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Monday, June 14, 2021

Haryana: Retired doctor on Covid duty, wife succumb to virus

Left alone, daughter calls it murder; colleagues say state govt unclear on compensation to NHM employees working on contract

Written by Pallavi Singhal | Panchkula |
Updated: May 16, 2021 7:44:38 am
Kiran with her parents Dr Ajay Sharma and Dr Indu Sharma. (Express)

With her doctor parents succumbing to Covid-19 within three days of each other, Kiran Sharma, 28, is torn between grief and rage. ‘‘They healed people all their life, my father came out of retirement to tend to patients, and he died for want of care. My parents were murdered by an incompetent system,’’ rages Kiran, an only child.

Her father Dr Ajay Sharma, 58, a well-known anaesthetist, joined the National Health Mission Program at Naraingarh hospital in Ambala district on contract in 2017. One of the few anaesthetists in the district, he was deputed at the 300-bed Ambala Covid hospital for 14 days on April 15. “He was old with comorbidities, yet they sent him to work in the heart of the Covid ward,” alleges Kiran. It wasn’t long before he developed minor symptoms in the first week of May. By May 6, the entire family had tested positive. As Dr Ajay’s condition deteriorated, he was admitted to Naraingarh hospital on May 7 before being shifted to Ambala hospital on May 9.

Dr Sanjeev Sidhu, SMO at the Naraingarh government hospital, says, “We had to send him to Ambala as we don’t have CT-scan or other equipment here.”

Kiran alleges that when she went to see her father at Ambala, he was waiting for oxygen. ‘‘They hadn’t even put him on glucose. I badgered the doctors there who finally put him on oxygen. A night earlier, his sugar levels shot up to 700. I requested the doctors attending on him to give him insulin, but they refused, saying my father didn’t want it.”

The next she knew he had passed away on April 11. Fearing that her mother Dr Indu Sharma would not be able to take the shock, Kiran kept the news to herself, and pretended all was well. She was at the cremation grounds in Ambala when she got a distress call from her mother. “She said she could not breathe and was coughing blood.’’ Kiran dashed home to Ramgarh only to find her mother lying unconscious on the floor near the kitchen. “Her oxygen levels were at 60, but I was glad she was breathing.’’

She rushed her to civil hospital Panchkula where she was shifted to Covid oxygen ward. For Kiran, it was the beginning of another nightmare. “I had to fight through the night to get her into ICU. There is a complete collapse of health infrastructure. I made calls to the most influential people I know who made further calls. My mother was given an ICU bed and put on a ventilator only after midnight,” she recounts.

As her mother Dr Indu Sharma battled the virus on the ventilator inside the ICU, Kiran fought outside for medicines. “The hospitals and staff are overwhelmed. They don’t even have adequate gloves and masks, I had to run around to get simple medicines like Vitamin C injections. It seemed people were being brought only so that they could die. They were given oxygen and after that it was their luck if they survived.’’

Kiran has also accused doctors at Panchkula Civil Hospital of not giving life-saving drugs to her mother. “The treating chart of my mother shows she was given two vials of Remdesivir but I am sure she was not. They only injected her with medications I brought from the pharmacy outside. My mother confirmed the same, attendants and patients next to her too say she was not given the drug,” she alleged.

Panchkula CMO Dr Jasjeet Kaur told The Indian Express, “This should not be happening. I will probe this matter. Similar allegations were brought to my notice earlier. I have put up a fresh list of doctors who can administer Remdesivir.’’

The deaths have drawn widespread flak from the medical fraternity in Haryana. Fellow doctors have questioned the way Dr Ajay was posted in the Covid ward despite his age and comorbidities. “Nowhere in Haryana are such senior doctors being deputed in Covid wards, especially for intensive care. They did nothing to prevent his death, he should have been given the best treatment but instead he died for want of adequate treatment,” alleges a Haryana government doctor, who requested anonymity.

Dr Sanjeev Sidhu, when asked about Dr Ajay’s deputation, said, “There is an acute shortage of anaesthetists and intensive care doctors in Ambala region. Our Naraingarh hospital had only two, and we had to send both to Ambala hospital on orders of the CMO.”

Ambala CMO Dr Kuldeep Singh did not take repeated calls nor did he respond to messages sent by The Indian Express.

Kiran, who is studying law, says she has been orphaned by Covid. Her father has no siblings and her mother’s family in the US is not in touch. ‘‘I am on my own,” she sobs.

Dr Sheel Pajni, secretary of the Haryana Civil Medical Services, says last year, the Haryana government had announced that government doctors who die on Covid duty will receive a compensation of Rs 50 lakh, but there are no such directions for doctors hired on contract by NHM.

While the Healthcare Employees Union of Haryana has demanded Rs 50 lakh as life insurance with an additional Rs 10 lakh as immediate help to the family, Dr Sanjeev Sidhu says he is yet to receive any orders.

With her mother passing away in Panchkula on Friday morning, the 28-year-old finally found time to pick up the ashes of her father from the Ambala crematorium on Friday, after which she rushed back to Panchkula to cremate her mother. She says now she has only one thing to look forward to, “I will collect mummy’s ashes on Sunday, and sprinkle them both under a tree in my garden, and watch them grow back again.”

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