Lucknow: Harshit Srivastava was a desperate man as he stood outside the chief medical officer’s (CMO) office in Lucknow’s Lal Bagh area on 17 April. Calls from home informed him that his 65-year-old father, Vinay Kumar Srivastava’s oxygen level had dropped to 50, compared to the ‘normal’ mark of 95 and ‘alarming’ 88.
Vinay, a veteran journalist, had complained of uneasiness a day before and by night, his oxygen level started to drop. The symptoms suggested Covid.
After failed attempts to get medical help for his father at three hospitals, Harshit reached the CMO’s office, where ThePrint met him. He waited for hours for a mandatory letter that hospitals demanded for admitting Covid patients, according to a government directive, and finally, disappointed and broken, he returned home to find his father’s oxygen level had dropped to 31. Vinay died at 3.30 pm on 17 April without receiving medical care.
“We ran from pillar to post, but could not get an oxygen cylinder for him,” Harshit told ThePrint, as he recalled the horror of trying to get medical help for his ailing father. “A relative lent us his own cylinder. I went to get it refilled at midnight. There was a long queue for that too, I had to fight with others to save my father.”
“His sample was collected Saturday morning, but we will get the results (of the RT-PCR test to confirm Covid) only after three days. No hospital is willing to admit him without a Covid positive report, even though he has all the symptoms of the disease,” he fretted.
But at the CMO’s office too, too Harshit was in for a disappointment. As CMO, Sanjay Bhatnagar, rushed in to his office, Harshit pleaded with the security personnel on duty to let him in, but to no avail. He also approached ThePrint for help as a representative of the media.
With trembling fingers, he kept calling hospital helpline numbers and other senior officials in the hope of getting some relief for his father.
The veteran journalist had always been there to help those around him, but as he lay dead at home, no one turned up to console the family, owing to the fear of contracting the disease.
ThePrint confirmed by visiting several Covid hospitals that in fact, they were not admitting anyone without a reference letter from the CMO, even if they had a Covid positive certificate. This has been the norm since a letter to this effect was issued by the District Magistrate (DM) last year in April, which ThePrint has accessed. Since the news of Srivastava’s death went viral, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath directed hospitals to also admit suspected Covid patients. But the directive came too late for Vinay.
Lucknow district reported 5,913 fresh cases Saturday, according to the state health bulletin, taking the total number of active cases in the state capital to 44,485. The number of Covid deaths on the day was 36.
“My father has been a journalist for the past 30 years. He always helped people throughout his career. Spent all his earnings helping those in distress during the pandemic. But when he is battling for his life, there is no help for him,” a teary-eyed Harshit had told ThePrint outside the CMO’s office.
On Saturday morning, Harshit was turned away from three hospitals — Balrampur, Jagrani and Residency Era — as looked for a hospital bed for his father.
“At Balrampur Hospital, the security guards even abused me. ‘Go away. Get a letter from the CMO first. Only Covid-positive patients can be admitted. There are no beds’,” he recalled.
Harshit desperately reached out to anyone he thought could help save his father, and a glimmer of hope came from Shalabh Mani Tripathi, adviser to CM Yogi Adiyanath. Harshit had tweeted his father’s condition using the journalist’s handle, and Tripathi had replied, seeking details. Later, this reporter too tweeted for help for the Srivastavas, tagging Tripathi, but no help reached Vinay.
When the news of Vinay’s death found its way to social media, some users questioned which party he had voted for. Harshit, using his father’s handle, tweeted: “I voted for the country”.
Alone in sorrow
Lucknow’s Sector 12, where the Srivastavas stay, was barricaded owing to the rising number of Covid cases, when ThePrint reached their house.
The body, covered with a bed sheet, lay on the same bed where Vinay had his last meal. Next to the bed, sat his grief-stricken family — Harshit, wife Nishu and mother Aruna.
Such is the fear of Covid that none of the neighbours had come to console the family for their bereavement.
“When I returned home, he asked for food. We all sat for lunch together, as he wished to have a meal with his family. And then, he was gone,” said Harshit. His bade papa (father’s elder brother), lives next door. But even though he repeatedly called to enquire about his brother’s condition, he did not come in to help or visit.
The family’s phones kept ringing, even as the members lamented their inability to save Vinay. Answering one such call, from a private lab, which was testing his father’s blood sample, Harshit said, “Kya karenge ab aapki haemoglobin report ka? Mar gaye mere pitaji. (What will we do with the haemoglobin report now? My father is dead).”
Reports of Vinay’s RT-PCR tests are yet to be released. And other family members had not yet taken the test, the last time ThePrint spoke to them Saturday.
“We will all die,” Aruna Srivastava burst out in grief when asked about their tests. “(My husband) used to say that he was a journalist, and so he helped others even in his old age. But where is everyone now? Where is an ambulance? Where are the hospitals?” she questioned bitterly.
A lone distant relative was the only one to arrive to help the family with Vinay’s last rites, before ThePrint left his residence.
None of the Covid hospitals visited by ThePrint Saturday were admitting patients, even those with a Covid-positive certificate, without a reference letter from the CMO. These include St. Joseph, Sahara, Vivekanand, Mayo, Chandan, and Balrampur hospitals.
Officials at the hospitals said they were following orders from the administration. An official at Mayo Hospital said, “We are following this order for the past year. The notification was issued last year. We can not admit any Covid positive patient without the CMO’s permission.”
The notice, accessed by ThePrint, states: “The decisions related to the medical emergency of Covid 19 patients will be taken by Dr Sanjay Bhatnagar, Chief Medical Officer and the decision will be final.”
ThePrint approached Bhatnagar through calls and text messages and also waited outside his office for hours for a meeting, but received no response from him.
A senior official in the health department, however, told ThePrint, “This decision was taken to regulate and keep an eye on the Covid management. Warna wo manmani karne lagte hain aur data bhi theek se trace nahin ho pata hai. (Otherwise hospitals do as they please and it becomes difficult to track data).”
Since Vinay Srivastava’s case went viral on Twitter, the Yogi government has directed all private and government hospitals to admit suspected Covid patients too — those whose RT-PCR tests are negative, but who are suspected to be Covid positive after X-rays, CT scans and blood reports. This is because of a rising number of cases in which patients with symptoms of Covid are receiving negative RT-PCR results.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)