Four hospitals rejected Patel, who is seven months pregnant with the couple’s first child, before she finally found one that would take him. But the level of care at the Sardar Patel Covid Care Center and Hospital, a temporary pandemic facility on the outskirts of the capital, is so lacking that her husband is begging to leave.
Around Sadanand Patel, 30, people are dying. He has almost no contact with doctors and limited medicine. With 80% of his lungs already infected, he is afraid of what will happen if his condition gets worse.
“I’m very scared,” Sadanand said Saturday from his hospital bed through cramped breathing. “If my health becomes critical, I do not think they will be able to save me.”
Only some Covid-19 patients manage to be admitted to India’s congested hospitals. But once inside, some face another form of terror: lack of medical care or supplies when people die around them.
Race against time
Sadanand was admitted the day after the hospital opened. When Goldi visited a few days later, the facility was crowded, she said.
In the cavernous warehouse, some patients lie on beds made of cardboard. There is limited medicine and Sadanand said he had only interacted with a doctor once or twice in three days since he was admitted last Tuesday. He saw two men in beds nearby screaming for medicine only to die within hours as their oxygen appeared to be running out.
This Saturday was his fifth day in the center, at least five people around him were dead, he said. A dead body lay on the bed next to his for hours before being removed.
But this goal does not agree with Sadanand’s experience.
“The government believes that they have opened this hospital, the patients here are being treated,” he said. “But in fact, nothing like that is happening.”
Doctors rarely monitor patients, Sadanand said. He’s worried that if he needed medical attention, he’s too sick to call for help. Sometimes he talks to a patient in a nearby bed who advised him to get out of the center if he feels even better.
“You will die lying on your bed because no one is calling the doctor,” he said.
Others outside the hospital are so concerned about the lack of care that they are trying to get their relatives discharged.
Sadanand says he is so scared that he repeatedly asked a doctor to move him to another hospital. He offered the same prayer to his wife – but nowhere else takes him, Goldi says.
“He asked me to take him away from this place, that he stay at home, he is not feeling well here and he is very scared,” Goldi said on Saturday.
“I went on to explain that if you stay here, you will at least get oxygen.”
Declining oxygen supply
Lala Lajpat Rai Memorial Medical College (LLRM), a hospital in the city of Meerut, in the nearby state of Uttar Pradesh, is flooded.
People are everywhere – on stretchers, on tables, on the floor – moaning and desperate for oxygen. According to hospital staff, there are about 55 beds for 100 patients. There are only five doctors. Some patients are lying on the floor.
One of these is the 32-year-old mother of two Kavita who has no last name. She has been on the floor of the hospital for four days and is struggling to breathe. She says she has not received any oxygen and has seen 20 people die.
“I’m getting anxious,” she said. “I’m afraid I’m stopping breathing,” she said.
Other countries have sent oxygen cylinders and concentrators to India that can help produce oxygen, and the government is ferrying supplies around the country using its train network. Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, said on Thursday that there was enough oxygen in the country and no need to panic.
“Oxygen was available in sufficient quantity in the past, and now there is even more,” he told reporters outside a hospital. “We have so many more oxygen sources available in the country … Anyone who needs oxygen needs to get it.”
But hospitals are still struggling.
Some hospitals have tweeted SOS messages and tagged official accounts as they ask for more oxygen to help patients gasping for air.
Family members of patients stand for hours outside oxygen refill centers and have empty oxygen bottles. Twelve people – including a doctor – died at a hospital in New Delhi on Saturday after the plant ran out of oxygen, according to Dr. SCL Gupta, the Medical Director of Batra Hospital.
Some hospitals have warned patients that if they want to be admitted for treatment, they will have to procure their own oxygen.
“We have now told the patients before admitting to them that they may have to get their oxygen supply in case of an emergency if they are admitted here,” said Poonam Goyal, a chief physician at Panchsheel Hospital in Delhi North. Saturday.
Outside the LLRM, relatives of patients were driving back and forth while waiting for news. Inside, LLRM administrator Dr. Gyanendra Kumar that the hospital had enough oxygen but that they lacked staff.
“We do not deny anyone,” he said. “Before the coronavirus I have never seen a crisis like this, but this crisis I think we are managing properly.”
Lack of medicine
Although Goldi Patel is relieved that her husband is getting oxygen, she is worried about his general condition – without medication to treat his lung infection, injuries have spread to 80% of his lungs, a CT scan shows.
When he sits up, he starts coughing violently and pain tears all over his chest, she said. At the hospital he was given food, water and oxygen, but some medicine – the hospital staff gave him antibiotics after she told the staff that she would kill herself. On Friday, she walked into the center to bring medicine to her husband, who is the only servant for their family.
“Along with oxygen, treatment is just as necessary,” Sadanand said. “You can’t just live on the hope that if you get oxygen, you’re fine.”
Dr. Chandrasekhar Singha, a senior consultant in pediatric critical care at Madhukar Rainbow Children’s Hospital in New Delhi, said that a patient with an infection in 80% of their lungs should have their infection treated with antiviral drugs, steroids and antibiotics on top of oxygen. “By giving oxygen you buy some time,” he said, speaking in general terms, adding that 80% infection “did not look good.”
Every two or three hours, Goldi calls her husband. They only talk for a few minutes before his breathing gets tired.
“It feels dangerous,” she said. “I do not make him talk too much. I’m tense all day.”
Goldi is scared of herself – she is seven months pregnant and does not know if she has Covid. She has no symptoms but has not been tested as it would cost 900 rupees ($ 12). Still, she says she needs to support her husband. Both their parents live in Uttar Pradesh and they have no other support.
Both are frustrated by the authorities’ ineffective response. Sadanand said that if he thought he was being treated properly, he would not have involved his wife at all.
“If someone was hospitalized and their treatment started, you would never have your pregnant wife go outside during Covid cases to (try to find a facility) for you,” he said. “In your mind you will always be worried about what happens if she gets coronavirus.”
Julia Hollingsworth wrote and reported from Hong Kong. Sandi Sidhu reported from Hong Kong. Tanya Jain reported from Gurgaon, India. Elizabeth Joseph and Clarissa Ward reported from Meerut, India. Vedika Sud, Manveena Suri, Swati Gupta and Esha Mitra reported from New Delhi, India.