiffen (from Aman’s mother) and find a vegetable curry and a few rotis, pour myself a juice and collapse on my bed/dinner table. Two rotis into dinner I hear my phone buzzing and the call display reads “Ashley”. A call from him at this hour of the night is unlikely good news. Ashley is in a rickshaw and it is hard to hear him over the engine of the tiny machine and the symphony of car horns surrounding him. His voice is tense and he tells me that the hospital has called and found a blood clot in Moshin’s head and he is enroute to pick me up.
I phone Vignesh, a friend who has agreed to help if things are too much for Ashley and I to bear. Vignesh says he will meet us in fifteen minutes at my building. I grab my DWP bank card, slip into my flip-flops and rush down the stairs. Traffic is buzzing outside my building but I manage to find a gap to squeeze through. There is a festival of some kind for “Sai Baba” and the street where my ATM is located is packed with revellers. I maneuver around worshippers and withdraw some money. Ashley and Vignesh meet me and we head to the hospital. While we are all in agreement about helping this family, we have to pressure them to come up with some money as the cost of surgery is high. In situations like this, families will try to rely completely on us for funds, relinquishing their own responsibility. It is important that we only help as required, enabling us to help many more families in need.
Ashley and I often lead with our hearts and not our heads and we quickly vote for Vignesh to play the role of bad cop when we arrive. As we turn into the hospital grounds the car headlights sweep across the only two people in the parking lot, lighting up Shalru’s orange salwar kameez for a brief second. Vignesh speaks to the young couple letting them know that we are here to help but that we are not capable of paying for everything. They will have to find money to support Moshin in his latest battle.
We follow the young couple upstairs to the Pediatric ICU (PICU) and speak to the doctors. Moshin requires immediate surgery to remove the swelling caused by a subdural hemorrhage. The surgery will cost 40,000 rupees, and with post medical care this will rise to 70,000 rupees. The doctor leaves and we are all silent for a moment amidst the electronic beep of machines; each of us unwilling to make a decision. The family can possibly come up with 15,000 rupees, but not until tomorrow. Vignesh phones a friend (who is a doctor) to find out more about subdural hemorrhage and the risks involved in moving Moshin to a municipal hospital. I pace the hallway, anxious and nervous. Every time the door opens I catch a glimpse of Moshin’s freshly shaven head prepped for surgery, waiting our decision.
Vignesh says that we can move him to Kem hospital and his contact will have the surgeon meet us there and will perform the operation for free. It will take over an hour to get there with no guarantees the operation will take place immediately.The doctor says it is possible to move Moshin, but his trauma is severe and time sensitive. I keep flashing back to Moshin’s smile the first time I met him, and his infectious giggle. While Vignesh is on the phone again speaking with the doctor at the other hospital, the door to the PICU opens and the nurse whispers to the doctor that Moshin’s blood pressure is dropping. I cannot take this anymore and I grab the head nurse and tell her that I will be paying for the surgery (thanks DWP donors!) and I rush off through the hospital towards the payment counter.
Fifteen minutes later, I enter the PICU and hand the receipt to the doctor. A quick phone call is made to the waiting neurosurgeon and nurses begin to move quickly around Moshin. We gather again outside in the darkness of the hallway and we all feel a little sense of relief, although it’s now been seven hours since Moshin fell.
As we stand in the hallway, I look at Ashley and Vignesh. Both of these men are dear friends of mine and we all represent a different NGO (Janvi Trust, Discover Urjaa and Dirty Wall Project), but we are here not as representatives of a charity but as humans caring for another. I smile to myself, glad to have met two men that will leave their families and their work in the middle of the night to help others.
We wait outside Moshin’s room for another hour and finally he is wheeled out on his way to surgery. He is unconscious and covered in a white sheet. I reach out and put my hand on his knee. The wheels of the stretcher squeak as it’s pushed down the hall towards the elevator. I enter the surgical wing and watch through the tiny round window of the door. The surgeon is holding up the CT scan and speaking to Vignesh and Shalru. She bends and signs the release form and Moshin is wheeled into the operating theater. Vignesh comes out, smiles, and puts his arm around my shoulder. He says the surgeon is confident about the operation and the outcome, so the three of us head out across the parking lot knowing that we have done all that we can do.
The following morning Ashley and I persuade the young nurse to let us visit him for a few minutes. A small smile creases Moshin’s dry lips, until he begins to vomit. He is sitting up while Shalru feeds him spoonfuls of juice, his little eyes weary and struggling to stay awake. A huge bandage covers the right side of his head and a drainage tube filled with blood leads from his head to a bag beside my chair. I put both of my hands on his leg and say hello. He turns his head and his brain fights to recognize me and Ashley. The nurse explains that the surgery went very well and Moshin is expected to make a full recovery with time.
It has now been two days since Moshin’s operation and he is recovering nicely. We are monitoring the family but letting them take control and battle the hospital social wing for assistance with the rest of the bill.
Moshin’s life and the many medical battles he has faced thus far are already more than many people will see in a lifetime, but I am also concerned for Shalru and her new husband who are both only 22 years old. She was put in a difficult situation when her sister died and has been caring for Moshin since she was 17. Her life with her new husband will include Moshin. I’m so glad that Dirty Wall Project can offer them a helping hand. Thanks to donations from DWP supporters, I was able to assist this young family at a desperate time and hopefully Moshin will smile again soon. His laugh really is infectious.
All photos © Kane Ryan, Dirty Wall Project