Patna: “Dead kar gaye hain. Kidney nikaal leb, dekhe ke padi (They declared him dead, might remove his kidneys, will have to check),” 28-year-old Munna Yadav’s voice was laced with both grief and anxiety, as he called his family in Bihar’s Ganga Tola village on 6 May to inform them of his father’s death.
Deena Rai (65), Yadav’s father, died of Covid at the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH).
Standing outside the Covid ward, Yadav kept wiping his tears with a gamcha, in between making calls to friends and family members. With each call, his doubts about the cause of his father’s death seemed to gather more strength.
“I will have to check if they took out some part, stole his kidney. What if they [the doctors at the hospital] killed my father,” he said.
About half an hour earlier, ThePrint had spotted Yadav arguing with the ward in-charge to be given an update on his father’s health, his oxygen level etc. Even after he was told that his oxygen level was normal, the young man seemed ill at ease. He approached one among the cleaning staff to check on his father for him, and a small ‘bribe’ — a Rs 50 note — exchanged hands.
There were three audio-visual screens outside the ward, to facilitate communication between patients and their families, but they didn’t work. Yadav complained about that. Next, he pointed at the big rats roaming the hospital.
The scenes at two government Covid hospitals in Patna — Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) and Nalanda Medical College & Hospital (NMCH) — are more or less same, and bleak, to put it mildly.
A stench of urine hung in the air, garbage was piled at many places and dirty water from the toilets flowed out into the corridors. Families of patients, waited in the midst of this, paying staff members to bring water or life-saving medicines for the patients.
According to the state health bulletin, Patna reported 1,646 new Covid cases on 9 May — the Bihar district with the worst Covid burden. The state had 11,259 new cases that day. The city had more than 22,000 active Covid cases as of 8 May, 20 per cent of the overall numbers in the state.
Despite the staggering numbers, however, unlike in many parts of the country that are battling shortage of hospital beds and oxygen, these are in available in Patna.
Healthcare officials agreed this was a worrying trend as it could mean people were not seeking treatment even when ill. Many attributed the reason to fear among the people that hospitalisation could cause further harm and discomfort.
A health official at PMCH, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s alarming that people are vacating ICU beds even after being admitted. This indicates a complete loss of faith in the healthcare system.”
There is an additional “fear”, as expressed by Yadav, that a patient’s body parts would be removed while in hospital, though no such case has been reported.
While none of the family members of patients ThePrint spoke to could cite any such case that they had come across or experienced, senior health officials attributed the fear to “misinformation”.
“Every day, we have to deal with families who force us to uncover bodies of the Covid dead, to see if their eyes and kidneys are intact. It’s a nightmare for families as well as for us,” said the PMCH officer quoted above.
About the non-functional audio-visual screens that are meant to update families about the status of patients, an official at the hospital said the system was discontinued with because displaying names and other details “amounted to infringement of the patients’ privacy”.
According to the official figures shared by the administration, both the government hospitals report more than 15 Covid deaths on an average, daily.
‘Better to die at home’
Outside the PMCH, an inconsolable Yadav kept up his tirade.
“Gaon gaon mein baat fail gayi hai, jo hospital jayega wo mara jayega (every village now thinks whoever goes to hospital will die).”
Bitterly, he threw away his father’s slippers in a disposal bin, as he grumbled: “Poora aadmi khaa gaye, jooton ka kya karenge (The man is gone, what will we do with his shoes)?”
The families of two Covid patients admitted in the hospital, meanwhile, pleaded with the hospital administration for their release.
Speaking to ThePrint, a member of one of the families said: “There is complete medical negligence here. The cleaning staff, who don’t have any knowledge about checking for the patient’s pulse, monitoring oxygen levels or administering medicines, are looking after the patients.”
The relative added: “Doctors and nurses are nowhere to be seen. It’s better if our patient dies at home than suffer this. That way, at least we will be able see his face one last time.”
As doctors and nurses remain over-burdened, it is a fact that often the duty of monitoring the patients’ oxygen levels falls on the ward boys, and families of Covid patients turn caregivers in the absence of adequate hospital staff.
Reeta Devi, 54, got a bed at the PMCH ICU after her son pleaded with some top bureaucrats to get his Covid-positive mother admitted to the facility, said her son. The resident of Bihar’s Gopalganj district was given a bed at the hospital on 7 May. A day later, however, her son took her home.
“I had begged the officials to give this bed to my mother. But she is crying over phone. No one was attending to her, or even feeding her. Wo andar tadap rahi hai, aur main baahar (She was suffering inside the ward, and I outside). I will take her to some other hospital,” he said.
Speaking to ThePrint over the phone, PMCH medical superintendent Dr I.S. Thakur said they had been overburdened since the second surge in infections, and that he is hopeful conditions at the hospital will improve soon.
Dr Saroj of NMCH, meanwhile, said patients have not had to wait for beds at the hospital in the last 48 hours.
“But if we talk about the lack of trust on the medical fraternity, then that’s true of even those at Patna AIIMS and other hospitals here,” he told ThePrint, adding that there has been absolute “misinformation” about body parts of dead patients being taken out.
ThePrint also called Bihar Health Secretary Pratyaya Amrit, but he only said, “Mere paas saans lene ka bhi time nahin hai (I don’t have time to even breathe). I am sorry I cannot answer any queries.”
Where patients and attendants are ‘atmanirbhar’
Outside the Covid ward at NMCH on 7 May, Amitesh Kumar held the phone close to his ears, as he listened to the heartbreaking cries of his 56-year-old mother, Sheela Kumari, admitted inside.
Sheela had tested positive for Covid on 28 April. Amitesh said her condition was so serious that she had been turned away from seven private hospitals, before being finally referred to NMCH. He said he was forced to bring her to the government facility, and not without trepidation.
“I drove her 80 kilometres in this critical condition. But looking at conditions here, I don’t know if she will survive. We are desperately looking for doctors and nurses, but there is no one. Each patient in this Covid ward has become atmanirbhar (self-reliant). We have to arrange for oxygen, medicines and other essentials needed by the patients on our own,” he said.
Sheela died the same evening.
Meanwhile, inside the Covid ward, only two nurses kept watch over 50 critically ill patients. In most cases, families were stepping in to look after their own.
While PMCH had at least stopped family members from entering the Covid ward to stop the spread of infection, NMCH had no such restrictions in place.
As a result, inside the Covid ward there, some helped critically ill patients with proning exercise to breathe better, others washed clothes inside the toilets, and many had their meals as they kept watch over Covid patients, in total disregard of their own safety.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)