What do you do when your bright and active child suddenly develops a viral fever? Get him to rest, give him paracetamol and pray that he recovers early, so he doesn’t miss school and exams.
Three days later, blood tests show things are worse than you thought. He is suffering from dengue fever. You admit him to a nearby superspeciality hospital.
What do you do when the hospital gives up after a day, and says “please take him elsewhere”?
You realise it is no ordinary fever, there is a sense of SOS about it now. You rush him immediately to the biggest superspeciality in town but when you get there you are told the paediatric intensive care ward is full.
The child is serious. He is forced to wait another three hours in the dormitory. His condition turns critical. His platelet count has already seen a free fall from 86000 to 13000. He begins to bleed from the nose. By the time, he is taken in for critical care, he has to be put on a ventilator.
The doctors say organs are becoming dysfunctional. There is internal bleeding.
What do you do? You are totally helpless. Your son is fighting a losing battle inside the ICU. You are not able to do anything to help and save him.
Two days later, on Saturday evening, your 13-year-old is declared dead. A nod from the doctor to indicate “Sorry, it is over”. A piece of paper is printed that speaks of him in the past tense.
Everyone is in shock. This cannot be happening. How is it possible that a perfectly healthy and happy child transitions into a dead body. Not just the family, friends, teachers, neighbours everyone is in shock. How can this happen?
The funeral service of John Elisha Winston, 13, a student of class VIII, is taking place as I write this. The teachers and school management are in deep grief and shock. Winston’s mother has been a teacher at the same school for the last 20 years. She is inconsolable and parents who have gone to express condolences, have returned teary-eyed, unable to say a word of solace. They too are in panic. Because Winston could have been anyone’s child. No child, no parent deserves this.
How did this happen? Parents at this school and other institutions are pressing managements to implement a sanitation protocol. They are demanding regular fumigation. Ensure there is no standing water to stop the virus carrying mosquitoes from breeding. The argument is that with students spending close to seven hours in school, this is a likely place of exposure to viral dengue and other vector-borne diseases. On its part, this school for the last three weeks has been insisting that all students wear full sleeves and also apply mosquito repellent cream.
While school managements need to and should do this as part of standard operating procedure, what is the responsibility of civic authorities to prevent such tragedies. In this particular case, the road in front of the school turns into slush everytime it rains. The stagnant water has been a signature for years.
To make it worse, the authorities in their wisdom decided that the best place for a huge garbage collection point in this particular area, is right outside the school wall. It is kept open, an open invitation to disease.
This monsoon, Hyderabad has been in the grip of viral fever and dengue, good enough to ring the alarm bells. Yet there is little awareness about the fever that can kill if not detected in time. The Telangana Health minister is doing a review on seasonal fevers and dengue this evening, where Winston and several others will be reduced to dry statistics over chai and samosas. And life will go on, discussing death.