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Note: Due to the ongoing communication blockade in Kashmir, where the government has snapped all internet and mobile services, The Kashmir Walla is being updated from New Delhi.

Srinagar: On the morning of 5 August 2019, Dr. Irtifa Kanth, a 28-year-old resident of Soura area of Srinagar was sitting at his home, watching satellite television. The Union Home Minster of India, Amit Shah, was proposing the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019 in the Indian parliament.

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It was Monday and Mr. Kanth was supposed to report on his duty at 11:30 am, at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaj Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital. He had to be there on time to relieve his colleagues, who had completed their night shift.

As soon he stepped out his house, he found heavy deployment of government forces on the road and heard whistles around him. It was the signal to step back.

“I wasn’t allowed by the forces to reach the hospital, despite I displayed my essential services identity card,” said Dr. Kanth. “The forces told me that they have orders to not allow anyone on that route.”

Sitting at the casualty section of the SMHS hospital, with patients all around him, he added that for the next two days, he couldn’t go to the hospital “due to strict restrictions”.

The day next to that, on 8 August, he left for hospital before dawn. His colleague, Dr. Ruheel Hassan had not left the hospital, and was working continuously for 60 hours – as many more like of Dr. Kanth couldn’t reach the hospital.

The imposed communication blackout added more to the miseries. There was no way to find out whether the doctor, who had to appear on duty, is coming or not.

Dr. Kanth also read an informal order from the hospital authorities: “Send as many patients back to home as possible. Admit only the sick ones, who really need the hospital care.”

Essential Services at Halt

The restrictions and communication gag affected essential services to roots. For an instance, Dr. Kanth explained how the needed Trop. T., a vital medical test in case of heart attack, wasn’t possible in the hospital. In cases of emergency, they had to refer patients to Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science, Soura.

Sitting next to Dr. Kanth, Dr. Malik Huzaif added that due to the on-going clampdown and communication gag, for days Venus Blood Gases (VBG) medical test wasn’t possible due to non-availability of the VBG cards.

In such cases, the doctors managed without it, “as they could not make patients suffer and proceed with clinical judgement”.

Admitting that proceeding this way is “very risky”, but while wondering for any other option they had, which is none, the duo grinned in pride.

At times, the doctors “felt chocked” and doubted their decisions of putting up a white coat in the first place. “But, at the same time we feel positive when we have blessing of patients and their attendants,” said Dr. Huzaif.

Dr. Nisa Jan, a gynaecologist at Srinagar’s maternity Lal Ded hospital, talked about time when in emergency cases, they called a senior or specialised doctor, and operate accordingly; “But, this time, we had no such options,” said Dr. Nisa.

The First Care Takers and Victims

Sharing their experiences, the paramedical staff from different hospitals, stated that patients were the first victims of the communication gag.

According to 24-year-old paramedical intern, Farah Jan, at the SMHS hospital “it was very difficult to work in this period.” She was posted at the hospital a day before the special status of J-K was abrogated.

Every time she would hear an ambulance siren reaching near the hospital, her heart would beat faster – “fearing injuries, or causalities, due to clashes in various parts of the Valley.”

In absence of communication, she had no idea of what was happening outside the walls of the hospital. Receiving patients and their frustrated attendants, her first priority, as a paramedical person, remained to pacify them and quickly treat them.

Another paramedic posted at Srinagar’s private hospital, Khyber, Khushatar Rehmani, 24, had a different experience in this turmoil. “Most of our staff put up in Srinagar’s uptown areas,” said Ms. Rehmani. “In the initial 15 days, they could not reach the hospital.”

She worked for three straight days and nights. “At times, I feel like I could not continue my job due to heavy flow of patients in the hospital,” she said. “But when I looked at the conditions around, I continued.”

A paramedical employee at Bone and Joint hospital in Barzullah, wishing anonymity, narrated his sufferings. Belonging to a far flung area in central Kashmir, reaching at the hospital was a struggle in the first place.

After he left his home in a car, driven by his younger brother, the duo was stopped at a check point. The stationed group J-K police, CRPF, and BSF, asked them return.

“They asked for curfew passes. I showed them my departmental identity card, but they denied me to pass through,” he said. Looking at the situation, the paramedic returned his car, and decided to walk 16 km to reach to the hospital.

As per Ms. Jan, during this shutdown, amid chaos and fear while performing her duties, she said that the SMHS hospital’s emergency section received around 95,000 patients since clampdown. She believes that in such tough times, every medic tried their best to minimize the troubles for the patients, and put up well during the longest communication gag Kashmir has ever seen.

This story originally appeared in the 2-8 September 2019 print edition of The Kashmir Walla.