There was only one table for trauma surgeries at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital and college in 1990. The college didn’t have access to quality surgical equipment back then, and trauma patients, mostly hit by bullets and grenade shrapnel, owing to the conflict in the Valley, were pouring in. Doctors would leave their wards to attend the emergency; save the injured. And they managed to save a lot of people despite the bleak facilities in hospitals across Kashmir.
Dr Mufti Mehmood Ahmad, with the department of surgery at the Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar, was a senior resident at GMC in the 1990s. One day, while he was on duty, a pregnant woman was brought in. She had bullet injuries to her womb—a bullet had exited after touching the ear lobe of the foetus. A gruelling surgery took place, by the end of which the baby was taken out safely and the mother brought out of danger. Dr Mufti wrote a paper about the case later: Gunshot Wounds of the Pregnant Uterus: “Baby Wins the Battle” (1995).
Dr Mufti and his colleague Dr Iqbal Saleem, who was also an MBBS student at GMC in 1990, mention more such cases where despite the lack of resources, doctors at GMC have done their best to treat trauma patients. The story of GMC, which has many hospitals in Srinagar under its wing, is not just that of an underequipped institution, but, additionally, one which is caught in the turmoil of Kashmir’s conflict.
In another incident from 1990, a boy with a gunshot wound to his kidney was brought to the hospital. He had only one kidney and as fate would have it, that’s where the bullet had hit. “We repaired and repaired for hours together,” says Dr Mufti. Finally, the boy’s condition doctors followed up with him for years.
“In those days, medical exams were not held on time. It would take us years to complete the degree,” says Dr Saleem. Dr Mufti remained senior resident in the hospital for five years as no new batch was coming up due to the long delay in exams. The situation was such back then that one day an auto rikshaw carrying around eight wounded people entered the operation theatre. “I think it was 1992. They all had bullet wounds. I saw one person who was shot in the neck. His head was hanging. It was the bloodiest scene I have ever seen. Blood was all over the auto and it was even flowing out from it. We segregated them and then all doctors rushed to the theatre to operate them,” says Dr Mufti.
Dr Iqbal Saleem remembers a father who carried his child to the hospital. The child’s ribs had been torn apart by the bullets. “I looked at the man’s legs as he pleaded to us to save his son who was already dead. His left leg had been shot at but he had no idea of it.”
There were other waves of trauma patients being rushed to GMC in 2008, 2010 and 2016, the times when large-scale unrest broke out in the Valley and several civilians were killed and injured in the crackdown by the security forces. GMC and its associated hospitals again received thousands of wounded people. “But the difference this time was that there was a system in place. Now, we do trauma surgeries but they don’t affect our elective surgeries, the OPDs and other duties,” says Dr Saleem.
GMC has handled thousands of trauma surgeries over the years. The department of orthopaedics alone has done 98, 600 major trauma surgeries. While the minor trauma related surgeries from 1990 till date are 2,11,020, taking the total number of surgeries to a staggering 3,09,620. At present, according to GMC hospital authorities, the emergency department has around 100 beds, separate for surgical and medical cases.
In 2016, when thousands were wounded in pellet firings, the college’s ophthalmology department treated hundreds of persons with eye injuries. “Two decades ago, it would have been impossible to treat these patients,” says Dr Sajad Khanday of the ophthalmology department. The department now has high-quality diagnostic equipment. It has treated around 1,600 patients with pellet injuries. It has also done 129 successful cornea transplants since 2017.
Other departments have also excelled. The department of cardiology, for INStance, was non-existent twenty years ago. Now it sees around 2,000 patients every month. Notable among the stories of transformation from the GMC is that of the department of psychiatry. In March 2002, an article in the Chicago Tribune described the Psychiatric Disease Hospital as “more like a bombed-out hovel than a place of healing.” But that was 2002. It is now called the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences and has a brain stimulation centre, MRI facilities, a digital library and a rehabilitation hall.
Other departments have also gone through similar transformations. The department of paediatric medicine was also functioning from a small facility some three decades ago. Today, the GB Pant hospital, the only children’s hospital in the Valley, has “around 800 to 1,000 OPDs with over 100 admissions on a daily basis,” says a doctor.
The Lal Ded hospital, named after the legendary Kashmiri poet, is now Kashmir’s premier tertiary care maternity centre. It has grown from a shabby building into a state of the art five-story health facility. With a dedicated group of female gynaecologists, the hospital now runs 700 beds manned by nearly 200 doctors.
GMC is one of the oldest medical colleges of India. It started from a dispensary on the banks of the Jhelum in 1959 and was shifted to its present location at Karanagar in 1961. The old location now houses the Lal Ded hospital for women, an associated hospital of GMC.
“The uniqueness of the college is that it has seven associated hospitals. You will rarely find this in any other college in north India,” says Dr Kaisar Ahmad, principal, GMC. The hospital’s blood bank has been a lifeline for many over the decades. “I’ve never come across a time when we were short of blood. Local people would turn up to give blood,” says Dr Mufti.
GMC caters to people from Jammu as well as Ladakh. Around 21 lakh patients visited GMC’s various departments while over 1.65 lac patients got admitted to its hospitals last year. GMC has an annual MBBS intake capacity of 150 students while at the postgraduation level, 177 students are admitted annually in around 20 specialties. It also runs one nursing college and an AMT (ancillary medical training) school.
“I have seen senior doctors taking naps on the trolleys after doing several surgeries in a row. There was a time in my life when I was pessimistic about the future of the college. Now it is doing far better than most of the colleges in India. And all credit goes to the resilience of the men and women at GMC, who have persisted for the sake of excellence,” says Dr Mufti.
By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar