In late 2016, Kate Gent visited Purulia Hospital in West Bengal to see how Leprosy Mission staff are dealing with a huge rise in patient numbers there. Here, she shares her story.
I’ve been told it’s a busy outpatients’ department here, with up to 300 people coming in every day.
It’s Monday morning and it seems like all 300 people have all turned up in the past half hour, but even more keep streaming in.
Mornings in Purulia begin before the sun rises, with people travelling from miles around to come here. For me the sun is a low hazy glow on the horizon by the time I join the road.
The pinks and oranges filter through and paint the fields as amber. From the guest house I see the steady flow of travellers increase, many trundling past the gate wrapped up in shawls and blankets. They were nearing the end of their long journeys.
I walk down the dusty track towards the hospital. A bullock cart trundles by; a couple arrive; a mum with a small baby, an elderly man barely able to walk, weary already from the night of travelling.
Before me, the waiting room is abuzz with people. It’s not even 9am and the place is nearly full. I struggle to get past. There are queues and queues of people – the queue is snaking out of the door. I’m amazed at the patience of the staff.
There aren’t enough seats and so many people are sat on the cold stone floor. This is the reality of the outpatients’ department of West Bengal’s specialist leprosy hospital in Purulia.
Later, it’s mid-afternoon and I hear a doctor call out “Quick, quick, come quick!” There are over 50 people in the queue. “It’s out of control!” she says.
At the back of the pharmacy queue are the mum and baby who I had seen sitting on the floor hours ago. They look exhausted. The little girl wants to go home. Her mum strokes her head and soothes her as best she can.
I make my way to a consultation room where an examination is taking place. The doctor does his best in the circumstances but it’s a shared space and there are no curtains or a quiet area to talk confidentially.
Wrapped in a shawl, a young woman looks around to see the queue behind her is now a swarm spilling out the door. It makes me feel uncomfortable as they lean on the low partition peering over while her leg is examined.
I then meet Lavanya. She’s travelled such a long way to get here, starting her journey in the dead of night. She travelled 60 miles by bus and on foot all to get to this place of healing. I try to hide my shock as she comes into the consultation room, avoiding all eye contact.
She’s beautiful, wearing a bright orange cardigan and a green sari.
She was diagnosed with leprosy recently, and is now coming to Purulia to start her multidrug therapy – the course of drugs that will cure her.
Both grace and pain linger in her eyes and something in me tells me that I need to sit and listen to her story.
Lavanya’s story had such an impact on me and I’ll be sharing the next part of my encounter with her very soon, so keep an eye out for my next post. Did you know that you can give a gift to help secure the future of Purulia Hospital’s outpatients’ department? It’s under immense strain and a new building with modern medical facilities is planned, but the hospital needs your help. Find out more.