GUWAHATI, May 13 - It was a Herculean task to bring back cancer patients and children who had undergone heart operation from Mumbai to Guwahati by road. But the challenging task was completed when 132 cancer patients and attendants as well as six children and their parents reached Guwahati last night and despite their ill health all of them reached safely.
The Joint Resident Commissioner of the Assam Bhawan, Mumbai, Devashis Sharma , personally accompanied the team, while, Dr Neelakshi Choudhury, a senior resident of the ENT Department of Gauhati Medical College provided all necessary medical care to the patients single handedly en route from Mumbai to Guwahati.
The Assam Tribune spoke to Devashis Sharma to know the challenges faced while bringing back the cancer patients from Mumbai by road and he said that though it was a tough task, it was satisfying to bring them back safely. Giving a detailed account of the events, Sharma said that as soon as the lockdown started, all the patients in Mumbai were very tense. There were different categories of patients. The first category was those whose treatment in the Tata Memorial Hospital could not start due to the prevailing situation and they were facing an uncertain future. Most of such patients and their attendants panicked. The second category was those whose treatment was completed for the time being and they were asked to report back after three or four months and they could not return home. The third category of patients had the means to go for treatment in other hospitals in Mumbai, but the private hospitals were not agreeing to allow patients in without doing the COVID-19 test and it was not possible to get the tests done.
Sharma said that as those people were desperate to return home, the State Government took a decision to bring them back. Health Minister, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma first decided that the patients would be brought back by air and that is why, COVID-19 tests were carried out and four persons were tested positive. They had to be hospitalized and one was released yesterday. As the attempt to bring them by air did not materialize, the Health Minister asked the Assam Bhawan , Mumbai to hire the best available buses to bring them to Assam. He said that before bringing them back, all the patients and attendants had to be screened before starting the journey and Dr Choudhury, who had gone to Mumbai to do a course in Hinduja Hospital helped out in this regard. She also readily agreed to accompany the team as it was not possible to undertake such a journey without a doctor.
Sharma said that they started the journey at 12.10 pm on May 9 but the journey was slow as the buses had to be frequently stopped as the patients had to go to toilets. They mostly used the toilets of the petrol pumps and in some places, members of Rotary Club made arrangements to open the toilets of the dhabas on the road. He said that as some patients started showing signs of some illness or other from the second day and �as per the list given by Dr Choudhury we had carried medical equipment and emergency medicines and she gave required treatment.�
Sharma admitted that a major problem faced from the second morning was food. �We thought that the dhabas would be open. But we found that most of the dhabas on the highways were closed. A member of Deepsikha Foundation, Nita Joshi came forward to help out in that situation. She used her network in the Jain temples, while, the Rotary Club of Mumbai Metro also activated the Rotary Clubs all along the way and they provided food and all other required items all throughout the journey.
Crossing the inter-state borders was a difficult proposition because of the long queues of vehicles. �In such cases, we requested the police personnel manning the check gates that we were carrying cancer patients and three to four hour wait at the check gates would be troublesome. In all cases, the police personnel were sympathetic towards us and helped us to cross the inter state borders without much hassle,� Sharma said.
It may be mentioned here that the oldest patient brought from Mumbai was 75-year-old and the youngest was only around 18 months. Sharma carried his guitar along and wherever they stopped on the way, attempt was made to keep the moral of the patients high with songs and dances.
It may be mentioned here that after reaching Guwahati last night, Sharma and Lakhiram Kalita, a fourth grade employee of the Assam Bhawan, started their return journey by bus this afternoon.