A father’s firm refusal to believe his son, on board Coromandel Express, had died in the accident made him travel more than 230km in an ambulance to Balasore, trace him to a makeshift morgue, resuscitate him in hospital and bring him back to Kolkata for further treatment.
Biswajit Malik (24) can thank his lucky stars that his father, Helaram Malik, did not take the news of his “death” at face value. Biswajit, who underwent surgery at SSKM Hospital’s trauma care unit, is expected to have another round of surgeries on Monday. He is critically injured but stable.
Helaram, a shopkeeper based in Howrah, had learned of the accident hours after he dropped off Biswajit at Shalimar station on Friday. He called Biswajit up on his cellphone, only to get a feeble reply: he was alive, but in terrible pain. Helaram did not think twice.
He called up Palash Pandit, a local ambulance driver, asked his brother-in-law Dipak Das to accompany him, and left for Balasore that very night. They travelled over 230km that night but could not find Biswajit in any hospital.
“We never gave up,” Das said. “We went around asking people, hoping to get leads on where to go next. One person told us that if we could not find anyone in hospital, we should look at the Bahanaga high school, where the bodies were kept. We could not accept it, but went anyway.” Das said they were confronted by the sight of numerous bodies at the temporary morgue.
“We were not allowed to see the bodies ourselves. A little later, a commotion broke out when someone noticed a victim’s right hand shivering. Since we were right there, we happened to notice that this hand belonged to Biswajit, who was unconscious and injured badly.
We immediately drove him in the ambulance to the Balasore hospital, where he was given some injections. Given his condition, they referred him to Cuttack Medical College Hospital, but we signed a bond and got him discharged,” he added.
Ambulance driver Palash Pandit, who accompanied Helaram Malik to Odisha to search for his son, Biswajit, said the youth was unconscious the entire time they were driving to Kolkata. “We stopped again at 8.30am at SSKM Hospital, where he was stretchered in.”
Biswajit, who has yet to regain consciousness, underwent ankle surgery on Sunday. He will undergo another leg surgery on Monday. His right hand, which shivered, has multiple fractures.
Forensic medicine expert Somnath Das said there was a condition called “suspended animation”, where a person’s vitals gets reduced to a bare minimum.
In such a condition, there is a temporary “slowing down” or stopping of the person’s biological functions. While such a condition can be induced medically, it can also happen due to shock or in certain circumstances, like drowning.
“Due to the overwhelming number of injured and the kind of rush, even medical practitioners might not get time to keenly look into vitals especially in bodies that look listless,” said Das, a professor in forensic medicine head at Bankura Sammilani Medical College.
Experts also said that rescue operations were done mainly by non-medical persons. In such a case, if an injured person was unconscious, unresponsive people might mistake such person for dead.