'I have to look for a new job now'
A burn injury survivor reflects on how his life changed after incident
Eight months down the line, he declines physical support offered by his family or hospital guards, who have now come to recognise him as a regular visitor.
“Unless I learn to stand and walk on my own, how will I train myself to start working for a livelihood again?” says 32-year-old Dileep Thakur.
A native of Bihar, Thakur suffered serious burn injuries when a steam pipe burst at a sports manufacturing unit at Govindpuri in south Delhi in February this year.
He lost consciousness. But managed to regain his senses and walk out leaving all his burning clothes behind. He was the only victim of that accident.
He was admitted to the burns department at Safdarjung Hospital for nine days. After his discharge from there, he has been paying visits to the hospital every Tuesday and Friday for treatment.
While he has been trying to get used to the damage caused to his face, he is unable to come to terms with the fact that he could possibly never be able to use his hands again. The fire ate into his hands, leaving two fingers on each hand missing, and others badly damaged.
“Doctors told me they will be able to save the remaining fingers. I have to look for a new job, which can be done with the leftover fingers,” he says.
The sole breadwinner of his family and a father of four children, Rs 5,000 per month is all he receives from the sports unit that employed him. But it is only a matter of time before the funding stops. “I am running against time,” he says.
His wife, mother and children rushed to Delhi from their village in Bihar to be by his side. After having put up outside the burns department in the winter for nine days at the beginning, they are being accommodated by sympathetic neighbours at slums in Sanjay Colony in Okhla.
He sees nightmare
It was a horrible first few months for Thakur. After being discharged from the hospital, he would have frequent nightmares.
“I would sit by his side all night long while he slept. Each time I would see him throwing his hands and legs in the air while asleep. I would wake him up so that the bad dreams do not continue,” says his wife Sarita Devi.
Thakur attempted to do his chores on his own, including using the mobile phone. “But it made me feel so worthless each time the phone fell off with the caller on the other end continuing to talk,” he says. Doctors at Safdarjung Hospital have been making every effort to reconstruct his face. They have been grafting skin on his face, taking it from his right thigh. “Soon, even those body parts, which were untouched by fire, will have scars,” he says.
When he was shown the mirror the first time at the hospital, he was scared of himself. “You are seeing a much improved version of my face now. I looked like a ghost at the beginning. My little children were scared of me,” says Thakur.
But he was quick to adapt and accept his new body and looks. But upon his release from the hospital, his biggest worry was whether others would accept him. They did not.
“Strangers stare at me, some whisper among themselves. Seeing my hands, some even sympathetically ask me from a distance if I suffer from leprosy. Sometimes, I wish I could walk around invisibly.”
His life changed forever, all that he wishes now is an end to the biweekly trips to the hospital and a source of livelihood. “I want to begin working tomorrow if I can.”