The healthcare staff at Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB ) Hospital in Delhi frantically clear the facility of bodies. One of the biggest government-run COVID-19 hospitals in the national capital, it is swamped by patients, triggering chaotic situations for doctors and paramedics who are scrambling to cope with the virulent infection amid shortage of beds, oxygen, ventilators, doctors and other medical professionals.
People can be seen wailing to be admitted into the hospital, which is already full to its capacity. Doctors and other medical staff are overwhelmed. The ill have even spilled out on the pavement outside.
The emergency room of the hospital appears to be at the edge of a disaster. The last few breaths taken by a man came after his brother begged for oxygen for him for six hours. Barely able to walk on foot, another critically ill man in his early 50s was brought to the hospital on an e-rickshaw and put on a stretcher. The family had to turn back immediately after being told that he be taken elsewhere.
A brother and sister lost their mother minutes after reaching the hospital. She was brought in a critical condition, but was left in the premises unattended on a stretcher. “This hospital is useless,” the inconsolable daughter shouted, while repeatedly shaking her mother’s body and pleading her to open eyes.
The relatives and attendants of the sick are doing everything to keep their near and dear ones alive.
Heena is begging for admission of her father, a rickshaw driver who is the lone bread winner of her family. He spent his three-months wage on a jumbo oxygen cylinder, which he bought from a legal market.
A young man was seen lying on the ground in the waiting area, gasping for air. Another woman arrived and within minutes, she was declared dead. One of her attendants said they were turned away by four hospitals before reaching GTB Hospital.
Unable to get an ambulance, another family takes their brother to the hospital in a rickshaw. But the facility has no available bed, let alone enough oxygen. “I tried all the hospitals on the way from Ghaziabad to northeast Delhi. Everyone told me they had no oxygen supply. But the doctors here also did not admit my patient,” he told NewsClick, his voice breaking down.
Also read: COVID-19: Some Delhi Govt School Teachers Deployed to Monitor Dead Bodies in GTB Hospital
Their wait outside was excruciating, but help never came. He started shaking his brother, but it was already too late.
Rich or poor, people are doing everything what they can to keep breathing. All across the city and the country, the virus is leaving a scar on the people. With over 4 lakh new cases and over 4,000 deaths in the last 24 hours, India has topped the world in terms of the daily reported COVID-19 cases.
Hospital Staff Helpless Amid Oxygen Shortage
Amid this, acute shortage of oxygen across the country has emerged as the main reason of deaths in hospitals which are turning away as they are already overburdened.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the second wave of COVID-19 as a storm that has shaken the country and announced construction of 500 oxygen generation plants, it has brought little relief for the families of those suffering. The feeling that the government has abandoned them and left them to fight the pandemic on their own seems to be the common understanding.
It has been reported that despite severe warnings by healthcare experts, the government went ahead with social gatherings, religious festivals and political rallies — some of which were attended by the prime minister himself, instead of preparing for the disaster which is unfolding now.
Back at the GTB hospital, another patient is brought in. He is hardly breathing and the nurses try to get him to respond. At that moment, an even more critical patient arrives. One of the nurses rush to help. But they fail to revive him.
In order to deal with the shortage of beds, the hospital authorities have arranged as many stretchers and wheelchairs as they can. But the first line of treatment against COVID-19 is oxygen, they say, which has almost run out. The staff add that only they know how many lives are hanging in balance.
People are being turned away, but they don’t know where they will find a bed and oxygen. One of the attendants of a patient who was turned away, said, “We had taken her to AIIMS but were turned away. We have already been to five hospitals, where will poor people like us go?”
ICU Beds Unavailable
The intensive care unit (ICU) of the hospital is also full. “These patients in the ICU are in extremely critical condition. The situation is unthinkable and unimaginable. What you are seeing is the reality of the city. All hospital, doctors and nursing staff are overwhelmed and overworked. We have never felt as helpless as we are today. People are dying before us and we cannot do anything. We are running out of oxygen, which is the first line of treatment today,” a doctor told NewsClick.
“We are working day and night despite knowing the fact that if we or any member of our family contracts the virus, we will also struggle to find medical care,” he added.
There is helplessness and anger. “The government in some ways failed to estimate what was going to happen. The need that would arise if the numbers start rising. There was a sense of preparation during the earlier surge which seem to have disappeared in between. They did things such as allowing large gatherings, which were totally unacceptable. They perhaps believed that they had defeated the virus,” the doctor said, expressing his anger.
Also read: Officers, Parl. Committee Had Flagged Oxygen Supply as an Issue in April, November 2020, Report Says
“My husband is a very bad state, let me get through,” urges a middle-aged woman while trying to wheel him in to the casualty ward.
“Sir, come for one minute and look at my mother,” pleads a young man whose mother was gasping for air in an ambulance. A doctor follows him to the ambulance, prepared to say the words he has said over and over again in the past few days, “She is no more.”
Display Boards Outside Hospital Declare No Beds Available
The situation is no different at another major COVID-19 facility run by the Delhi government, the 1500-bedded Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (LNJP) Hospital. The emergency services in hospitals that cannot be shut have been closed here to tackle the huge rush of COVID-19 infected patients.
The display board installed in the hospital premise shows all beds are occupied and the facility can no more admit any patient.
Vijendra Arora has been knocking at the door of hospital after hospital for the past three hours for the admission of his wife who is critical. “I have come here from Shalimar Bagh. The Delhi government’s hospital at Ashok Vihar has no free beds or oxygen. They sent me to Lady Hardinge Hospital, but no beds are available there as well. Same is the case with the central government-run AIIMS, Safdarjang and Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital. I also went to Fortis and Max hospitals, but they also refused to admit her,” he said.
Lajwanti Devi’s blood oxygen saturation is falling. She is in a critical condition. Her son Amit is desperate, helpless and broken. He told NewsClick that despite having money he does not have access to basic medical care. “I had a jumbo cylinder at home. After its oxygen drained out today, we failed to get it refilled. Therefore, we came here but are unable to get a bed. Where will I go, what will I do? I don’t have any idea,” he said, his voice choking with emotion.
Few metres away from the hospital is Bhajan Singh with his younger brother. This is the sixth hospital where he has come searching for a bed, he said. “We have been looking for a hospital bed for the past eight days. I have been standing here for the past three hours. First, I went to Lal Bahadur Shatri Hospital, which sent us to Lady Hardinge Hospital but that too had no beds. Then, I came here. We have brought our oxygen cylinder, which we purchased at Rs 25,000. In normal days, it costs below Rs 15,000. Doctors are not even willing to look at patients. They just look at the papers and turn us away,” Singh said.
Also read: Timeline: How Indian Govt Ignored Warnings and Led People into COVID-19 Catastrophe
Those struggling in emergency till now are now collapsing at the gates of government hospitals. “First we went to private hospitals and they turned us away. Then, we went to a government hospital in Srinivaspuri. As asked, we spoke to the CMO but to no avail. LNJP staff told us they cannot do anything as they do not have beds. Where should we take her? She is a diabetic and her blood oxygen saturation has dropped to 57. We have been travelling to hospitals in an auto since morning. Now the driver is not ready to take us anywhere,” claimed a man whose wife collapsed at the casualty gate of LNJP Hospital.
Manoj Kumar, 31, a tailor by profession who lives at Khajuri in Northeast Delhi, managed to get his mother, 52-year-old Tarawati Devi, admitted at LNJP on April 18 after she complained of breathlessness and developed a mild cough.
“Before her admission here, we were turned away by five hospitals. Both the governments (the Centre and the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government) failed us,” he said, sitting in the parking lot outside the hospital.
Away from public view, Preeti was crying in a corner outside the hospital. Despite being on oxygen support for several days, her husband is not showing any improvement in his health, she said. She accused the doctors of not taking care of patients. “They are only changing his bed, patients are not given medicines properly. The hospital has been left at the mercy of junior doctors,” she complained. She also alleged that she was turned away by two hospitals before his admission at LNJP.
An estimate suggests, only one doctor is available for 200 patients in the country.
Also read: Only One-Third Beds in ITBP COVID Care Centre Occupied Due to 'Limited' Oxygen Supply
The medical superintendent of LNJP was not available for comments on the prevailing situation in his hospital. But a doctor, on condition of anonymity, told NewsClick that they are doing their best in their limited capacity.
“It’s true that the health infrastructure has collapsed. We are doing whatever we can do the best in our limited capacity. We the doctors and para medical staff are working overtime. We are tying to save each and every life. But we are now helpless. In absence of oxygen, medicines and beds, we cannot do much. If a patient dies in a hospital gasping for air and medical facilities, it’s not simply a death, but a murder,” he claimed.
The situation in Delhi, which is considered to have the best healthcare facility in the country, is a stark reminder of the collapse of healthcare system in the rest of the country. It is a reminder of what the government failed to do in the past one year and the grief that has engulfed the country because of it.