Ghaziabad: If hospitals and hoarders can’t help, it is a gurdwara that is becoming the last resort for some Covid patients gasping for oxygen. Indirapuram Gurdwara situated in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad has started what it calls an ‘oxygen langar’, which can be used by Covid patients who have nowhere to go.
On Sunday evening, at least 30 cars were lined up in front of the gurdwara with people from all ages and backgrounds seeking oxygen, which has been in short supply across the country. The initiative began on 23 April and since then the volunteers claim to have helped “at least 400 people every day”.
Many people came from as far as Meerut, Loni and West Delhi to procure oxygen for their relatives after exhausting all options and failing to secure hospital beds.
One such patient was Anil Kumar, whose oxygen level had dropped dangerously low to 57 before the ‘oxygen langar’ helped his levels stabilise.
“We stay in Loni and have been ferrying our uncle around in this car for 3 days now in search of a bed but have so far failed to find any. We even went to Baraut and Baghpat in hopes of getting a bed. Our van driver then told us about this place… he had brought someone here earlier and brought us here too,” said Kumar’s nephew, who wished to remain unnamed.
“We’ve been completely abandoned by everyone, only paajis helped us,” he added.
Limited resources hinder constant oxygen supply
Led by the NGO Khalsa Help International, this oxygen supply initiative has managed to help several Covid patients, however, it also faces an acute resource crunch.
While everyday hundreds of patients reach the gurdwara for aid, there are only a handful of oxygen cylinders and masks available. As a result, people can get oxygen assistance only for a limited amount of time.
The volunteers prioritise patients with the lowest SPO2 levels and give them assistance first but take the oxygen away once the levels are restored to 80. The cylinder is then given to the next critical patient.
However, most of the patients who reach the gurdwara already have extremely low oxygen levels in the 40-60 range, and this makes the process more difficult.
“We have 50 cylinders in back up and at any point of time 4-5 cylinders are in use, which last for 2-2.5 hours. We’re trying to procure more cylinders but there simply aren’t any left in the market. We request the government to help us in this initiative,” said Gurpreet Singh Rami, Director of Indirapuram Gurudwara Committee and founder of Khalsa Help International.
According to Dr Rishabh Bardia, a Jaipur-based doctor, patients should be allowed to receive oxygen till their SPO2 levels reach at least 90 per cent. However, he acknowledged that with a resource crunch, this was not always possible.
“I understand that during such an unprecedented time where our aim is to save as many lives as possible, providing an oxygen mask to a patient with 30-40 per cent SPO2 mark instead of a patient with 80-85 per cent might help in reducing casualties,” Dr Bardia told ThePrint.
“Chances of survival in a patient with 30-40 per cent oxygen saturation are quite low as it is, but this langar definitely buys a patient time to get some assistance before they can find a hospital bed for themselves.”
And yet, despite severe shortages, volunteers at the gurdwara are trying their level best to ensure aid to all patients.
“A 21-year-old kid came here with SPO2 levels at 22-23, almost unconscious. We gave him this oxygen for barely 10 minutes and the levels reached 91. This is how we’re saving lives, at least 400 every day,” said Surjeet, a volunteer.
The initiative is being run completely by gurdwara volunteers and with no access to doctors or healthcare workers, they are the ones constantly checking SPO2 levels and handing out oxygen cylinders. While some doctors volunteer their time for some time, constant supervision is absent. They also have a dedicated helpline (9097041313) where patients can reach out for aid.
Even when some patients black out due to lack of oxygen, it is the volunteers who give CPR to revive them. But without proper medical knowledge, they are not always able to save the patients.
Aside from oxygen supply, the gurdwara also ensures everyone is well fed through langars and drinking water supply.
Sikhs to the rescue
While the volunteers are carrying out the initiative at great risk to their own health, most of them said they were unafraid and were taking all necessary precautions.
“Nothing bad can happen at Baba Nanak’s door step. We’re taking all our precautions and helping people, rest he’ll take care of,” said Surjeet.
And their efforts have helped give relief to several people who had lost all hope.
“We ran from pillar to post with our father, but couldn’t get him any help. He’s fully vaccinated and got his second dose on 5 April. This isn’t Covid, I am sure, but he can’t breathe. Only these sardarjis have helped us when nobody would,” said Krishna Kumar, who had brought his 65-year-old father Ram Vilas for oxygen.
Others who came to the gurdwara felt angry at the government and the total collapse of the health system.
Arun Goyal, a Ghaziabad-based advocate and BJP worker, brought his mother-in-law to the gurdwara after exhausting all other options.
“I tried everything but got absolutely no response from government or private hospitals in NCR. All the claims of availability of all facilities and aid at all hospitals that UP government has been making are completely false. If you have approach things are fine, if you don’t, you are left to die,” Goyal told ThePrint, adding that he was ashamed to call himself a BJP worker.
Another patient, 45-year-old Rajeshwar Prasad was forcibly discharged from Ghaziabad’s MMG hospital due to oxygen shortage, and has been in bad shape ever since. “The CM is saying every hospital is admitting people. It’s a white lie. The system has completely failed,” said his brother Sonu Gupta.
According to Rami, the gurdwara’s director, the Sikh community has always stepped up during every crisis even after being vilified.
“We were blamed in 1984 (for Indira Gandhi’s assassination and riots), now we’re being hated on because of farmer protests. The Sikh community must be crazy to still step up and help. What do I say, many lives will be saved under the same Nishaan Sahib that offended everyone when it was hoisted on the red fort,” he told ThePrint.
(Edited by Rachel John)