Med Mercenaries

It was a harrowing experience to say the least. It was the fourth day of the Yaoshang festival, that is, 22nd March, 2011. There was a “Shumang Leela” event in the evening. I had just reached my work place at about 3:30 pm as I wanted to catch up with some pending work. I was just beginning to make some headway on a particular drafting when I received a call from my wife. It was about 4:00 pm. She told me that Ibungo just had a heroin OD (“Overdose” to the lesser informed) and was evacuated to JN Hospital, Porompat.

For a moment, I thought that he would be all right after some first-aid measures like he always used to do in such situations before. He always used to somehow recover from his comatose state at the hospital and be the one to pester us to go back home. However the persistent thought that the situation might be different this time raked my mind and I could not continue working any longer.

It was about 4:45 pm that I reached home to pick up my wife. She was already prepared to go and we reached the Casualty Ward of JN Hospital at about 5:00 pm.

A few doctors were on duty at the Casualty Ward and I found Ibungo struggling for his life with the aid of oxygen cylinders and God-knows-what-else. Upon making inquiries, I learnt that not only one but two Naloxone injections (a life saving drug for reviving such OD cases) had already been administered but he failed to respond positively. He lay on one of those makeshift type beds of the casualty. Instead of breathing, he gave out deep gasps after short intervals and his skin was a sickly pallor. We were waiting for the Naloxone to take effect.

I was getting pretty desperate as the situation was rapidly slipping out of control. I called a few of my friends who came to mind and managed to contact one who works in a drug sector NGO. He was in Guwahati at that time but he somehow coordinated a few people for assistance. In the meantime, the condition of Ibungo had gone from bad to worse and I panicked. My friend in Guwahati told me to get another Naloxone fast from the DIC (Drop in Centre) run by an NGO at North AOC where the said drug is dispensed free of cost to those in need.

I sped towards North AOC and upon reaching there; I made hurried inquiries only to find out that the DIC had closed for the day. Somebody asked what the problem was and I explained the situation as best as I could. He immediately offered to help and hurriedly ran into one of the lanes where I found a stall giving Naloxone to those in need. After getting the injection, the two of us rushed back to the hospital but we found that another injection had already been administered. The third dose was given by the same pharmacy where the previous two doses were taken from.

After the third dose, Ibungo showed some signs of regaining his senses as he started to respond to our instructions to open his eyes and to extend his tongue. But our sighs of relief were soon snuffed out when the pharmacy people, which we later came to know were runners of Ema Medical Store, JN Hospital, Porompat, made their move at the first signs of life.

They were asking for an exorbitant amount of Rs. 5,000/- per vial (the retail price of which is about Rs. 70/- at the prevailing market rate) for the three doses which comes to a total of Rs. 15,000/-. We tried to reason with them that we are extremely grateful to them for saving the life of Ibungo and we are willing to pay but fervently requested for showing a little leniency in the price. They flatly rejected our request and argued that we should not bargain over the amount after the life saving drug has saved the life of the patient. We were in an extremely vulnerable state and at that point of time the NGO people who had come down to assist us intervened by telling them that they are ready to replace the three doses of Naloxone if they would agree to reduce their price.

However, the pharmacy people adamantly stuck to their stand as a result of which a few hot words were exchanged between them and the NGO people and they almost came to fisticuffs. As it was hardly the time or place for any scuffle, we tried to pacify them and the haggling over the price continued. We were in a dilemma as to whether to attend to the patient or to take part in the whole bargaining process or to pacify the potential scuffle which may break out at any time.

At around 7:30 p.m. when Ibungo was shifted to the Male Ward, one savvy guy in a loud shirt and white shoes came to the ward and informed us that he was the proprietor of Ema Medical Store. We started negotiating with him and as if doing us a grand favor, he agreed to waive the price of one dose and told us that he was willing to accept just Rs. 10,000 only. We had to literally empty all our pockets to put together a sum of Rs. 8,000 and after paying him the same, we bargained with him for that to be the final offer as we still had to pay for the other medicines like DNS, 10% Dextrose, vitamins, anti-bacterials and what-nots which were supplied by their pharmacy. But the guy in the loud shirt stubbornly stuck to his stand and told us to cough up another Rs. 1,000 to make the final deal Rs. 9,000. We were still reeling under the pressure of the concerned doctor telling us to admit Ibungo in the ICU Ward as there was a possibility of cardiac arrest and he had to be shifted in that very night into ICU.

We had an eventful two days as the health and general condition of Ibungo was closely monitored and we were told that he was still not fit to be discharged. Probably seeing the seriousness of the situation, the pharmacy people laid low during the said two days. However, sometime in the evening of the third day, one runner of the pharmacy came again apparently upon sensing that the patient was going to be discharged and asked for the balance amount of Rs. 1,000 over and above the cost of other medicines which we had taken on credit. We again requested him to waive the balance amount telling him that our extended stay at the hospital has caused unprecedented extra expenses. He did not relent in any way and upon our persistent requests; he became incensed and told us whether we thought the whole thing as a joke.

We finally came to the conclusion that these people are purse-milking and heartless vultures who prey upon the misery of other people and ended up paying the balance amount.

After the incident, the excessively obtuse acts of the pharmacy people continued to persist in my mind and feel that something should be done to prevent such occurrences in future. I also feel the urgent need for setting up more D.I.C.s dispensing such life saving drugs within the reachable proximities of each and every hospital, clinic and wherever possible.

Moreover, it is a dire necessity for such medicine to be made available round the clock for an event of O.D. can happen irrespective of time and places. It is a very happening thing for a place like Manipur and there is no point denying it. Literally, I should say that it is worth naming a daily event.  In conclusion, I would like to earnestly appeal to all the Health Authorities of the state, NGOs and people working in the drug sector for making this wish a reality.

*The opinion is written by Bobby Irengbam in association with Haobam Nanao.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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