Updated: May 12, 2021 7:18:05 am
A FOLDING cot that a family claims to have got itself, fans that don’t work, a roof that is leaking at several places, and a ward overpowered by the stench of a toilet. As Meerut district climbs to the top of Covid charts in Uttar Pradesh, with 1,368 new cases taking its total active number to 13,941, its largest government coronavirus facility, Lala Lajpat Rai Memorial Medical College, is struggling to keep up.
Vashisht Sharma, a Delhi University student, says the cot on which his father is lying, in a corridor between two rooms in the Emergency Ward, was brought by them. “We were lucky we got our own bed. Things are so bad here, patients are lying on bed-sheets on the hospital floor.” His father has been admitted since April 28, with no improvement in his condition. “Even though he has Covid, it appears he has some non-coronavirus chest problems as well. Since there are so many people, the doctors can’t give enough attention,” Sharma says.
Makeshift beds have been fitted into corners of the Emergency area, or placed between regular beds. Relatives sit alongside, keeping a watch, with the hospital unable to enforce Covid guidelines as it doesn’t have enough attendants of own. With limited ventilation, a 34-year-old is using her X-ray film to fan herself. Large buckets are placed under leaking overhead pipes at three places.
A 31-year-old looking after his mother, 55, says, “The hospital is understaffed, there are not enough doctors. Once my mother had problem breathing and I helped her out, changed her position myself, since I didn’t know when the nurse would come.”
The hospital has 370 oxygen beds and 140 ICU beds, which are all occupied. Over the past 24 hours, Meerut district has seen 15 deaths, taking its total toll to 601. The district has been averaging 1,500 cases daily, with its total cases now second highest behind Lucknow.
Across the district there are 2,974 beds in government and private facilities, of which the 1,672 oxygen and 583 ICU beds are mostly fully occupied. Of the district’s 172 ventilator beds, 92 were occupied on Tuesday. The administration claims they are adding more beds every day.
Dr Gyanendra Kumar, Principal of Lala Lajpat Rai Memorial Medical College, says the caseload has suddenly shot up. “We are trying our best to manage with 200 staff members, including healthcare workers. More than 60 are down with Covid themselves.”
While the hospital has been treating Covid patients since the first wave, in the first week of April, it turned three of its buildings into dedicated coronavirus facilities.
Most of the people in the Emergency ward need oxygen support, with their relatives hoping they will find place in the ICU if needed. Every 10 minutes, cries of a family member break through the noise, asking for a medical staff. One family breaks down as their elderly relative starts gasping, and a ward boy rushes over. However, the scare passes.
Outside the Emergency, a private ambulance operator is waiting to receive a body. He says that in the time he has been waiting, three bodies have been taken to the mortuary. “I have been coming here daily and seen many deaths. One day, there were 40 bodies,” says the operator.
Dr Kumar denies any underreporting of deaths. “We admit patients who are both Covid and suspected cases. Several develop complications that do not arise out of Covid, there are many other factors leading to fatality,” he says, adding that the Medical College has enough oxygen to help patients.
Meerut’s private hospitals are also fast filling up with Covid cases. An official of KMC Hospital and Research Centre, who does not want to be named, says, “We have no beds available at the moment. We do not want to turn patients away, but we have no choice.
Patients and their attendants, hopeful for a bed, crowd the waiting area of another private facility, Anand. “We have 175 beds, 145 with oxygen supply and 25 ICU beds. Beds get vacant but are immediately filled. The spread is too vast,” says administrator Dr Munesh Pandit.
Pundit adds that while they have enough oxygen stocks, they are always on edge as they meet their supplies from four-five different places.
The desperation is evident at an oxygen refilling agency on Delhi Road. More than 20 people are waiting patiently in a queue outside Maheshwari Alloy Agency under the noon sun, some of them since 4 am, with three policemen keeping a watch. A loudspeaker blares occasionally, “Be patient, do not rush for oxygen. If you do not maintain decorum, you will not get oxygen. You must behave.”
Shubham, 23, rolls a large cylinder with the help of a friend, past a bamboo barricade to the registration counter, panting and sweating. A policeman waves his arms and shouts, “Everyone stand at a distance, he is Covid positive.” As he is the only Covid patient here himself in the line, Shubham gets preference.
The 23-year-old says he had no choice. “My mother is also Covid positive and her oxygen levels are falling and there is no one else to help her. I feel very weak but what could I have done?”
Meerut Chief Medical Officer Akhilesh Mohan says things are improving. “At this point it is hard to point to a certain trend in cases. Many older cases have been uploaded and it might reflect a higher number. But we are expecting that the cases will dip in the coming week. The hospital load is also coming down and the availability of oxygen beds increasing… It is possible that the crisis has peaked.”
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