Dr Ashita Singh tells Sonali’s story…

Sonali with her mother

Sonali had been in Chinchpada’s intensive care unit barely a few hours. Her mother was stood watching helplessly as nurses tried to restrain her agitated daughter, who had been admitted with suspected meningitis. 

As I approached her bed, Sonali clutched her head and rolled into a foetal position, burning hot with fever. Her mother started wailing loudly, ‘Where shall I get money for her medicine? There’s no one to help me. There is no hope for us!’ Then, through broken sobs, she told me her story.

A widow and poor day labourer, her income disappeared when lockdown began. As Sonali’s fever and headaches worsened she spent her last few rupees on visits to the pharmacy and primary health centre. But Sonali’s situation only got worse. 

It was clear she urgently needed to go to hospital. But there was no transport and Sonali was far too ill to walk. Convincing a kind neighbour to drive them, they had just arrived at hospital to learn that Sonali’s critical condition meant she would need to stay for at least 10 days. 

Sonali’s mother knew she could not even begin to afford this. Desperate and despairing, she cried, ‘It’s better for her to die, I will have one mouth less to feed.’ 

I listened, a knot in my stomach, and tried to calm her. Finally, she sat down, accepting a glass of water and sobbing quietly into her clothes. Then I told her she need not worry about paying for her daughter’s treatment. ‘All drugs to final bill – no payment’ was written on her chart. 

Sonali spent five days in ICU, the pressure in her brain dangerously high. But with careful monitoring and treatment she gradually improved. During this time, Sonali and her mother received two nutritious meals a day, including eggs – the best food they had had in a while. After another five days on the ward, Sonali was discharged.

As they got ready to leave, I apologised that no vehicle was available to take them home. ‘Oh, that’s no problem at all,’ her mother replied (Sonali agreeing with a wide, gorgeous smile). ‘How can we expect this of you after all that you have done for us? I will pay you back, I promise, as soon as I get some work. I saw the expensive medicines and treatment she was given. Thank you so much.’

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