Her name is Stella. Found lying on a pavement on Blacker’s Road, off Anna Salai, on Wednesday morning, this 80 year old was almost unconscious. Holding on to a small jute bag and a walking stick in her wrinkled hands, Stella was a picture of plight. And she stank. Flies swarmed around her as there was a pile of garbage close to her head. A few metres away from where she laid, a portion of the wall served as a public urinal. A man was seen jumping over her to reach the urinal.
Bystanders, including autorickshaw drivers at a stand and a parking lot attendant, said she had been spotted on the pavement here several times. Upon probing, Stella said in her toothless babble: “I fell down last night while picking garbage here.” She pointed to a bruise on her right elbow. Since no one came forward to help her up, she continued to lie there. Finally dialling ‘108’ brought the ambulance and Stella was shifted to the Government General Hospital.
For the hospital attendants, though, Stella was yet another of the many “unknown patients” who get dumped here on an everyday basis. GH Resident Medical Officer A.Muthurajan said sometimes people admitted old patients and never returned to take them back.
S. Santhosh, a social worker at the Elder Helpline ‘1253’ said that in a month they received at least 50 cases of old men and women lying abandoned in street corners, bus stops or railway stations. “There may be many more such cases that go unreported,” he said. The city has 52 free old age homes, some government-run and others managed by NGOs, to cater to such persons. “But, these homes would admit them only if they were found to be destitute,” he said.
Geriatrician V.S.Natarajan, who previously headed the geriatric ward at the Government General Hospital, observed that most old persons found unconscious or abandoned on the streets suffered from a multitude of health problems such as lack of nutrition and starvation, skin infection, chest infection, dehydration and mobility problems.
D.D.A. Prabhakaran of non-governmental organisation Little Drops urged the public to be proactive and report cases of old people found lying abandoned on the streets. “The least we can do is to pick up the phone and dial 1253,” he said.
(Originally published in The Hindu, Chennai edition, Jan 01, 2009)