Come Diwali, the greatest Indian celebration, and a considerable number of people all over the country get burns and many die of burn-related injuries. One doesn’t realise the gravity of the situation till tragedy strikes at one’s doorstep. This Diwali, a small diya kept near a staircase, in twenty seconds straight, had my aunt (my brother-in-law and fellow TSI columnist Prashanto Bannerjee’s mother) in its deadly wrap. She, being a neighbour since my childhood, is perhaps closer to me than are any of my real aunts. Despite her saree being made of cotton, and despite my brother-in-law noticing the burning saree instantly and putting off the flames with buckets of water within twenty seconds, she got 65% burns – and at 72 years of age, that is dangerous... very dangerous! When we reached Apollo Hospitals in New Delhi – where we finally admitted her – the doctor told us that if she had been of Prashanto’s age, 36, he would have given her only a 20% chance of survival with the 3rd degree burns that she had. But then, there’s a small background story to all this. Prashanto’s mother was actually taken initially to Max Super Speciality Hospital. To our surprise, we were told by Max doctors to get her admitted somewhere else since they didn’t treat burn injuries… The quick research we did after our visit to Max gave us a shocking statistic. In Delhi, the capital of India, there are only two hospitals capable of treating burn injuries. Other hospitals in fact don’t even admit burn victims! And being Diwali, Safdarjung Hospital, the only hospital other than Apollo for burn victims, was expected to be very crowded. If Delhi has only two, then you can imagine how many hospitals does the average Indian city have that handle burn injuries – none!
Anyway, once she was admitted to the ICU at Apollo and we got talking to the doctor, and wondered how in such a big city such few beds were available for burn victims, his answer shocked us further. He said that a burn injury is a poor man’s injury and ergo didn’t have many hospitals as takers. Before this incident, it had never struck me that this was the case. It should have been quite obvious actually: it is the poor woman – and not really the man – who gets burnt when her saree catches fire from the kitchen stove kept on the floor. And when such poor women get burnt, it matters less whether they survive or not. Therefore, no hospital has been interested in investing in a burn injury center! What was sadder was that when I researched on the net and read about the tremendous advancement of medicines for burn injuries (that have reduced chances of mortality to negligible even in severe burn cases), I realized that we still lived in a country that, despite the spectacular international medical advancements, continues to have the highest number of people dying of completely curable burns.