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‘If there’s hell…it’s here’ — A day with patients in DMCH, north Bihar’s mainstay hospital

DMCH caters to patients from 5 districts of north Bihar. In the second surge of the pandemic, Darbhanga has engaged 20 private hospitals to manage the patient load.

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Darbhanga: A loud moan echoed in ward number 3, in one of the isolation wings for Covid patients, at the Darbhanga Medical College & Hospital (DMCH), around 5 pm Tuesday. The pitch of the cry of anguish, almost inhuman in its intensity, was high enough to drown the grunt of the pigs roaming outside, and to put other patients and their family members on edge.

Manoj Kumar Yadav, whose Covid positive father was the one moaning, helplessly rubbed the latter’s back to give him some relief. But his efforts were of little help to the old man gasping for breath — the patient’s oxygen supply wasn’t working.

A team of four doctors, checking on the patients, bypassed Ward No. 3 and the moaning patient there. The old man’s cries, meanwhile, became only louder.

Five painful minutes passed for Manoj and his father, before the doctors returned, accompanied with four nurses. While one doctor fixed the oxygen supply, another checked for his pulse. One of the doctors worked to revive the old man and a nurse left to bring an injection needed for him.

The DMCH has three functional units in three different buildings. While two are operating as isolation wards for Covid patients, a third is for patients who need ventilator support. There is also a fourth building  – the old surgery wing – which till recently was being used as a waiting area for Covid patients, who couldn’t immediately be assigned a bed. A few critical non-Covid surgeries are also being held here.

But the condition of the hospital, especially one of the isolation wards, is bound to make one pity the necessity of those who are being forced by circumstances to bring in their ailing family members here.

If pigs roaming the immediate vicinity of the hospital was not bad enough, there are dogs sleeping in the corridors inside. Lizards roam the walls. The filthy unisex toilets — there are no toilets for women here — force women family members of patients to relieve themselves in some dark corner of the corridor. The cover of darkness is easily available — there is little light in the wing, and family members accompanying patients often rely on the torch light from their mobiles. Often, families bring in table fans to give some relief to the patients – there are often no ceiling fans in the wards.

The nurses’ chamber — claustrophobic, unhygienic and without proper ventilation — seems to be from another era.

The DMCH caters to north Bihar’s at least five districts — Darghanga, Samastipur, Madhubani, Begusarai and Supaul — with a population of 2.5 crore.


Also read: Prepare for third wave, keep stocks of key Covid drugs ready, Modi govt tells pharma firms


Attendants in isolation wards

It’s not just the basic amenities which need attention. Though there is no shortage of oxygen supply at the hospital — Darbhanga has its own oxygen plant which produces about 1,000 cylinders every day, enough for the current requirement — families of some patients said they are having to source medicines from outside.

“I have had to source antibiotics for my father from outside for the past one week,” said Ram Kumar, whose 70-year-old father was admitted at the hospital.

Kailash has been admitted at the hospital for the past 12 days. “He has undergone Covid tests thrice and the reports have always been negative, but he still needs oxygen support.”

There’s also a general air of neglect about the patients.

Though Kumar said nurses were cooperative, when ThePrint visited the hospital Monday and Tuesday, most patients were being attended to by accompanying family members — as in the case of Manoj — who have easy access to the Covid patients even in the isolation wards.

If life here is tough, death is without any dignity. Bodies lie unattended for hours, a gloomy shadow among patients battling severe health conditions and the hospital’s pathetic conditions.

While deputy medical superintendent, DMCH, Mani Bhushan claimed that the staff strength was sufficient — doctors and nurses work in three shifts, with each shift comprising five doctors and seven nurses — he added that more doctors are being being hired based on walk-in interviews.

According to district health official data accessed by ThePrint, DMCH has 120 beds with oxygen support, in addition to seven ICU beds and five beds with oxygen support. Darbhanga reported only five fresh Covid cases on 20 April, but by 17 May, the number of active Covid cases in the district had gone up to 1,176.

The administration has engaged 20 private hospitals to deal with the crisis and the district currently has 40 beds with ventilator support, of which 35 are in private hospitals.


Also read: IIT-Gandhinagar shows the way, sets up Covid care centre on campus, shares how-to guide


‘Are we not human?’

One of the nurses at the hospital sneaked out, to give ThePrint a glimpse of the terrible conditions in which they had to work in. A woman, who had accompanied one of the patients in the ward, also tagged along — hoping to find a toilet on the way.

Ek washroom nahin hai yahan, hum 8 ghante tang hokar baithe rahte hain. Raat ko hum log sadak par isi dress mein jaate hain. Ek pahra deti hai. (There’s not a single toilet for women here. We have to spend eight hours working like this. In the evening, we go out in twos to relieve ourselves along the road. One of us stand guard, while another relieves herself),” she told ThePrint, on the condition of anonymity.

The unisex toilets, she said, were so filthy that “even an animal wouldn’t enter”. Of course, there were dogs sleeping outside.

Dogs lying in the corridors of one of the Covid isolation wings of the DMCH | Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint
Dogs lying in the corridors of one of the Covid isolation wings of the DMCH | Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint

A patient’s family member also complained of a lack of basic facilities at the hospital.

“Where should a woman go to relieve herself? They can at least arrange for a toilet,” she said, requesting ThePrint to record her statement and highlight the plight of patients and their families at the hospital.

The nurses chamber — crawling with lizards, insects and mosquitoes — was in the same state of neglect and disrepair as the rest of the isolation wing.

Machchar kaatte rahte hain, ventilation hai nhin, yahin baithkar record bharo. Hum kya insaan nhin hain? (We are constantly bitten by mosquitoes. The room has no ventilation. We are forced to sit here and work on our records. Aren’t we human?” the nurse questioned, signalling at the condition of the room.


Also read: Daily Covid deaths are rising even as cases decline. Here’s why


In transition

Opposite the isolation ward is an under-construction trauma centre, being built on a Rs 150 crore fund given by the centre. Construction for the centre had started in 2016, and despite many letters to local MPs and MLAs by the hospital administration, requesting quick handover of the building, it remains unused, said the staff — a cruel mockery to the decrepit facilities at the rest of the hospital. Though 90 per cent complete, there is still no water supply in the building, which is why the hospital administration is unable to use the space for Covid patients.

The nearly-complete trauma centre that's been under construction since 2016 | Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint
The nearly-complete trauma centre that’s been under construction since 2016 | Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint

Meanwhile, 25-year-old Manoj Kumar from Madhubani district waited on the ground floor of the old surgery ward — currently being used as a transition space for Covid patients as they wait for a bed at the hospital — as the hospital staff prepared to move his mother, Sunita, a Covid patient, to the isolation ward. Sunita had been brought to the hospital’s emergency a day before.

The stench of cow dung filled the decrepit old building, where they waited, even as pigs roamed about freely.

The eldest nurse at the DMCH, who has been working at the hospital since 1983 and is due to retire next year, told ThePrint that Kumar’s family was lucky to have found a bed for his mother so soon.

“They had to only wait for one day. Many patients have had to wait for four days. We have 20 beds and most of them were occupied in the last fortnight.”

The old surgery ward is in a dilapidated building, and the hospital reportedly decided to shifted patients to a safer location after the matter was highlighted in the media.

The district administration, however, said the old building was only being used as a waiting area.

“We used it (the old surgery ward) as a transition building, when we did not have enough beds in Zila school (which had been turned into a Covid treatment facility) or DMCH. The average number of patients waiting there at any given time would be about six-seven. Though old, it had all the facilities,” insisted Darbhanga DDC Tanay Sultania.

He did not, however, comment on the condition of the isolation ward or the nurses’ room.

The condition of the nurses’ room at the old surgery ward was no better than at the isolation ward. “We cannot go to the washrooms. Think about the families who have to wait 12 to 15 days here,” said the eldest nurse.

Families of patients in the old surgery wing that till recently was being used as a transition area for Covid patients | Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint
Families of patients in the old surgery wing that till recently was being used as a transition area for Covid patients | Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint

Necessity, however, can make many immune to difficult conditions. An elderly couple had occupied the space outside the washroom in this building. Their young son was recuperating here, after undergoing a non-Covid related surgery recently. The couple had been cooking, eating and sleeping here, oblivious to the filth and stench surrounding them.


Also read: Not just Covid, India’s junior doctors are also struggling with pay cuts & delayed salaries


Neglected even in death

The family member of a patient who had to spend four days at the isolation ward said, “Agar Darbhanga mein kahin narak hai toh wo DMCH hi hai ( If there is hell in Darbhanga, it is at DMCH).” The feeling remained even after the patient was moved from the isolation ward to another wing of the hospital.

The plight for families here continues even after they have lost their loved ones to the dreaded disease.

Ganesh Paswan, 65, died around 4 pm on 12 May in the new isolation ward. The patient next to him died in the morning. There was no one to help Paswan’s son, Sudhir, as he ran about trying to figure out how he could take his father’s body for the last rites.

Paswan had tested positive for Covid two days before.

Body back ho jata… jo side mein zinda hai usko bhi kharab lagta hai agar bagal mein murda pada rahe. (If only they could give me his body. Even those on the other beds feel bad when there is dead body lying in their midst),” said a dejected Sudhir.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


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