Unwanted and unloved: The men and women left behind in hospital Isolation Wards
Eighty-seven-year-old Narayanan is sitting on his bed in a veranda of Ernakulam General Hospital, talking to another old man. He doesn’t really have much to do, and it’s hard to not think about the past.
Narayanan says he used to be a prosperous farmer growing cocoa, arecanut and coconut on several acres of land in Perumbavoor village in Ernakulam district. Three years ago, his family got him admitted to the hospital for a cough. But no one turned up to take him home once he became well, and he realised his family simply did not want him around.
“I have 12 children, so I have many grandchildren, I don’t remember how many. My wife died after her 12th delivery. I had so many acres of cocoa, areca nut and coconut plantation. But now I have nothing. It is all with my children and they are not ready to look after my needs,” Narayanan says.
He shuttled between an old age home and the Isolation Ward for a few months after he was cured of the cough, but now, the Isolation Ward is his home.
“When you are young, you are privileged. Now my only need is to have three meals and die peacefully. Thinking about the prosperous past will not help. I had property worth around Rs 10 crore,” Narayanan says.
Narayanan is one of about 40 people – many of them bed-ridden – at the isolation ward. There are separate wards for men and women, and some of the people in the men’s ward, which has more people, sleep outside on the verandah due to lack of space.
Most large government hospitals in Kerala have isolation wards which are always full, typically looking after people who have nowhere to go after their treatment.
Ernakulam Isolation ward
Some of the people live in the hospital for years, while others are shifted to charity homes by Rosary Divine Charitable Trust, an NGO which has been working among them for past five years.
The staff in the hospital look after the people, and ensure that the wards are cleaned every day. NGO staff bathe the patients every day and provide food to both inmates and visitors with a government grant.
“We get food to eat and have clothes to wear. Somebody is always available for a chat. I prefer the hospital to my home,” says 65-year-old Shankaran, who was abandoned by his family after he developed a mental illness.
“I was not mentally stable, so my wife and two sons sent me to a hospital. When I returned cured after some years, they did not let me in. So I took to the streets and finally came here for the treatment of a wound in my leg. Now the NGO has offered me help to start a lottery business,” Shankar says with a smile.
Shaji, a volunteer of Rosary trust recalls that a few rich men had spent months in the ward and died here. “I remember a person from Kanjirapally of Kottayam district, who had a rubber plantation spread across several hectares. He had three or four sons but was abandoned and ended up in this ward. He had spent many months here, suffering from liver cirrhosis. Although all his sons lived in luxury, nobody turned up even after his death a year ago,” Shaji recalls.
In some cases, relatives would turn up after the death to claim property such as gold, or death certificates.
Shaji also says that many people pretend to be neighbours or strangers who were leaving people they found on the streets, but they would actually be abandoning family members. “Once an elderly woman was brought here by a middle aged man who said he found her near a drain. But when we asked the woman, she said the man was her son,” Shaji said.
Many of the people at the isolation ward cannot speak, and have lost their memory.
“Our ward stands separately from all other wards, near the mortuary. That means we will be shifted there next,” Narayanan says with a smile.