Ahmedabad: Last Sunday, 31 May, the working-class locality of Pathan Chawl in Naroda, Ahmedabad, was palpably sombre. Vishnu Chavan, 30, had died early in the day.
The grief in the Chavan household was compounded by the fact that Vishnu’s mother, 50-year-old Gayatriben, had died just a week ago.
But there were no relatives or neighbours mourning, or even taking care of Vishnu’s 24-year-old widow Sonali, who fainted repeatedly since hearing the news. People stayed away because while both mother and son died of Covid-like symptoms, their results were never confirmed by the hospital where they died — the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, which was called a “dungeon” by the Gujarat High Court.
Sonali Chavan said what was hurting the family even more than the deaths of their loved ones was the lack of closure.
“We should know if we are positive and if we should quarantine ourselves, but nobody has come to check on us or even talk to us,” she said, while her two daughters, aged 6 and 3, played with a mobile phone and her four-month-old son lay in her arms. Vishnu’s hearing-impaired grandmother sat behind her, staring ahead blankly.
A few moments later, Vishnu’s father Prithviraj Chavan returned home from the cremation ground with his head tonsured, just five hours after ThePrint had met him at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital. He had rushed his son to the hospital after private facilities had turned them away.
“Vishnu did not want to go to the civil hospital because his mother had died there barely a week ago, and we did not get a report,” Prithviraj said, adding that both their bodies had been returned in sealed body bags.
Vishnu Chavan used to earn Rs 10,000 per month doing embroidery work from his home. But for the last two months, the whole family had been locked up at home, relying on their meagre savings to survive.
Gayatriben, a diabetic, was the first to get Covid-19 symptoms — she had a cough and breathlessness, and the family admitted her at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital on 24 May.
“The next day, we were told to go to the hospital to collect her jewellery. She was no more,” Prithviraj recounted.
Sonali added that they were not told the cause of death and were only handed over the body after a wait of six hours, but with just a death slip instead of a discharge file.
They returned to the hospital the next day, enquiring about her Covid-19 report, but were told it wasn’t ready. “Our relatives then went to the laboratory to enquire, and were told ‘there are lakhs of patients, we are not here to find tests for you’,” said Sonali.
Wondering if Gayatriben had died of Covid-19, and whether they should get themselves tested, the family members returned to the hospital in the next few days, but were sent back.
A few days later, Vishnu developed a cough and began feeling breathless. Since they knew Vishnu didn’t want to go to the civil hospital, the family took him to the private hospitals nearby.
“We took him to Anand Surgical Hospital but they asked for a deposit of Rs 1 lakh. Another hospital near Maya Talkies refused to admit him, saying the patient has not been tested, while another said there are no hospital beds or machines,” added Prithviraj.
Anand Surgical Hospital is among the 45 private hospitals that have an agreement with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC). But its director, Dr Yash Sanghvi, explained: “If they have a letter from the AMC, we treat the patient for free, but if they don’t, we have to admit them in the paid ward, where treatment for 10-15 days adds up to Rs 1.5 lakh. So we have to request a deposit.”
The family finally admitted him at Bapunagar General Hospital, an Employee State Insurance Corporation-run hospital, where Vishnu was given a bed. But the family alleges that he was not given adequate treatment, and was provided oxygen only after they insisted.
“He was on oxygen for barely a few minutes before the hospital asked us to take him to the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital,” Sonali said.
A staff member at Bapunagar General Hospital said: “I don’t know why he was asked to leave, our 250-bed hospital has oxygen supply.”
ThePrint reached Deepak Kumar Chourasia, deputy director of the Bapunagar General Hospital, through email with questions about Vishnu’s case, but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
Finally, the family took Vishnu to Ahmedabad Civil Hospital in a critical condition, and doctors performed chest compressions on him. But he died a few minutes later, Prithviraj said.
No testing or screening in neighbourhood
The family still isn’t sure if Vishnu was Covid-positive as his swab wasn’t tested even after his mother died due to the symptoms similar to that of the disease.
“We want to go to their house but we can’t… (If we get the virus) we can’t afford to pay the deposit they are asking for in private hospitals,” said Vaishali Rathod, Sonali’s sister-in-law, who lives in the same Naroda locality.
The family claimed they had not even been visited by anyone from the AMC after either death. Residents said there had been another alleged Covid death in the neighbourhood, but no screening had taken place since the beginning of the pandemic.
“No one came to check our temperature and symptoms. No sanitisation has been done either,” said a resident who did not wish to be named.
On Wednesday, 3 June, Sonali left for her mother’s house in Pune with her children, and the first thing she did upon arrival there was to go to a private laboratory and get herself tested. The results are expected by Friday morning.
“I will only be relieved after I know my status,” she said.
Hospital & AMC’s explanation
Meanwhile, ThePrint asked doctors at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital and AMC officials about the Chavan family’s case, the two deaths with Covid-like symptoms, and the lack of reports.
Dr M.M. Prabhakar, former medical superintendent of the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital now posted as an officer on special duty, explained: “The report is given in the case paper. If the person dies before the report comes, we write it as a ‘suspect case’, and if the person comes in grave condition, our priority is to stabilise him. The report comes later.”
Dr Sanjay Kapadia, resident medical officer at the Civil Hospital, added that the case papers as well as the laboratory reports go to the medical records department, and the family can approach the department to get access to them.
Asked about the family or the neighbourhood not being tested or quarantined, Dr Prabhakar said since it is a tertiary care hospital, deaths are notified to the AMC, whose job it is to do the contact-tracing or ask the relatives to be quarantined.
The Indian Council of Medical Research’s testing guidelines that say that all high-risk contacts of symptomatic patients have to be tested on Day 5 and Day 10 of coming into contact.
Asked why this did not occur in the case of the Chavans, Dr Bhavin Solanki, medical officer of health at the AMC, said: “Nowadays, swabs of those who are showing symptoms are taken. Otherwise, in asymptomatic patients, we do not need to take samples.”
But on being informed by ThePrint that Vishnu Chavan did show symptoms after his mother’s death and even went to get tested, he asked this reporter to send him details of the family.
ThePrint reached Gujarat Health Commissioner Jaiprakash Shivhare for a comment, but he didn’t respond to calls or a text message.
Until 4 June, Gujarat has recorded 18,100 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 1,122 deaths, of which Ahmedabad has accounted for nearly 72 per cent of the cases (13,063) and 81 per cent of the deaths (910).
(An earlier version of this report had got Vishnu’s age as well as the dates of his and Gayatriben’s deaths wrong. The errors are regretted.)
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