Ajay Chandanwale was enjoying his dinner break on Wednesday evening when he got the first hint that he would be spending most of the next three days in an operating theater.
“I was in my room eating some food when colleagues told me that there had been an emergency involving people being shot,” said Chandanwale, head of orthopedics at the Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy hospital in Mumbai.
“Victims were soon being brought in bleeding and were pleading for us to save them. They were scared, frightened. They must have seen others dying in front of them,” he said. “I rushed to the casualty section with colleagues. We formed teams and started operating. We didn’t even look out of the theater until dawn.”
Around 30 doctors, joined by anesthetists and nurses, worked non-stop to conduct 32 operations over the next 48 hours.
“Each of these surgeries lasted three to four hours. Every doctor handled four operating tables at once,” Chandanwale said. “After finishing each operation, we would catch a quick glimpse of the television. We could see it was a war-like situation.”
There was tight security during the desperate rush to save lives after news emerged that another hospital in the city had been targeted by the militants.
All doctors and staff not on duty at the time were called in. Hospital attendants and medical students also rushed to help in whatever way they could.
“I worked without a break. We would have our lunch and dinner inside the operating theater,” Chandanwale, 46, said.
By Thursday morning, more than 100 people had been brought to the hospital.
“One by one, survivors were coming in from other hospitals. Most of them had bullet injuries in their limbs and chest,” he said.
The hospital staff managed to rest only after security forces gained control of the city’s Taj Mahal hotel on Saturday morning, bringing an end to the militant assault that had left at least 172 people dead.
“All that time, I slept in my chair only for 30 minutes,” Chandanwale said. “Finally, I came out of the hospital after three days.”
The “high velocity trauma” of the bullets led to many bone injuries and lacerated wounds, Chandanwale said.
“Those who suffered grenade injuries were mostly brought dead,” he said.
The doctor said it was the first time that the hospital’s staff, which has dealt with the aftermath of Mumbai serial bombings in 1993 and 2006, had seen bullet injuries on such a scale.
“We have treated gunshot wounds before, but they would be from gang wars,” he said. “Blast injuries are much worse than bullet ones as particles are lodged in so many parts of the body.”
“In a bullet injury, there is no pain initially but a lot of bleeding,” said Chandanwale, who himself was shot during Hindu-Muslim riots in 1980.
“I believe God saved me then for this day, so that I could use that experience to help others,” he said. “We were all tremendously tired, both physically and mentally. After all, we are also human beings.”