One-year-old Jude Immanuel Bijoy was among five children shifted from the cardiothoracic intensive care unit (ICU) of MIOT Hospital in Chennai Thursday when the hospital realised it could not manage critically ill patients as flood water had knocked out power and oxygen supply for 48 hours.
By the time Bijoy was taken to the ICU of the neighbouring Ramachandra Medical Institute, he was already dead, said doctors who coordinated the evacuation of patients marooned at MIOT Hospital in Manapakkam. “Around 18 patients from the critical care unit died due to the lack of an oxygen supply system following power failure,” said Dr Umesh Kumar, a physician who has been at MIOT Hospital for over seven years.
For patients, doctors and nurses at one of Chennai’s premier hospitals, life became hell for over 48 hours as flood water hit power, food supply, communication lines and road access.
Doctors and paramedical staff manually pumped oxygen (ambu bagging) for nearly 48 hours for critically ill patients after oxygen supply got cut off Tuesday night as flood water knocked off the back-up power generator located in the basement of one of three buildings that make up the hospital.
With the canteen located in the basement flooded as well, patients, attendants and hospital staff lived on biscuits and anything edible they could get their hands, said Dr Okorie, a paediatrician from Nigeria, whose seven-month-old son was on the mend at the hospital after he underwent an open heart surgery a few days ago.
While the patient count at the hospital stood at 575, spread over three buildings and nearly 20 floors, on Tuesday evening, it was down to around 60 patients — all on the third floor of the main building — by Friday morning. With power supply yet to be restored, the hospital wore a deserted look and the basement remained flooded with water from the Adyar river. A power generator rented by the hospital was being readied to supply power to remaining patients.
“Our patient strength was 575 on Tuesday but most of the patients have been moved out,” said Dr Kumar.
“We were on back-up power from Tuesday after the main power supply stopped. Late on Tuesday, water surged into the basement and the generator. This ruptured oxygen supply. For 48 hours, we manually ventilated critical patients like those with kidney failure,” said a visibly tired Dr Kumar. “I have been here for four days.”
The decision to move patients was taken only on Thursday afternoon, according to details provided by doctors with whom MIOT doctors coordinated. At the Ramachandra Medical Institute, where children from the MIOT cardio thoracic ICU were moved, the first patients arrived around 3.30 pm Thursday afternoon.
A total of 23 patients from MIOT were moved to Ramachandra Institute, while 11 infants of international origin, including Dr Okorie’s son, were moved to the Madras Medical Mission.
“It is an act of nature which they were not prepared for. I was at the hospital through the whole thing. Their power supply got blown off and, as a doctor, I know you cannot sustain ambu bagging for too long. Also, monitors providing vitals of patients were not working and this is disastrous in a modern hospital,” said Dr Okorie.
Many hospital staffers did not speak to their family for four days because phone lines were down. “I just got through to my family…they are safe,” said a young MIOT nurse, sobbing at the reception of the Madras Medical Mission hospital.
One of the decisions MIOT had to make was whether it wanted to move critical patients through flooded streets when the power back-up went kaput. “It is a tough call and sometimes it is better for a critical patient to stay put,” said a senior anaesthetist with a Chennai hospital where some patients from MIOT were taken.
“We tried to call for help and back-up power but phone lines were down. The roads to the hospital were also under six feet of water, making evacuation difficult,” said Dr Kumar.
With communication lines still down across Chennai, many hospitals have resorted to old-fashioned paging service on the hospital public address systems to reach out to doctors and staff when required.
Meanwhile, relatives of patients left behind at MIOT are unsure whether to move their kin out. “My 73-year-old father underwent an open heart surgery last Friday. He has stabilised and doctors at MIOT have said we don’t have to move him. We were supposed to visit him on Thursday but the roads were flooded and the hospital was cut off,” said Sujata, daughter of Radhakrishnan.
The wife of a heart surgery patient, Thangaraj, pleaded with him to leave the hospital. But after assurance from doctors, Thangaraj decided to stay on.
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