Blog: A 5-Year-Old's Eyes Won't Let Me Sleep

Outside the Firozabad medical college, a 12-year-old boy was running around carrying a little girl. The girl had high fever, so much that she could not open her eyes.

The boy and his parents kept begging the doctor at the emergency to admit the girl but the doctor said there was no place available. "Take the medicines and take her home," the family was told.

But the girl's condition was worsening. My cameraman Ashok Mahale and I were shooting in the vicinity. Suddenly, we spotted the girl's mother crying.

When we went there and asked, we learnt that five-year-old Savanya had been unwell for two days and the family had been running around since morning, desperate to get hospital admission.

We went to the doctor and, after some argument, the doctor agreed to admit her. He asked the family to take Savanya to the second flood ward.

Her older brother Vishal carried her to the ward.

Savanya's mother kept touching her cheek, nudging her and asking her, "Open your eyes".

But the child was so weak that she couldn't open her eyes. Her mother kept saying she had not eaten for two days.

I decided to follow the family to the ward.

The staff stopped my cameraman but I slinked in.

Savanya started thrashing about. Her parents tried to force some water through her pursed lips. But she vomited it out. 

Her mother took her in her lap and said soothingly, "See... we have finally got a bed for you. Now you can rest... you won't feel so warm."

Little Savanya opened her eyes and turned to see her mother. And her eyes stayed open.

Her mother screamed: "Doctor! She is awake and not blinking".

I shouted for the doctor too. He rushed to check; the mother was rubbing Savanya's feet.

The doctor examined her chest.

He need not have said it aloud.

The child had died, her gaze, lifeless, on her mother.

Her mother shrieked out her name and started weeping. Her brother folded his hands before the doctor, as if he could work a miracle.

There was no other sound in the ward, it seemed.

I didn't know what to do. I took out my phone and started shooting. A mother in pain and a father, helpless.

When the hospital realised I am a journalist they started pushing me away. But while being ushered out of the ward, I glanced at Savanya. Those eyes appeared to be on me.

I went down and waited for her body. To avoid the media, the hospital staff rushed with Savanya's body on a stretcher, almost dropping it in their scramble.

Vishal kept shouting: "My sister was not admitted in time and she died."

As the ambulance drove away, I called office and asked them to take my report.

When I came out of the hospital, I saw a woman clutching the body of a one-year-old boy. "My boy had high fever for the past three days...today he is absolutely cold..."

When the ambulance was taking away the infant, she cried out so loudly that it almost masked the siren.

All day I kept reporting these tragic stories.

When I was leaving around 9 pm, everything seemed fine just 100 metres from the hospital.

I set out for Delhi. It was close to midnight when I reached home.

I drank water and sat on my bed, reading congratulatory messages from people on my reporting.

But my heart was heavy. All I could see was five-year-old Savanya and her unblinking stare.

I could not sleep.

I have seen many die in the past year in the pandemic, especially in the deadly second wave. I have seen countless bodies being cremated.

I can't fathom what was so different about today.

Little Savanya's eyes won't let me sleep.

So far, over 50 children have died in Uttar Pradesh of dengue.

(Saurabh Shukla is Special Correspondent, NDTV India)

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