He drove 3 kms with 300 pellets in his arm to reach the hospital. Once his wounds healed nightmares followed. Heena Muzzafar tells this brave heart ambulance drivers story and struggle for peace
On July 18, ten days after Burhan Wani’s killing in south Kashmir’s Bamdoora village, Ghulam Mohammad Sofi, 29, an ambulance driver with PHC Wussan, was sitting at home, ready to move at a short notice, as he lives nearby.
At 7 pm, he got a call from the hospital asking him to ferry two patients: an 11-month-old infant suffering from appendicitis and young boy who had broken his arm while playing cricket – to SMHS hospital Srinagar.
Half-an-hour later Sofi was on his way to SMHS.
As he reached near Sekidafar police station, still 3 kms short of hospital, he saw a large contingent of CRFP personnels deployed on the road. There were a few local policemen too. As the road was strewn with large stones, wooden planks and brick, Sofi began steering past it slowly.
Sofi could sense that the CRPF personnel guarding the deserted roads were drunk. All of a sudden, as the slow moving ambulance crossed CRPF personnel, one of them fired his pellet gun at Sofi. “It hit the driver’s window with a bang, shattering the glass into pieces,” recalls Sofi. “I was hit in the right arm. It missed my skull by just a few inches.”
Sofi cried out loudly with pain. There was blood everywhere. He was bleeding. The CRPF personnel had emptied an entire cartridge in his arm, around 300 pellets. “I felt the presence of small iron pieces in my arm, making it stiff.”
As Sofi tried to control the vehicle he saw J&K police personnels, who were present on the road, run away. “Normally I would have rushed to the nearby police station and asked for help. But when I saw policemen run away, I decided to drive instead,” said Sofi.
Sofi hit the accelerator, crushing the stones, wooden planks and bricks under his tire, and drove past towards SHMS hospital. “I wanted to reach the hospital before I would faint of blood loss.”
Once at SMHS, Sofi left his ambulance at the gate and ran towards the emergency ward.
“I didn’t waste time in waiting for a stretcher or help from the volunteers,” said Sofi. “I knew I had lost blood. So every second was crucial.”
Besides, Sofi was aware of his complications, as he has O –ve blood group. “A few days back I did HB test and I had 14 pints of blood. Now I had lost 3 pints within fifteen minutes.”
After basic first aid, Sofi was sent to Bone and Joints (B&J) hospital, Barzulla, where he underwent a surgery at 10:30 pm. Once Sofi opened his eyes, he saw his brother standing near him. “Somebody from SMHS has taken his number from my phone and informed him,” recalls Sofi.
After staying at B&J hospital for a week Sofi was shifted to SKIMS, Soura for plastic surgery. “By then I had just 8 pints of blood left,” said Sofi.
Once out of SKIMS hospital, Sofi struggled with the nightmares. He would get up in the middle of the night and feel threatened.
Sofi felt lucky and unlucky at the same time; lucky for being alive, and unlucky for going through near death experience. “Out of 300 pellets, I still carry a few in my arms,” said Soif, as doctors failed to remove all of them during surgery. “I was told by the doctors that these pellets are too small. They won’t do any harm.”
Initially, Sofi confined himself to his house, skipping any interaction with the people, thinking it might help his forget the incident. But he was wrong. “This made me sink deeper into depression,” said Sofi.
Two months later, after long counselling sessions by his relatives, colleagues and friends, Sofi was back on duty.
Keeping Sofi’s situation in view, the hospital administration at Wussan, Ganderbal, transferred him to nearby Manigham area on temporary basis. “This was done to avoid questions from colleagues and strangers,” said Sofi.
Sofi, a father of two kids: Faizan (7) and Adfar Jan (8), lives in a modest house with his wife and mother.
As the winter sets in, Sofi withers in pain almost every evening, leaving an indelible impression on his kid’s young minds. “Every morning my daughter calls, requesting me not to visit Srinagar,” said Sofi.
Sofi son, who used to play with CRPF personnels stationed near his house, is now afraid to step out of his home. “They (CRPF) men used to distribute candies among small kids. A few days back my son threw them back when he was offered a few,” said Sofi.
After the incident, Sofi’s son Faizan, who studies in Army Goodwill School, Kangan, began asking his father to shift him to a local school. “He told me I cannot go to their school. They are the ones who shot you,” said Sofi.
Now Faizan studies at a local school. “They feel and understand things. Despite being young, the conflict has matured them,” said Sofi.