In the national capital, a horror story that starts with “I have fever” is being played out in almost every family as COVID-19 cases continue to surge. At every step of the way, from getting tested to finding oxygen support and a hospital bed, the healthcare system has been overwhelmed. Outside hospitals, and in makeshift COVID Care Centres (CCC), patients and attendants can be seen waiting in ambulances, cars, autorickshaws and even on the pavement, struggling to breathe as attendants scramble to plead with hospital security and staff to get patients admitted.
Palam resident Shradha Singh, who lost her 42-year-old sister to the virus said, “She was doing fine initially. However, with a sudden drop in the oxygen saturation level, she required hospitalisation. We frantically searched for places that would take her in and even tried seeking help on social media. But the sheer amount of information — a lot of it not leading anywhere — became difficult. We took her to a hospital nearby and there, in the emergency ward itself, she passed away. This is unimaginable. We are in shock. Now we’re constantly thinking of whether there was anything more we could have done.”
Many do not even make it to the emergency ward and passed away outside the closed gates of the CCCs. On Thursday, outside the Sardar Patel CCC, a 45-year-old man who was lying in the back seat of a car, died after waiting for two hours to seek admission to the newly opened makeshift centre.
The long queues to procure oxygen or have cylinders refilled have seen people queue up overnight. Anupama Gupta, 56, underwent pacemaker surgery at Artemis Hospital on April 15 and developed COVID-19 symptoms five days later. Her daughter Deeksha said she had to stand physically in queues with her mother’s reports, seeking beds in several hospitals, but was turned away. “I have tried at least 40 hospitals in Delhi, Gurugram, Sonipat and Panipat, but there are no beds. The Artemis has given us a waiting list number of 600,” said Ms. Deeksha, a Gurgaon resident. She said she had to procure concentrators and oxygen cylinders through social media in the black market.
Family members of a 63-year-old COVID-19 patient based in east Delhi, who requested that they not be named, also said they were forced to purchase an oxygen concentrator for three times its original price when they failed to get her admitted to the Sardar Patel CCC on Tuesday.
“We kept making calls and sending messages to the District Surveillance Officer (DSO) for hours but got no response. Someone from the centre (the Sardar Patel CCC) told us referral from the DSO was necessary for admission there,” the patient’s relative said. “It was finally decided to set up a makeshift ICU at home because the patient’s oxygen level was fluctuating and we could not have put her life at risk waiting for hours to get her admitted to a facility outside its gates,” the relative said.
While the struggle to find hospital beds goes from bad to worse, even getting an RT-PCR test in the National Capital Region has become a task in itself. Mayank Gaur, a resident of IP Extension said, “My wife tested positive on Monday and I am trying to get my test done but no laboratory is willing to come for home collection. My wife need oxygen support and I rushed her to Yashoda Hospital but they refused to admit her. They said that hospital is running short of staff as most of them [the staff] are COVID positive and also that there were no beds available.”
With entire families being hit by the virus, taking care of those with severe symptoms gets harder. Amrita Sahu, a resident of Indirapuram said that 12 people in her family had tested positive and after eight days of quarantine, her father, uncle and grandfather developed breathing problems on Sunday night. “I sent out an SOS on social media and tried every contact that was passed on through well-wishers and friends but failed to get beds in any hospital in Ghaziabad-Delhi or procure an oxygen cylinder,” Ms. Sahu said. The search for a bed ended three days later on Wednesday, after she was able to get a bed in the ESI hospital in Sahibabad for her grandfather, while her uncle and father were admitted to the Radha Soami CCC in Delhi.
(Inputs from Shinjini Ghosh, Jatin Anand, Saurabh Trivedi, Ashok Kumar and Nikhil Babu)