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Nightmare at noon: Patients die gasping for air at Delhi hospital

As the macabre crisis of oxygen shortage, overstretched resources, and overworked healthcare workers continued unabated in Delhi, families and friends ran from pillar to post to get their loved ones into hospitals, mostly without success.

A patient waiting outside a hopital to get admitted. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Around noon on Thursday, a 44-year-old woman lay on a stretcher outside GTB Hospital in East Delhi, gasping for breath. Her husband and daughter pleaded with the guards to allow her to be taken to the emergency ward so she could be given her oxygen.

As precious minutes passed, the woman’s breathing became more laboured. After more than an hour, she was finally wheeled in. A few minutes later, her husband and daughter walked out with her body on the same stretcher.

As the macabre crisis of oxygen shortage, overstretched resources, and overworked healthcare workers continued unabated in Delhi, families and friends ran from pillar to post to get their loved ones into hospitals, mostly without success.

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“She had a cough and cold for the last few days. She started to have breathing problems last evening, after which our family doctor prescribed some medicines and she slept well,” said 50-year-old K P Singh, brother-in-law of the woman who died at GTB.

Family members outside a hospital in New Delhi on Thursday. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

“But this morning, the problem started again, and we brought her to the hospital.” The family said even after they managed to get in, no oxygen could be given to her.

As Delhi has detected 25,000 new cases of Covid infection on average daily for the past week, the number of patients needing hospital care has risen sharply. But hospitals have been complaining of an acute shortage of oxygen since Monday — and some have been turning away patients despite having beds only because there is no oxygen to administer to them.

GTB, the second largest Covid facility in the capital after Lok Nayak Hospital, was among the hospitals that sounded an alarm over depleting oxygen stocks on Wednesday. They did get some supply, but it was not enough to meet the demand.

At the hospital’s gate on Thursday, security guards pleaded that the emergency unit was understaffed and stretched to breaking point.

Read |Delhi High Court to Centre: Beg, borrow, steal, it’s your job to get oxygen

There were several cases like that of the woman who died on the stretcher. One family with whom The Indian Express could speak to fleetingly said they had been allowed to go in after a wait of several hours. The patient, who was 53 years old, died around 3 pm.

Shashank Tomar (29), who said he was the patient’s nephew, said his uncle had symptoms of Covid, but they had been unable to get him tested for the virus. “He had fever for two days and shortness of breath since last night. We got him to the hospital today because he needed oxygen support. We wanted to get him tested but that would have taken a few hours, and he was in critical need of oxygen.” He was given oxygen at the hospital, but it was too late by then, Tomar said.

Hospitals have been complaining of an acute shortage of oxygen since Monday — and some have been turning away patients despite having beds only because there is no oxygen to administer to them. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

A man who identified himself as Rajyavardhan Singh from Dilshad Colony reached the hospital on a bike with his wife and her 62-year-old father, who had difficulty breathing. They had made rounds of a number of clinics, including Jyoti Nursing Home and Kapoor Medical Centre, since the morning, but had failed to get admission, Singh said.

Also Read |‘I am so angry that I am numb’: Families of Covid patients scramble for oxygen in Delhi

At GTB, Singh’s father-in-law collapsed on the ground, after which a ward boy called them inside so that he could be put on oxygen support. Singh said he had been tested for Covid, but had not got the result yet.

“We do not know if it is Covid… he started having breathing problems two days ago. He has diabetes. We came here to check if he had Covid, and to get him on oxygen support,” Singh said.

Singh was among many who could not find an ambulance to bring the patient to hospital. Pramod Kumar Sharma (56), who was able to get his younger brother (37) admitted to the emergency unit after a long wait said they had come to the hospital in their own vehicle. Emerging from the emergency ward, he told The Indian Express that oxygen was in short supply, and not everyone was getting it.

A patient waiting outside LNJP Hospital in New Delhi on Thursday. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Every few minutes, an ambulance, a private vehicle or an auto reached the entrance of the emergency ward. At around 2 pm, a patient who had collapsed in the auto was immediately taken in on a stretcher. A few were admitted to the casualty ward.

Also Read |COVID-19 vaccination: Here’s what is safe to do after the second dose

Most families who reached the emergency unit did not know if their patient had Covid or not. Patients and their families waited in a line outside the emergency unit and guards struggled to manage the situation. Some patients were on stretchers, others needed the help of a family member to walk.

At 2.55 pm, a fight broke out between a family who had just lost a patient and a doctor. The doctor had arrived for his duty at 3 pm. When the family asked him why he was not inside helping patients at the time, he explained that there was a team of doctors and nurses doing the needful. However, the infuriated family said nobody was present inside to help them when their patient was struggling to survive.

Families also complained that the Corona app showed that there were over 300 vacant beds in the hospital. Yet, very few were being admitted and critical patients with breathing problems were being taken into the emergency ward, where they said they were given little to no care.

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