Joydev Mondal, resident of Basanti, Canning Sub Division,South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal was a snake rescuer representing the Juktibadi Sanaskritik Sanstha (JSS), Canning. He died of snake bite on 18 April 2014 at the Gosaba Village Health Centre. He was thirty-five years old, married with two children – a son and a daughter. The younger child was barely two years old when he died.
Joydev was a popular figure locally. He had worked with the JSS for twelve years and had saved the life of many a snake bite victim by taking them to hospitals and not letting them go to local faith healers. This includes an incident when he had taken two children who were snake bite victims to a hospital, something which had endeared him to the entire community.
On 17th April 2014, a day before his death, Joydev had rescued 2 Juvenile Spectacled Cobras (Naja naja). On the fateful day, he was bitten while showing the snake to a forest official. He had caught one of the juvenile snakes by the tail and being small in size it turned back and bit him. Inspite of being an expert Joydev had committed a fatal error – he had forgotten that a juvenile snake being small in size can easily reach near its tail area. Initially Joydev ignored the bite as it was a slight scratch. On the advice of a few well-wishers, he proceeded to the Gosaba Health centre which was on the other side of the river. Precious time had elapsed as he had to wait for the local ferry etc. On arrival, Joydev was administered 20 vials of ASV. A supporting drug, Neostigmine which is supposed to be supplied by the government to every govt hospital and costs somewhere around 10 to 14 rupees was out of stock.
Members of JSS collected Neostigamine from Canning hospital and hurried to Gosaba. But before they could cross the river to Gosaba, news came in of Joydev’s death. As per newspaper report, Dr Samar Roy from Canning hospital and Dr Dayal Bandhu Majumdar both snakebite expert doctors in West Bengal claim that if Neostigmine had reached on time Joydev’s life could have been saved as it would have helped reverse the neurotoxic symptoms (nerve paralysis) due to the Cobra bite.
Point to be noted here is that a Govt. Hospital located at may be the most snakebite prone area of West Bengal did not have the essential drug. The doctors on the ground did not check on this essential life saving drug inventory. According to Dr Majumdar the total cost of vials of ASV used in this case was Rs 8,000 (Rs Eight Thousand) but the Neostigmine injection costed a mere Rs 14 (Rs Fourteen). To add to this, the health care personnel were not able to intubate Joydev and he finally died due to airway obstruction with mucus secreted from the respiratory tract. If Joydev was resuscitated with an ambu bag or life support system at that point, he would have had a better chance of survival.
At the end of it all we have the sad case of a young man dying in the prime of his life due to an act of carelessness on his part and highest level of inefficiency of the government rural health centres who do not take the treatment of snake bite with the seriousness that is needed. An ambu bag which is an affordable equipment and can be manually operated or a portable life support system could have helped save Joydev’s life.
His wife must wonder every day whether it was that difficult to save her husband. Joydev’s children lost their father as toddlers. A whole family’s life changed forever due to this unfortunate incident.
Written by Dev Kumar Vasudevan & Priyanka Kadam with inputs from Dr Dayal Bandhu Majumdar, Dr Samar Roy and Prabhudan Haldar (A retired school teacher from Basanti, WB).