Risking life to help critical people in trouble zone

Shifting people to hospitals during the conflict has stressed out ambulance drivers in Srinagar

Mohammad Ashraf Bakshi, an ambulance driver at the Kashmir’s premier Shri Mahraja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital,  faces a new challenge every day.

Bakshi, who has been driving an ambulance for the last two decades, doesn’t remember how many dead and injured he has carried all these years.
“There was a time when carrying two to three bodies a day was a routine.

Though the killing spree had stopped a few years back, summer unrests of 2008 and 2010 saw the revival of bloody days. I had to carry dozens of seriously injured to the hospital during those two bloody summers, some of whom died on way,” he told Deccan Herald.

Seeing the dead and injured everyday has made Bakshi hard hearted. He narrated an incident. “Recently, a son of my friend died and when I went to condole him I was normal. There, somebody asked, why I wasn’t feeling sad.” For which he had remaked: “This happens every day. This is only one son. I have seen bodies of dozens of sons and fathers and carried them in my ambulance?” he said. He has placed his faith in god and feels privileged to carry out work which helps humanity.
Bakshi’s views were echoed by his colleague Farooq Ahmed Khan.

“Listening to cries of wailing mothers, sisters and wives had become a routine in my life at the peak of insurgency in Kashmir,” he said. In the last 22 years of conflict, ambulance drivers have put their lives in jeopardy to save lives of others. They played a pivotal role in keeping the hospitals functioning under challenging circumstances.

According to Bakshi and Khan, one of their colleagues, Ghulam Nabi, was killed by unidentified gunmen in 1993 when he had gone to drop a patient to south Kashmir’s Anantnag district during night.     Ghulam Nabi was buried on the lawns of the SMHS Hospital. “We decided to bury him here so that he will be immortalised,” Khan said. The unrests of 2008 and 2010 severely affected ambulance drivers as they became target of both unruly mobs and security forces, who were on roads to strictly enforce strict curfew.

Hardened by the more than two deca­des of the conflict, most of the ambulance drivers say 2008 and 2010 were full of challenges and psychologically upsetting.

“It disturbs one a lot to ferry a badly wounded or dead kid to and from the
hospital. Not only this, troops, police and protesters make it sure that our ambulances don’t ply smoothly,” Bakshi said.

He recalled how a patient of north Kashmir died from blood loss after being hit by a bullet on leg. “The ambulance he was being ferried in was halted at many places on the way by troops, police and stone pelters. He died from blood loss,” Bakshi revealed. Along with doctors and paramedics, who treated hundreds of injured and critical patients during the summer unrests, ambulance drivers
continue to remain the unsung heroes.

Dr Zaid Ahmad Wani, consultant psychiatrist at Government Medical College in Srinagar, who has conducted a research on the life of ambulance drivers, said most of them are afraid to move out during the unrest period, a fear that gets accentuated during the night.

However, he said out of the 35 drivers he interviewed during the research, surprisingly only one wanted to leave his job. “Others reported that they felt that they were serving a very important and critical function which inspired them to continue duties under such difficult
circumstances,” Dr Zaid said.

“The stress faced by these professionals during their duty hours highlights the challenges faced in maintaining an optimum level of healthcare in such circumstances,” he added. Dr Zaid said that 89 per cent of drivers reported that they experienced increased irritability, headaches and body aches while most of them reported sleep disturbances.

At a time when public and private transport virtually becomes unavailable, ambulances are the only hope for patients to reach hospitals. “Ambulances carried an average of eight patients daily, almost all of them injured in the conflict during the unrest period,” he said.

“Access to health-care facilities during stone pelting period becomes tenuous for healthcare professionals as well as patie­nts as it is nearly impossible for plying private and public transport. Ambulances take on a special responsibility of trying to maintain a link between the hospitals and the healthcare professionals and patie­nts,” the research says.

Besides their routine emergency duties the ambulances are required to ferry staff, medical equipment and other material on a daily basis during unrest periods.

According to the research, three drivers had suffered fracture in the hand and nasal bone while one was admitted with  head injury.

“One ambulance had been fired upon by the police from a short distance near a hospital. All of them
reported that arguments with police and paramilitary personnel were routine with an occasional argument with the protesting crowd. Thankfully, no death could be attributed to these stoppages during this period,” the research added.

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