Waiting For a COVID-19 Hospital Bed in Delhi: A Personal Experience

Waiting For a COVID-19 Hospital Bed in Delhi: A Personal Experience

The national capital is imploding and the public medical infrastructure is in a state of intentional ruin. Central hospitals don’t even have functional bathrooms, forget oxygen or higher-level care.

My cellphone rings at 3:30 am. “Can you come now, my father is in the hospital,” said a man on the other end. It was a serious affair. My friend Prateek Mukherjee (name changed) had spent the last four hours trying to get his fever-stricken and delirious father Shiv Mukherjee, a 69-year-old retired english professor, admitted to emergency at the Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital.


By 4 am, a kind-hearted doctor admitted him to the non-COVID-19 ward at RML. We rushed to finish the diagnostic checklist — CT scans, X-rays, blood tests — before Mr Mukherjee saw ward no. 9. On our way to the ward building, I glimpsed at a board. It read, “COVID-19 bed availability — oxygen beds — 64 and COVID-19 suspect ward beds — 5″. Dawn was breaking and we took a sigh of relief. But the day was only going to get harder.


Ward no. 9

The ward had four blue-coloured beds, four fans, four tube lights and long curtains torn off. The grim reaper had taken away its only occupant last night. Mr Mukherjee was given the freshly sanitised bed no. 1, put on oxygen. He finally slept with transparent and yellow IV drips tucked in his veins. Four floors below, hopelessness, cries and mourning continued.


About 11 am, two more patients were carted in — one on the ventilator and the other only two hours away from his death. While Mr Mukherjee slept, his world was about to change. We were told to get his COVID-19 test done by the consulting resident doctor.


Explaining the rationale, a young resident doctor dressed in maroon scrubs told us, “We can’t intervene much till the COVID-19 test results are negative, as two out of the four doctors have tested positive. The nurses refused to administer medicines too. If more people are infected, the hospital will collapse.” So Prateek and I took turns to stand in a four-hour long queue, trying to get COVID-19 test kits at the hospital. Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stress on digital India, we had to suffer through many altercations and line cuttings under the hot sun blazing as we waited. Others who came after us had a longer day ahead.


By this time, day one was ending, and Mr Mukherjee’s sample was collected. We dreaded the worst and hoped it was not COVID-19. Meanwhile, I again checked the COVID-19 vacancy board. It said there were still vacancies. But the truth was stranger.


On returning to the ward, a decision was made. Mr Mukherjee was to be transferred to the COVID-19 suspect ward (SARI), which had vacancies according to the board. But the doctor on duty blankly refused. Were the stats at the central hospital being fudged? I tried to argue, but the doctor still did not budge.


Disheartened, I returned to the ward. With each floor, I was entering a new circle of hell with anxious, sad faces and rejected patients. And then the curfew was announced. The patients and their attendants were even more alarmed.

By the evening, Mr Mukherjee was in better condition. We talked of Somerset Maugham and James Joyce, Bengali writers and fish. He went back to sleep and I started to look around. I headed to the ward’s toilet. They were in disrepair, leaking and had no soap! One wondered how can this grand central hospital function with dysfunctional bathrooms?


But that was the least of our worries. Day 2 brought not just the curfew but also grimmer news. Mr Mukherjee was COVID-19 positive. The doctor on duty gave us 60 minutes to leave the ward and transfer the patient to “wherever we can”. I checked the COVID-19 board again. It still showed that there were vacancies in the COVID-19 ward.


But all the doctors gave written statements saying that no beds were available. So who was lying? The board or the doctors? Meanwhile, the Delhi government announced that people can register complaints against hospitals for misreporting. But who was really listening?


We had two challenges. Where do we take Mr Mukherjee and where do we get oxygen? We went from hospitals in Shalimar Bagh to Dwarka, looking for beds. We had to take him back home, for the city had no beds left. For oxygen, we ran from Laxmi Nagar to Shakti Nagar, spending Rs 20,000 for a 2,000 litre oxygen cylinder at 12 am, so that Mr Mukherjee could survive the night. Fortunately, he did.


Day 3 was kinder, as we managed to plead and get a bed at a hospital. But on day 4, after making at least two hundred phone calls, we found ourselves in a four-hour queue again, trying to get access to Remdesivir.


As we continued fighting death and disease, we learnt something too. Delhi is imploding, and the public medical infrastructure is in a state of intentional ruin. Central hospitals don’t even have functional bathrooms, forget oxygen or higher-level care. Medical professionals are in the war zone, caught between decaying hospitals and dying patients.


Luckily, Mr Mukherjee is getting better at a private hospital while others are dying due to neglect and wasteful usage of public money on PR campaigns. The rich will survive, courtesy of their money, but even God can’t save the poor. Our public health system is being overburdened due to bad policy, similar to what happened in Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, and primed for disinvestment and corporate takeover.

Originally published at https://thewire.in.


Link: https://thewire.in/government/covid-19-hospital-bed-delhi-first-person

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