ThePrint’s journalist Indrajeet shares a first-person account of his struggle to find a ventilator bed for his mother Kalavati Devi at the Sultanpur District Hospital in UP.
My mother, 68-year-old Kalavati Devi, was admitted to the Sultanpur District Hospital after her oxygen level had dipped to 36, her blood glucose level had breached the 576-mark, and she was unable to move. The doctors at the private hospital said she had to be admitted to an ICU with a ventilator bed.
Little did I know that she would never return.
If you have been unlucky enough to test positive for Covid, your condition is critical, and you wish to die, then the trauma center L-2 of Sultanpur District Hospital is the place to go. You will die a ‘not so peaceful’ death because everything here functions Ram Bharose (at the mercy of God).
Uttar Pradesh’s Sultanpur is on the BJP government’s watchlist due to its name. It had been in news after the former Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik wrote a letter to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to rename the city as Khush Bhawanpur. The government may have been focusing on changing the names of the cities, but it hasn’t paid any attention to improve the dilapidated health system of the city.
The entire government machinery in the city — from administrative officers to doctors on duty — are acting in tandem, almost with the brutal efficiency of a criminal gang, to conceal the truth. Their focus is not to save patients’ lives but to ensure that the truth does not tumble out of the closet.
The CMO of the district hospital, Dr D.K. Tripathi is likely to give you a long sermon in spirituality than provide your patient with a ventilator.
My mother was taken to the emergency ward of Sultanpur District Hospital on 11 May at noon. The nurses on duty prescribed some medicines that were out of stock in the hospital and had to be bought from a chemist store. The medicines, which cost around Rs 300, were to be used as nebulizers by connecting them with oxygen cylinders.
Ventilators that don’t work
As my mother gasped for breath, I requested the hospital staff to put her on ventilator support. But none of the six available ventilators in the emergency ward was provided to her. The staff said all ventilators are non-functional and aren’t for Covid patients. They asked me to shift to the L-2 ward of the hospital if I need a ventilator.
The staff’s statement was surprising because my mother hadn’t been tested for Covid, although she had symptoms. Yet she was not provided with a ventilator and was referred to the L-2 trauma centre.
After all, what was the problem in providing ventilators available for non-Covid patients? It seemed the doctors were more interested in saving their skin. They were even willing to refer the patient to Lucknow.
We then rushed her to the L-2 ward in a private vehicle in the hope that she’ll get a ventilator bed. The clock had already ticked past 1pm by then.
She was then taken to the ventilator ward, but she couldn’t get one because five of them were non-operational. She was then put on a bed with an oxygen cylinder.
Two technicians came to repair the non-functional ventilators but were unsuccessful. It was 2:30 pm but the ventilators still refused to work. This is when I made a distress call to DM Ravish Gupta. After this, the exercise to fix ventilators gained momentum, but to no avail.
Patients on ventilator don’t recover: CMO
Still unable to find a ventilator bed, I went to meet CMO Tripathi. After a long wait, I finally got a chance to speak with him and told him about non-functional ventilators.
On hearing this, the CMO said: “We provide ventilators to only those patients who need it the most and we do not make this decision by looking at the patient only. Dr. Gopal, the doctor in charge of the Covid ward, is the person who decides this.”
So I requested him “to send Dr. Gopal to examine the patient as she is in dire need of a ventilator, otherwise, she would lose her life.”
Following our conversation, Tripathi said patients don’t recover after being put on ventilator support, and that “it’s the God who saves everyone.”
“Look, nobody gets happier than we doctors after saving a patient’s life. However, as far as the matter of saving a patient’s life is concerned, we doctors are not that powerful. Actually, it’s the Almighty God who saves everyone,” Tripathi said.
“Do remember that no patient recovers after being put on a ventilator,” he added.
He further said, “The (main) function of a ventilator is to pump air in the arteries or veins of the lungs, which the lungs do in the normal time. We will surely provide you a ventilator but if you trust me, avoid it, do not put your patient on a ventilator.”
On being told that none of the ventilators in the hospital are operational, the CMO seemed reluctant to admit it and still insisted that my mother not be put on a ventilator as it increases the chances of the patient’s death.
Still unable to find a ventilator bed for her, I called the DM again who sought the mobile number of the doctor who was treating my mother. But I didn’t have the doctor’s number. This is when the DM calledTripathi, without informing me.
Meanwhile, amid all this hullabaloo, my mother Kalavati took her last breath. As I sat there, weeping inconsolably, I got a call from the CMO: “I just received a call from DM Sir. Your patients’ name is Kalavati Devi?”
“Yes,” I said.
Tripathi then inquired about her health. On being told that she has passed away, the CMO said, “Hey Ram”.
I disconnected the call before the CMO could say anything else.
The hospital couldn’t arrange a bed, but they did make arrangements to carry my mother’s body. This included a brand new ambulance to ferry her body to our house.
As unfortunate as it is, the death of my mother shows the state of the healthcare system in our country. It shows how Covid patients and their families are struggling to save their loved ones. It is not Covid, but the system that is killing patients.
These lines from Guru Dutt’s movie Pyaasa remind me of the creaking healthcare infrastructure in our country
Yahan ek khilona hai insaan ki hasti,
Ye basti hai murda-parasto ki basti,
Yahan par jeevan hai maut se sasti,
Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai
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