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From Ground Zero: Tested in hospitals, they died hours later

At the state's Ground Zero in Mumbai, where over 10,000 tests have been done so far, The Indian Express tracked the final days of four patients from Andheri to Mumbra, who shuttled from one hospital to another, desperately seeking answers.

A yellow barricade stands in Andheri West colony where the 67-year-old had died. BMC has contained the area and groceries are shut. (Express photo by Tabassum Barnagarwala)

HE SPENT his final hours on a chair in the ICU, pulling oxygen from a tube. He watched attendants wrap up the bodies of two patients. Finally, he was given a bed of his own in the middle of the night. Six hours later, he was dead.

Buried under the countless stories of the coronavirus outbreak in Mumbai — 714 cases and 45 deaths at last count — are the frantic final hours of those who died barely hours after reaching hospital and being tested.

Like the 67-year-old father of a dates trader who watched two bodies being taken away in front of him at KEM Hospital. Or, the 57-year-old electrician who crossed 40 km and four hospitals before succumbing to the virus. And the 43-year-old mother whose daughter is still struggling to understand what happened.

Most of them had underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure. “In most of the deaths, the patients reached us in a critical stage,” says Dr Hemant Deshmukh, the Dean of KEM hospital, one of the government hospitals that is treating COVID-19 patients.

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With 1,135 cases and 72 deaths so far, Maharashtra’s death rate (6.3 per cent) is much higher than the national count (2.6 per cent) and the global average (5.5 per cent).

At the state’s Ground Zero in Mumbai, where over 10,000 tests have been done so far, The Indian Express tracked the final days of four patients from Andheri to Mumbra, who shuttled from one hospital to another, desperately seeking answers:

Male, 67

Comorbidity: Diabetes

The Andheri West resident developed fever and cold on March 19. His son took him to the BSES MG Hospital where a doctor gave him paracetamol, which led to the fever subsiding for a few hours. Later, the patient visited Noor Hospital, about 1 km from home, where he was admitted and put on saline drip. On March 29, he was referred to a lab for an x-ray. “The chest scan was clear. There was inflammation in his liver, and urinary infection,” says the patient’s son.

Maharashtra has the maximum case as on April 8

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On April 1, another x-ray showed “blurry white patches” in the lungs and signs of pneumonia. On April 2, the hospital asked for the patient to be shifted to a tertiary care hospital. The 67-year-old’s son says they took him to Ruby Nursing Home, where he was “not admitted”.

From there, the family went to Hindu Hruday Samrat Balasaheb Thackeray Trauma Hospital. “The doctors said they were only admitting patients with acute respiratory distress or those with travel or contact history with COVID-19 cases,” says the son.

According to the family, the patient was taken to Dr RN Cooper hospital, where doctors said there was no space in the ICU. “People were waitlisted for beds, and sleeping in the corridors,” says the son.

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On April 1 evening, the patient’s condition deteriorated, and he was rushed to KEM Hospital, where doctors admitted him, conducted an ECG test and took his throat swab for the COVID-19 test. “We requested a bed, but there were two bodies on two cots, which had to be disinfected first. I could see my father waiting on the chair, I felt so helpless,” says the son.

By 1 am on April 2, a bed was provided, and the patient asked his family to rest for a while. But at 7 am, doctors declared him dead following acute respiratory distress. Hours later, the COVID result came — positive.

The swabs of eight family members were immediately taken. So far, the patient’s wife has tested positive, and is admitted in Kasturba Hospital. “I wish at least one private hospital had admitted my husband earlier,” says the wife.

At Noor Hospital, Dr Aabid Khan, the general physician, says they are now referred all cases of cough and cold to government hospitals. At Ruby Nursing Home, paediatrician Dr Ashish Pathrekar says they have stopped admitting patients with similar symptoms.

At 64, Maharashtra accounts for the most coronavirus deaths in India.

Male, 57

Comorbidity: Diabetes

Between April 2 and April 3, the patient, an electrician with a wife and two daughters based in Thane’s Mumbra, visited three hospitals before succumbing to the infection at the KEM Hospital on the morning of April 4.

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According to relatives, the family was suffering from jaundice, and the patient complained of difficulty in breathing earlier last week.

On April 2, when the patient complained of uneasiness, his brother him to Burhani Hospital in the locality, where he was not admitted because there was no ventilator. “We went to the Kalwa civil hospital, 6 km away, where a doctor asked us to go to Sewri TB hospital in Mumbai,” says the brother.

It took another four hours before an ambulance could be arranged in the middle of the night, he says. “We reached the TB hospital at 7.30 am on April 3. A doctor checked him, said he did not have TB and asked us reach KEM Hospital, which we did around two hours later. There were many patients and few doctors, I wish someone had told us what was happening,” says the brother.

At 8.45 pm, the patient was put on ventilator support. “The next morning, around 11, a doctor told me my brother had suffered acute respiratory distress and died,” says the brother.

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The next day, tests confirmed that the patient had COVID-19. Seven of his family members are under quarantine in the Thane civil hospital, awaiting their swab results.

Male, 64

Comorbidity: Diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma

Employed as a security guard, he was staying with his wife in a slum in Mulund. “He hadn’t travel anywhere recently, but had been suffering from asthma for the last ten years. He also had high blood pressure and diabetes,” says a relative.

According to the relative, the patient developed a cough and high fever last week. “His wife took him to a private hospital, where they conducted an x-ray. The doctors did not admit him, and asked her to take him to another hospital. But his wife got him home,” says the relative.

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On April 3, the patient complained of breathlessness, and was rushed to Hira Mongi Navneet hospital, where doctors said the symptoms indicated COVID-9 infection. “They asked the family to take him to Kasturba Hospital, where he was admitted in the afternoon. On April 4, he tested positive, and suffered respiratory failure in the evening… His wife’s test has come COVID-19 negative, but she is still in hospital as a precaution,” the relative says.

Female, 43

Comorbidity: Diabetes, lung and heart ailments

A resident of Nagpada, the patient’s husband says she complained of breathlessness in the last week of March. “She had lung disease for the last 12 years,” he says.

On April 2, he carried her down from their home on the first floor to the road, and got two two-wheeler riders to take them to Nair Hospital. “There, a throat swab was taken at the emergency ward. The ward boys and nurses had no time to talk, they seemed go be in a panic,” he says. “Her swab tested positive and the next afternoon, a ward boy told me she had died.”

In Nagpada, normal movement continues in the lane after the death of a person. People continue to sit together to chat. (Express photo by Tabassum Barnagarwala)

Six other family members are in the Jogeshwari Trauma Hospital since April 3, but their samples have not been tested yet. “We don’t understand what is happening. No doctor or nurse has the time to explain what this coronavirus is, or why we have been kept here,” says the patient’s daughter.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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