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Thursday, May 13, 2021

In ‘no shortage’ UP, a 12-hr wait, heartbreak over a fallen cylinder

In the past few days, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has claimed on several occasions that there is no shortage of oxygen, and on Monday, the state dispatched 400 cylinders to Madhya Pradesh.

Written by Avaneesh Mishra | Kanpur |
Updated: April 28, 2021 11:54:56 am
UP covid second wave, covid hospital oxygen shortage, kanpur oxygen shortage, Yogi Adityanath, UP vaccine shortage, coronavirus vaccine, vaccination in india, india news, uttar pradesh news, indian expressThere are long lines outside oxygen supply and refilling stations in Kanpur. (Express photo by Avaneesh Mishra)

ANIL Nigam, the Chief Medical Superintendent Ursula Horsman Memorial (UHM) Hospital in Kanpur Nagar, has his fingers crossed. Come Thursday, the hospital is expected to get an oxygen plant. “So far, by the grace of God, we have never run out of oxygen. But there were times when a 15-minute delay in cylinders would have caused problems. Every hour we need 10-12 cylinders,” Nigam says.

In the past few days, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has claimed on several occasions that there is no shortage of oxygen, and on Monday, the state dispatched 400 cylinders to Madhya Pradesh. However, even as the initial panic with family members running around for oxygen beds has eased, here in Kanpur Nagar district, the chaos has merely shifted to oxygen supply stations and medical stores.

Technically, UHM is not a dedicated Covid facility, but as of Monday afternoon, it had 35 Covid patients. Officials say people arrive ailing to the hospital holding area, test positive, and can’t leave in the absence of Covid beds. Around seven-eight of his employees have tested positive for the coronavirus while a staff nurse succumbed to the virus on Sunday, Nigam says.

Medical Superintendent A K Sharma says two-three patients are waiting to get admission at all times, and they have to turn away several knowing they won’t be able to arrange oxygen for all.

Kanpur Hallet Hospital has set aside eight wards in the holding area for Covid cases. A sole doctor on duty takes care of all the eight wards, working around 16 hours a day. Refusing to identify himself, the doctor says, “We have around 80 patients. Eight-nine are confirmed positive, the rest are symptomatic and their reports are awaited.”

While oxygen is not an issue here due to a centralised system, the lack of beds means two patients have to share one bed, the doctor says.

Rahul Kumar stands lost nearby, with father Buddhilal, 50, succumbing to the disease half an hour earlier. He says they first came to Hallet Hospital several days ago, from neighbouring Unnao, after the district hospital referred them here. However, they were not happy with the treatment and left, only to return four days ago as Buddhilal’s condition deteriorated.

“No private hospital was ready to touch him… Till now I have not received his Covid report. The doctors are asking me to take his body saying they probably lost his report, and to either cremate him without one or wait another 48 hours for a fresh test,” Kumar says.

Hallet Hospital Principal R B Kamal, District CMO Anil Mishra and District Magistrate Alok Tiwari did not respond to calls.

Addressing a high-level meeting Tuesday, Adityanath said 61 proposals had been sent by the state government for oxygen plants under the PM-CARES Fund, and that while 32 are already established, 39 are coming up in as many hospitals. The state government also claimed to have increased the number of oxygen tankers from 64 to 84, and procured 2,000 additional oxygen concentrators. In Kanpur Nagar specifically, as per a government statement, the private sector has proposed to set up 11 oxygen plants.

Around 5 km from Hallet Hospital, under a hot sun still beating down at 4-5 pm, a long queue has formed outside Babbar Medical Oxygen supplier. Every 45-50 minutes, the main gate opens and 24 people are let in. A groan goes up as an ambulance rushes through.

“We understand that there are patients at hospitals and they need oxygen, but we too have patients waiting at home. I know I am being selfish, but what option do we have?” Avanish Shukla, in the line since 8 am, says. His mother tested positive two days ago, and they decided to treat her at home after trying over 10 hospitals.

While the state government recently directed that no person be provided medical oxygen without a prescription, the authorities say it is impossible to dissuade people. “So far the supplier is able to provide oxygen every day, but the problem is created by individuals coming for a refill. Checking prescriptions is impossible. We are providing oxygen to 24 individuals and then a hospital truck alternately. Time to time we get calls from the Covid control room asking for oxygen for a critical patient… Those in the queue think we are favouring someone, and create a ruckus. Sometimes they lie on the ground to stop hospital trucks,” says Tehsildar Alakh Shukla, deployed to manage things at the supplier’s.

“We understand these are desperate people,” the tehsildar adds. “Just two-three days ago an attendant was getting his cylinder filled, when he got a call that his patient had died.”

Just then, Mohammad Ammar, 20, emerges with a filled 15-lt cylinder, having stood in the queue since he started his Ramzan fast at around 5 am. As he walks to an e-rickshaw, the cylinder slips and falls. The nozzle breaks and the gas starts leaking. As he cries for help, a few standing nearby try to plug the leak with their hands, but the pressure is too high. Someone rushes out from the plant to fix the nozzle. But it’s 5 minutes, and several litres of precious oxygen lost, by then.

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