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For patients from tribal districts, 60-140 km journey for oxygen-equipped bed, critical care in Surat

Till Tuesday evening, the Covid hospital at NCH had 606 patients on oxygen support, 339 on BiPAP, 24 on ventilator. In SMIMER hospital, 188 patients were on oxygen support, 147 on BiPAP and 24 on ventilator. In NCH, of the total 1,518 beds, 1120 beds are occupied, while in SMIMER hospital 517 of the 941 beds are occupied.

Written by Kamaal Saiyed | Surat |
Updated: April 28, 2021 10:27:01 pm
Gujarat, SuratA Covid patient with oxygen support waits for admission at Covid ward at Civil hospital in Gandhinagar. (Express Photo by Nirmal Harindran)

A 35-year-old Covid-19 patient from the tribal-dominated Palwada village in Mandvi taluka of Surat district was rushed to the New Civil Hospital (NCH) in Surat city, some 60 kilometres away, in a 108 ambulance after his oxygen saturation had shown a continuous decline. His hopes of getting an oxygen-equipped bed, however, was dashed as the state government-run NCH and the Surat Municipal Corporation-run SMIMER hospital facilities had stopped new admissions of Covid-19 patients from Wednesday citing low oxygen supply.

Till the oxygen supply resumed, Surat’s Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Milind Torwane said Wednesday, admission of new patients would remain suspended.

A farm labourer, Satish Chaudhary, had developed Covid-related symptoms about three days ago and was taken to the Areth village Community Healthcare Centre (CHC), by his family. On Wednesday, as his condition deteriorated, the man was put on an oxygen cylinder. Doctors at the CHC later told his wife, Sunita, to take the patient to NCH Surat for “better treatment”. The couple immediately left Areth to reach NCH.

An Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Hina Chaudhary, told The Indian Express, “When I showed the patient’s file, with doctor’s reference, to the Covid hospital admission desk at NCH, they denied admission to us claiming that there was no empty bed. We put the patient on a 15-litres oxygen supply to maintain saturation at 92 per cent but did not know where to admit him. The patient’s wife is illiterate and is unable to make decisions on her own. We then decided to take a chance at SMIMER hospital in Surat, but there, too, we got a negative response. The staff at SMIMER told us that they have stopped new admissions. Finally, he has been admitted to Shruti Hospital in Kamrej as the oxygen stock was declining and we could not manage more oxygen. Now, he has been kept on oxygen support at the hospital.”

A hapless Sunita said they were mere farm labourers and managing the expenses of a private hospital seemed difficult. “We stayed at Areth hospital for two days, and now I don’t know how many more days I have to spend here. I am worried about the medical expenses as it is a private hospital. But I am ready to sell our house for my husband’s treatment,” she said.

The NCH has been flooded with Covid-19 patients from as far as Bharuch, Narmada, Tapi and Dang districts.

Jeni Narsinh Vasava (75), a resident of Gangapara village in Sagbara taluka of the tribal Narmada district, was luckier. She got discharged from a Covid hospital on NCH campus, where she was admitted since April 23, after recovering fully from the infection. She was brought here in a critical condition on oxygen support in a ‘108’ ambulance from Sagbara government hospital after a more than four-hour-long journey.

On Wednesday, she told The Indian Express that this was her second life. “When I was brought to Surat from Sagbara, my condition was serious and I thought that now I will not survive. It was a difficult situation but somehow, I fought and got cured. We travelled around 140 kilometres to reach Surat. We don’t have any good hospital in our districts or neighbouring ones, so we came directly to Surat,” she said.

Her son Santosh, who accompanied her to Surat, said Vasava had fever and throat infection initially. A rapid antigen test on April 19 returned positive for the infection.
“After three days of treatment, doctors at Sagbara government hospital told us that her oxygen level was declining and she should be put on round-the-clock oxygen support. The CHC at Sagbara had told us to get her shifted to another hospital. I told the doctor that I could not afford treatment at a private hospital as I already have huge debts (as I took a loan during last year’s Covid-19 pandemic). We work in the fields and it is difficult the pay instalments and manage other expenses. The doctors, too, appreciated our decision to take my mother to Surat.”

Vasava was put on oxygen support for two days at the Covid hospital in NCH, and finally, she showed signs of improvement over the last two days, he added.

Dharmesh Patel (50), a Dodhia tribal and resident of Panas village in Kaprada taluka of Valsad district, had been undergoing treatment for the infection at a Covid hospital on the NCH campus since Monday. He was put on a ventilator Tuesday after his condition deteriorated. His son Pankaj said, “My father had a mild fever last Wednesday, so for two days he took primary treatment at home but it did not work. Later, we got him admitted to a PHC at Kaprada where RAT test was conducted and he was tested positive. When his condition deteriorated, doctors told us to get him shifted to some other hospital for oxygen support. We brought him here on Monday and soon he was put on oxygen. On Tuesday, he was put on a ventilator.”

Outside the hospital, Pankaj waits for news on his father as he continues to pray for his recovery.

Supervisor of 108 services, Roshan Shah, said, “Today (Wednesday) we got at least 100 calls till 3 pm for shifting of patients from private hospitals to NCH or SMIMER. We did not take such calls, as we have been intimated by both the authorities that admissions to both hospitals have been restricted. On average we get around 300 calls of which around 200 are related to Covid patients in Surat city.”

Till Tuesday evening, the Covid hospital at NCH had 606 patients on oxygen support, 339 on BiPAP, 24 on ventilator. In SMIMER hospital, 188 patients were on oxygen support, 147 on BiPAP and 24 on ventilator. In NCH, of the total 1,518 beds, 1120 beds are occupied, while in SMIMER hospital 517 of the 941 beds are occupied.

Surat OSD Torwane said, “Today, NCH got oxygen supply of 46 MT against (a demand of) around 55 MT, while SMIMER got 25 MT against 30 MT. We have taken the decision not to admit new patients as do not have empty oxygen beds to cater to the new patients. It is difficult for us to take care of the patients already admitted to the two facilities. Patients with moderate symptoms and low oxygen level are being made to do breathing exercises. We are expecting that a good number of patients will be discharged in the next couple of days. But this situation will remain till the oxygen quantity supply smoothens.”

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