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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

At Delhi’s Lok Nayak hospital, an unprecedented crisis

Desperation outside, perseverance inside — The Indian Express spends two days at the hospital which has been at the forefront of the capital’s fight against Covid

Written by Ashna Butani , Jignasa Sinha , Astha Saxena | New Delhi |
Updated: April 21, 2021 8:21:17 am
Covid-19 patients waiting out side LNJP hospital in New Delhi. (Express photo by Anil Sharma)

For the first time since the pandemic struck the national capital, Lok Nayak hospital — Delhi government’s largest Covid-only facility — is running at full capacity. And the strain is beginning to show — both on healthcare workers inside and desperate families outside. The Indian Express spent two days outside the hospital, which has been at the forefront of the national capital’s fight against Covid.

On Tuesday, a board inside the hospital made it clear: No beds were available at the time. The total number of beds in the hospital is 1,500. This includes 400 for ICU patients and 200 for those on a ventilator.

But that didn’t stop ambulances from queuing up outside — as one was told to turn around, another took its place. At the gates were distraught family members trying to get patients admitted, and security guards tasked with explaining the situation to them.

At 4:15 pm, an ambulance with a patient in his 50s reached, but was stopped at the gate. A security guard said, “We are not letting ambulances in because they get stuck inside. So a family member goes in and completes the formalities. If a bed is available, we open the doors for the vehicle.”

As the patient’s breathing became laboured and he started gasping for help, his family decided to try to get him admitted elsewhere. Around 5 pm, they headed to RML hospital.

At the gates were distraught family members trying to get patients admitted, and security guards tasked with explaining the situation to them.

An ambulance driver outside said he had never seen such a “grim situation” before — “not even last year”. “It is only when a patient dies or recovers that a new patient can be admitted,” he said.

He said that many families keep calling ambulance drivers in the hope of getting a patient on oxygen inside the vehicle till a bed is available. “We all have small cylinders in our ambulances. Since oxygen is in short supply, we end up filling the cylinders at Rs 500 when the actual cost is Rs 250. These last for approximately an hour. Sometimes, when there is absolutely no oxygen available anywhere, we have to pick up the patient without it… We have seen people die inside our ambulances,” he said.

Ambulances line up outside mortuary of LNJP Hospital to pick and drop Covid-19 bodies in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

Also at the hospital on Tuesday was Ashish Pawar (27), who said he was transferring his mother to a private hospital. “She has been here for almost a week. Her oxygen levels are very low. We even arranged plasma for her. We have decided to take her elsewhere since she is not recovering,” he said.

Shattered, say doctors

Dr Ritu Saxena, who has been coordinating with the Covid patients for over a year now, said the last three days have been “the toughest”. “The surge has left us shattered and in shock. All healthcare workers are mentally exhausted; it can’t be expressed in words. We have admitted around 70 patients in an hour and the crowd at the hospital’s emergency area is difficult to manage. Between all this, several healthcare workers are also testing positive and those who are left are disheartened and demotivated,” she told The Indian Express on Monday.

Dr Suresh Kumar, the hospital’s medical superintendent who has been actively involved in the treatment of patients as well, said: “Many patients in the hospital are from NCR areas. About a third of the patients admitted here are from Noida, Ghaziabad, Haryana, Sonipat, etc. Since the number of admissions have gone up significantly over the last few days and there is a shortage of oxygen supply across the country, we have put around 200 patients on oxygen concentrators. These patients are in need of low oxygen supply and we are trying to use the high oxygen flow for critical patients in need. This is the first time that we are facing this crisis.”

From far and wide

Among those who had come from outside the capital was Anjali Nigam (45), who left her kids aged 15 and 11 at home in Agra and came to Delhi to get her husband Dhiren Kumar (50) admitted on Sunday. She said that while several relatives had called to check on Dhiren, none offered to give her refuge while she was in Delhi.

Family members wearing gloves and sanitizing outside the mortuary of LNJP Hospital while they wait for Covid-19 bodies in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

“Dhiren complained of breathlessness and fever two days ago. We got him tested but before we could get the results, his condition deteriorated. His blood pressure and oxygen saturation level dropped to 80. I was scared and called our relatives but nobody came to help us. A helper at Dhiren’s office took us to at least five hospitals in Agra but doctors didn’t admit him,” she said.

Around 11 pm on Saturday night, when a family doctor suggested that Dhiren needed a bed with oxygen and might need a ventilator, Anjali brought him to Delhi. “We reached around 3 am on Sunday. There was no bed at Lok Nayak and we waited in line. After two hours, we got a bed and admitted him.”

Outside, she said she has no place to rest or access to a clean bathroom. And the lockdown has meant hotels and restaurants nearby are closed too.

Around noon on Sunday, 53-year-old Mansoor Alam called his relatives in Ghaziabad to inform them about the death of his nephew, Md Shahid (33), who had been shifted to the hospital recently.

“His mother is sitting on the footpath, waiting for an update on his health. How do I tell her that she has lost her son? He was the sole breadwinner after his father passed away,” said Alam.

Five days ago, Shahid complained of chest pain and suffered a heart attack. The family said they called at least seven hospitals in Ghaziabad but in vain. Alam then drove Shahid to Delhi and admitted him to GB Pant Hospital where doctors treated him. However, on Saturday, he tested positive for Covid.

“Doctors at GB Pant referred him to Lok Nayak and we got a bed. We thought he would recover soon but I received a call from the doctors 10 minutes ago. They said he died due to Covid. What do I do now?” said Alam.

While the crowd on Sunday was less than on weekdays, families of patients waited in line outside to send food and essentials to their loved ones. A few also requested authorities to facilitate a video call with the patient.

Bali Singh, 75, a resident of Shalimar Bagh, sat alone in a corner.

“My daughter Nisha and her husband both tested positive on Saturday. Her husband is under home isolation in Nanakpura. She called me late at night and told me to take her to a hospital. I managed to get a cab and took her to Lok Nayak but there was no bed here. Today, we got a bed. I am hoping she recovers soon.”

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