We all have been facing the wrath of COVID-19 pandemic since last year. Every morning we wake up and hear news channels telling us the number of infected cases and deaths. Every day we hear the news informing us about the new ‘records’ the infection has made. But it is true that only the bearer knows where the shoe pinches. It is a pandemic for those who have lost someone, flu for those who recovered easily and insignificant for those who have yet not been infected. The number of deaths is just statistical figure until they become the names of our loved ones. I experienced this last month when my grandmother fell to the deadly strain of COVID-19. In this article I will be sharing my encounter with the pandemic.
My grandmother used to live with my uncle and aunt approximately 16 km from my place. Their whole family had tested positive and we were staying in touch with them constantly. One evening my grandma’s oxygen saturation levels started dropping and my uncle called us to search for oxygen cylinders. Me and my dad started calling our friends and contacted each and every source we came across on social medias and the website portal of Delhi government for COVID-19 but in vain. This was the time when Delhi had acute shortage of oxygen. All the oxygen contactors asked us to contact them next day at 12 pm as that is when they get the new supply and the stocks hardly last for two hours. But my grandma`s oxygen levels were around 89 and we knew she cannot wait for 20 hours. Our family doctor asked us to follow self-proning as it is extremely helpful for COVID-19 patients battling discomfort and shortness of breath. It helps to maintain and promote ideal blood oxygen and saturation levels in the body. It is not a replacement for oxygen cylinder but definitely buys more time for the family to make arrangements for the patient. The harsh ground reality is that even in these times of crisis, there are humans with no humanity left in them. Black marketing and stocking essential resources like concentrators and medicines is on the rise. With continuous efforts, my uncle finally managed to arrange an oxygen concentrator. An oxygen concentrator is a device that concentrates the oxygen from the atmosphere by removing nitrogen to supply an oxygen-rich gas stream. My uncle had to buy the concentrator at five times the actual price. We were lucky enough to have the resources to afford it, but what about those who cannot? Are they just supposed to see their loved ones gasping for their last breath of oxygen just because they are financially not stable?
Oxygen concentrator is helpful when the oxygen drops below 95 but is more than 82. My grandma`s levels were declining constantly and we knew that she has to be hospitalized. Me and my father went up to my uncle`s home in our car and somehow managed to call a private ambulance there. My uncle`s whole family was positive and so he could not accompany my father that is why I was with him. The ambulance arrived and the driver took grandma to ambulance as he was wearing a PPE Kit and only he could make any contact with the patient. At this time because of low oxygen concentrations, she was losing her consciousness (according to my uncle as my Dad and I cannot be around her). The ambulance had two oxygen cylinders which were enough for few hours. Before getting into the car, the ambulance driver came to us and said that he can drive for hours with us looking for a hospital bed but the conditions are very poor out there, and only if there are good chances of saving the patient only then we should take the patient out. Not only are the resources exhausted but also there is high risk of us being infected. We understood the risk, we knew we may not find a hospital and not be able to save grandma but when it comes to a family member we are ready to risk everything and take that last chance. Thus, my Dad and I in our car and the grandma in ambulance drove to the nearest hospital that showed availability of beds on Delhi government site.
On reaching the hospital we saw a board at the gate which read ‘NO BEDS AVAILABLE’. My uncle was constantly in touch on phone and was calling hospitals to check availability of beds. Finally, the third hospital (one of the most famous government hospitals in Delhi) we visited after roaming for 1.5 hours at 11pm the guard said beds are available. We both got out of our car, I went up and stood a metre away from the ambulance and dad went to gate to talk to the authorities (my uncle works in Delhi administration and knew someone there who helped us through). The scene in front of the hospital was dreadful. There were people outside crying for help, patients were lying on road and gasping for oxygen. Guards were not allowing patients or even ambulances to enter the gates of hospital unless there is a written order from inside. And I won`t blame the hospital authorities for this, because on top of everything they cannot afford to have a stampede in the hospital premises. They cannot allow more patients than the resources they possess and then let a patient die in hospital due to lack of services. But no one can make those families understand this who are lying outside the gates with no hope. I saw a man take his last breath in front of the gates and eventually passing away. No one could do anything. His wife sat there crying with his body in her arms but none of the people could even approach her and express their condolences. I realized that this pandemic has not even allowed us to touch our own face to wipe our tears away, let those of others.
A little while later a mother whose son was infected approached our ambulance driver and asked for an oxygen cylinder as her son`s condition was getting critical and there was no sign of getting admitted in hospital anytime soon for her. The driver then approached me and asked me to give one of the two cylinders the ambulance had. I agreed because somewhere deep down I knew that the situation was not very hopeful for my family. So grandma was now left with one cylinder which was enough for one more hour and I was hoping to get an admission in hospital before it runs out. It took more than two hours for my dad to get the written permission to allow the ambulance inside the hospital. The ambulance then went inside and the doctors approached and minutes later she was declared ‘brought dead’.
My Dad was disappointed, but I kind of saw this coming. But nevertheless grandma gave a tough fight and finally went away peacefully. Her family did everything to save her though it was not enough. It was around 2 AM and we decided to go home hoping to keep grandma at hospital till noon but that took efforts too. The hospital was not keeping her reasoning that she did not die in the hospital and it is not their responsibility. But there was no other place we could have gone, and we had to get a medical officer (a family friend) to request them to keep her overnight, which eventually worked.
This is my personal experience of the pandemic – my family had suffered even though we had no financial constraints and few contacts in the administration. Think about those who are not privileged enough, and are suffering in this pandemic with absolutely no hope. Those people who do not follow COVID-19 norms and still do not wear mask in public, arguing that it is just a flu should go to a hospital gate and see the situation there. By not following COVID-19 norms they are not only risking their lives but also of hundred others who may get infected from them. The people crying in front of a hospital`s gate know what pandemic means and how much it has taken away from them. The governments are taking measures but it is definitely not enough. I don’t know how long this pandemic will continue and what more is there left to see, but that night in front of hospital gate seeing people with despairing eyes has been deep imbedded in my memory and will always remind me of this pandemic for the years to come.
– Priyanshi Mishra (Freelancer)
Picture: Representational (Hospital Entrance), Credits – dailypioneer.com