New Delhi: Outside the emergency ward of Delhi’s Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital, one could hear a man praying for a miracle in breathless groans as he held on to his oxygen mask.
“Bhagwan… koi chamatkaar karde… mujhe bachale bhagwan, hey raam, koi chamatkaar karde… (God, please do some miracle, save me. Hey Ram, do some miracle).”
While he groaned, an elderly man who was lying unattended was trying to change his position in the stretcher as he found it difficult to breathe even with oxygen support. Another patient’s relentless and loud coughs silenced even the barking dogs in the area.
When ThePrint reached GTB Hospital at 12 am Saturday, it found 8 patients lying on the ground or on stretchers outside the emergency ward, without any medical assistance.
No doctor/nurse had attended to these patients then. They all had oxygen support though, their concentrators attached to a single oxygen tank.
A young man, one of the family members of the 8 patients, was trying to comfort his ailing mother in his lap, while another was looking for chairs so his frail grandfather could at least sit.
“I snatched the chairs from the security guards. There’s so much apathy here that they couldn’t give an old, sick man a plastic chair to sit on! We’ve been completely abandoned,” said his 21-year-old grandson, who didn’t want to be named.
All these patients had similar stories to tell — which we’ve been hearing all too often amid this catastrophic second wave.
The family members of these patients left their house in the morning to get them admitted in a nearby hospital that refused to tend to them. They hopped from one hospital to the other all day long in the hope that some doctor, nurse or healthcare worker would at least check their vital parameters or some hospital would be kind enough to admit them.
The nightmare, however, wasn’t just limited to GTB Hospital as other premier facilities meted out the same apathy to patients.
Pooja, who had admitted her brother at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (LNJP) Hospital in central Delhi, said, “It’s not fair, hospitals brush us away like we’re animals or untouchable. At least, look at our patients.”
After being turned down by five hospitals in the capital, she was finally able to admit her brother, Pradeep Kumar, at 11 pm Friday only after pulling some strings.
“His friend went to an acquaintance in the chief minister’s office and fell on his feet. It is then that we got space at LNJP,” Pooja added.
If patients are complaining about hospital apathy, healthcare workers said they are all stretched beyond limits.
Doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff are functioning on reserve energy as it is. They were constantly on their toes, sweating profusely in their PPE, looking after patients, giving them bad news, declining their requests for admission because there’s simply nothing they could do.
Doctors are not only overworked, they’re also under the constant threat of violence by aggrieved families, their exhaustion is evident even in the way they move.
At LNJP, one doctor ran out, grabbed a small snack to eat from a small paan shop across the road, changed his kit and ran right back, indicating from a distance that he simply doesn’t have the time to talk.
“We simply don’t have space to offer. Look at the emergency room, it has about 15 beds and at least 70 patients are inside right now, hoping to get a bed in the hospital. Doctors are exhausted too,” said a healthcare worker at GTB Hospital, requesting anonymity.
“At least, our hospital gave them an oxygen cylinder,” he added.
Bodies lying unattended
A woman at GTB Hospital approached ThePrint reporters when she saw them interacting with patients. “Please help me,” she whispered as her eyes looked tired and blood-red due to excessive crying.
“Nobody here is helping me. That’s my husband lying there (she pointed to an unattended body) since 7 pm. Just give me the number of a mortuary,” she said.
The woman, who had come from Burari, said not a single doctor the entire day even bothered to look at the condition of her husband, who only had mild breathing difficulties in the morning, and could’ve been easily saved if help was given on time.
Her husband is survived by two toddler daughters.
Another patient, 38-year-old Vikram Singh, was declared brought dead at LNJP. Singh died in an ambulance as his brother and brother-in-law moved around Delhi trying to find a hospital bed for him.
“It was difficult to find an ambulance to begin with. The one we found had no oxygen support. It didn’t even have an oxymeter to check his SPO2 levels,” said Singh’s brother-in-law, a security manager at a Delhi-based organisation, who didn’t want to be named.
Singh was also not attended to by the doctors. He died of Covid-related complications, said his family. The hospital also didn’t help the family in disposing of the body.
Hearse vans were charging at least Rs 7,000 to take the body to a crematorium ground. The family, hence, put the body in their car’s back seat and parked it outside the hospital.
“We haven’t informed his wife and kids yet. We’re going to stay here for a while and figure out how,” said the brother-in-law.
“Earlier I used to see 2-3 casualties a day in my ambulance, but now believe me, 25-30 people die every day as I ferry them from hospital to hospital,” said the driver of the ambulance in which Singh’s body was kept.
As Singh’s body was pulled out from the ambulance, one caught a glimpse of Singh’s lifeless eyes that were still open. A stench of a thousand lives lost due to neglect followed him. ‘It smelled like death’ doesn’t quite capture what the stench was like.
Money is worthless
With people even from affluent backgrounds scrambling to find a hospital bed for their patients, the pandemic clearly drove home the point that money sometimes becomes redundant.
“What to do with money? It’s of no use at this moment. I’ve personally seen people at Sir Ganga Ram standing with bags filled with money, pleading to the administration to admit their loved ones, but they failed. Money has no value today,” said Nitin Mukesh, friend of a patient admitted at LNJP.
However, opportunism in the face of this pandemic is not lost.
The ambulance Mukesh ferried his friend to the hospital charged them Rs 26,000 for the day.
“He took us to four hospitals and wanted Rs 6,500 for each hospital we visited. He said that’s their nominal charge. We could afford it, but it breaks my heart when people at pharmacies, in front of hospitals break down because they simply don’t have the resources to help their dying friends and family,” he added.
Some patients at LNJP were also sitting with oxygen cylinders handy, just in case hospitals run out of supply.
“Things are really bad right now. Who knows what will happen? We’re not taking any chances. If they need us to bring our own cylinders, we’re fully prepared,” said a family member, who didn’t want to be named.
One cannot blame her. On Friday, 20 people died at Jaipur Golden Hospital in Rohini due to oxygen shortage.
Even amid such stress and calamity, there were people willing to offer help.
A group of people at GTB Hospital were discussing how to help the woman from Burari who lost her husband in case her family doesn’t turn up, while some were running around to arrange oxygen concentrators for other patients who didn’t have young attendants with them.
“Take my number and give it to anyone who’s in need. Oxygen, money, Remdesivir, whatever, I’ll try my best to arrange,” said Mukesh at LNJP hospital.
Outside the hospitals, more ambulances lined up, with families begging for help, making desperate appeals for a bed as their loved ones gasped for air, but failed to breathe properly. It was 3 in the morning and dawn had not yet broken. It felt like it never will.
(Edited by Debalina Dey)
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.