While approaching the main Mayo Hospital building from front, if you turn towards right and take the road that leads to the parking lot near Jamia Masjid you come across a building rising from the ground. Here one can see people walking slowly on an elevated pathway and heading towards the main entrance to this building. The visitors to this place are mostly the patients who were treated at the Mayo Hospital and referred here for further treatment or post-treatment care, which means recuperating. Those who are prescribed pathological tests and treatments like chemotherapy and radiation also come to the place as it provides them everything free of cost.
The facility is called Shams Shahabuddin Convalescent Home that welcomes the patients who need medical care and are too poor to pay for it.
The building has a rich history. At this site there is an around 350 years old chaubara (a single room or cell) that belonged to Chajju Bhagat — a man who devoted his life to the worship of God. People would come to him from everywhere to discuss their problems, illnesses etc., and he would pray for them and prescribe remedies.
Centuries after Bhagat passed away, the place was chosen for yet another noble cause. In 1936, the Lahore Hospital Welfare Society was set up by a group of Hindu and Muslim women living in the city who started a Convalescent Home for patients of the Mayo Hospital at this location. After Partition, the Hindu women left and the society flourished under the leadership of Begum Justice Shams Shahabuddin who laid the foundation of the present facility. It was named after her when she died.
At the moment, there are 140 beds available at the facility. Once the patients are admitted here, their entire stay is free. Throughout the duration of their stay, they receive free diagnosis, medical treatment, medicines, nursing care, lodging, diet, and so on. All expenses of the Home are covered through donations coming in from different individuals and groups, and there are hardly any campaigns launched at the mass level.
Cyma Sikandar Khan, Member Executive Committee & Joint Secretary Finance at the Home, says the accounts are properly audited and each and every penny is spent on the treatment and care of the patients. “We maintain a low profile and do not seek public attention. All members of the society struggle on their own to raise funds and reach out to people for the purpose but there is not much noise.”
Khan reveals that as per an estimate around 50,000 patients visit the facility every year. Some of them stay for a couple of days whereas others much longer. The patients who stay longer include those who require chemotherapy and radiation therapy, or orthopedic treatment. The cost of these treatments is quite high but the Home covers these from the available funds.
According to Khan, “We ensure the patients feel at home and are properly taken care of. For example, there are air-conditioners and televisions in the wards that make the patients’ stay comfortable. The patients get quality meal cooked in a hygienic environment three times a day. Those with special dietary requirements get the food as specified; this may include soft diet, fruit juices, etc.
“There’s a clean and spacious dining room where the patients and their attendants can sit and eat. If they want to take their food to the wards, nobody stops them. The focus is on making them feel comfortable.”
Shahida Saeed, the head nurse at the facility, who has spent around 40 years of her life here, says that up till 2000, only women and children were accommodated at the Home. Today, there are two male wards and a family ward in addition to the wards meant exclusively for women and children.
Saeed also speaks of a ward and play area for the children who are referred to the Home for treatment. “The purpose is to give them [the children] a stress-free and conducive environment where they can forget their illnesses and pains.”
Most of the children referred here are thalassemia patients.
The main treatments offered include radiotherapy and injections for chemotherapy patients, physiotherapy, post-operative care etc. Prosthesis and belts are provided to patients with amputated limbs and spinal troubles respectively. Medical treatment for diseases such as meningitis, CVS disorders, burns, renal failure etc is also available.
Razia Bibi, a woman in his 40s, is visiting the place for many years. Her daughter suffers from a severe bone disease that has restricted her mobility. She brings her to the Home from time to time as the girl needs regular orthopedic treatment and advice on how to manage her disability. The girl has to stay for longer periods of time as it is not easy to move her from one place to the other again and again.
Bibi says she is not in a position to pay for the treatment of her daughter even for a week’s stay, “Thanks to the Convalescent Home, our entire medical expenses are being taken care of.”
This time she is here for the admission of her husband who fell from their house rooftop and fractured his backbone. Bibi knows her husband’s treatment will be a long one and he would not be able to work. She also knows she will not have to beg for financial help from anybody.
Maryam Manzoor belongs to Jaranwala, near Faisalabad. She has brought her husband to the Home after being referred by doctors at Mayo Hospital. Her husband suffered from a severe allergic condition and was later diagnosed with a liver disease. Out of work for about six months, it was impossible for the family to bear the medical expenses. Again, this is where the Convalescent Home came to help.
Finally, Manzoor is getting the treatment, healthy diet and nursing care he requires. His health is improving. He says he might be leaving for home in a day or two and would be back after Eid holidays.
A few years back, the Home was served a notice by the Mayo Hospital management in which it was asked to vacate the property. The reason mentioned was that this location was suitable for construction of a surgical tower in the hospital and the Punjab government wanted to acquire it for this purpose. But the plan did not materialise as the Convalescent Home management approached the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), which manages the evacuee properties, and took the plea that the hospital or the provincial government had no control over it.
Muhammad Hafeez, who looks after the accounts and administrative affairs of the facility, tells TNS that the executive committee and the members of the society are mostly women who devote their time and energies for this cause. He says they do not launch public campaigns or place advertisements in popular media; instead, they use their personal contacts to reach out to people for donations. Belonging to well-to-do families, they use their social links for the noble cause.
“For example, Nusrat Jalal [president of the society, and the daughter of the legendary writer late Saadat Hasan Manto] is leading the drive with great enthusiasm and she’s inspired others.”
Hafeez says that at the moment the monthly expenses are around Rs2 million per month; this may increase in the times to come as the number of patients and treatment costs are both rising.
There are regular donors who are convinced that their money is being spent judiciously. The Home receives donations from people regardless of the amount and values the spirit more than anything else, Hafeez adds.