In Depth

Love Fail: Inside the ‘war zone ward’ where ravaged lovers finally admit defeat

As a trauma centre, Srinagar’s SMHS hospital has been catering to the regular rush of young, jilted and poisoned lovers since long now. The cyclic nature of these cases might not be ringing alarm bells around, but they do underscore the relationship crisis in the society.

In the beginning of 2018, a medical examiner in Srinagar’s famed Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) was on his regular duty inside what is popularly known as the ‘war zone ward’ when a boy flanked by a girl was rushed in. He was apparently oblivious of the fact that patients least likely to survive are shifted in that ward.

Barely 20, the boy was vomiting, withering in abdominal pain. A doctor inside the ward was alerted by his colleague about the emergency condition of the boy.

As the examiner remembers, the young patient came holding a bottle of juice in his hand, taking light sips only to feel better and ease the feeling of vomiting. He was accompanied by his long-time girlfriend whom he had come to meet all the way from Jammu.

The examiner placed him on a chair and asked him not to worry. But soon his liver started to fail. His blood pressure had a steep fall. After some time, his kidneys stopped working, and he began bleeding from the nose and the mouth.

Four hours later, to everyone’s shock, he was lying dead on a stretcher, solely mourned by his girlfriend.

After preliminary investigation, the doctors concluded that the patient was either poisoned or had been bitten by a snake. But following a proper medical examination, snake bite was ruled out.

It was now a clear case of poisoning, which had caused multi-organ failure. The deceased had consumed a rodenticide, a poison used to kill rodents.

“As panic gripped the ward, all fingers rose against the girl as the boy was continuously with her,” says a medical examiner, present at the scene. The case was later handed over to Jammu and Kashmir Police for investigation.

Whenever such cases arrive in the ward, a medical examiner usually cannot tell whether poison is involved, because the symptoms—diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain—are much like those of other disorders. Nor can he necessarily place one at the murder scene. The dying typically takes hours. Also, one can administer poison gradually, a little bit every day.

SMHS’ ‘war zone ward’ has witnessed many such cases of poisoned love. In recent past, a class 12 girl was rushed in, with a frothing mouth, in a dizzying state.

“I was preparing for my board exams when my boyfriend left me,” says Nayeema, recalling the episode with a mixed sense of sadness and shame. “I was with him from the last 8 years. We grew up together. The break-up left me in depression. I could not share this with my parents because the generation gap is such that they won’t understand.”

The stress of not being able to share her agony with her parents made way for poison.

“Majority of such victims are unmarried and dejected lots,” says a doctor, treating patients inside the ward. “They often end up consuming pesticides.”

Even a small register maintained by one of the doctors present in the ward shows that the majority of the poisoning is due to pesticides followed by household agents and pharmaceuticals. The ward witnesses 5 to 6 poison patients on a daily basis, but the percentage of female victims remains on a higher side.

“Females being more emotionally vulnerable edge out males in such cases,” says one of the doctors posted in the emergency ward.

But these ‘love fail’ cases often turn murky, when the poisoned lover on a stretcher is carrying a ‘dark underbelly’.

Abda was in 8th class when she consumed a ‘life-threatening dose’ of an insecticide. She was immediately shifted to the Intensive Care Unit, where she was examined and declared fine, despite her stomach being full and stiff.

“I asked her if she had done any mistake recently which might hurt her family’s reputation,” a doctor who attended her says. “To which, she just replied, ‘Shit’.”

Soon after, doctors did her urine pregnancy test. Everyone was shocked when it turned out positive. To recheck it and reassure themselves, the doctors went for Ultra-sonography test of Abda, which showed a baby in her belly!

Initially, Abda’s mother had said that behind the poison consumption was her daughter’s exam failure. Even she didn’t know about her pregnancy and was shocked to know about it.

The doctors soon admitted Abda. But her mother without informing the examiners took her for abortion to some local clinic in order to ‘save her family’s reputation’.

“When the patient came back, she was in shock, her blood pressure was not recordable. It was probably a complication due to the illegal abortion,” says the doctor.

Abda was immediately shifted to the ICU where she died the next day.

In the same ward where Abda breathed her last some years ago, a private company employee Amir was crying by the bedside of his poisoned girlfriend in 2014.

Only a day before, he had found her lively and chirpy during their usual phone conversation.

“When I heard about her poison consumption, I looked back at my recent mistakes which might have led to this horrific scene, but to my surprise the reason was something else,” Amir says.

Through his contacts, he shortly learned that his girlfriend was dating another person, who had dumped her, forcing her to consume poison.

But sadly, the ‘love in poison’ stories in the ‘war zone ward’ don’t end there.

When in the recent past, Rafeeq was admitted here, it turned out that the teenager had lost his girlfriend whom he had befriended at the peak of his family crisis. Behind the poison was his vanished company that he had with him on long walks and on special occasions.

“When she stopped responding to my calls, I was declared depressed,” says Rafeeq. “After some time, I couldn’t take it anymore and tried to end my life by consuming poison.”

He survived and now calls that step ‘dastardly’.

In the din of routine hospital cries, many such cases often fail to send shockwaves around, and alert the larger societal conscience.

Four years later, as a poison survivor, Rafeeq believes that ‘loving life’ over a deserter is more important and one of the best ways to stop the arrival of poisoned lovers in the ‘war zone ward’.

 

All the names in the story have been changed to protect identities. 

 

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