New Delhi and Meerut, India For three days, Goldi Patel, 25, went from hospital to hospital in the oppressive summer heat of New Delhi, frantically searching for one that would let her husband breathe.
Four hospitals turned down Patel, who is seven months pregnant with the couple’s first child, before finally finding one to take him in.
But the level of care at Sardar Patel Covid Care Center and Hospital, a makeshift pandemic facility on the outskirts of the capital, is so inadequate that her husband is begging to leave. Sadanand Patel, 30, is where people die.
He has very little contact with doctors and limited medication. With 80% of his lungs already infected, he is terrified of what will happen if his condition worsens.
“I’m very scared,” Sadanand said Saturday from his hospital bed through labored breathing. “If my health becomes critical, I don’t think they can save me.”
While coronavirus cases in India have spiraled, the country’s healthcare system has stretched past its breaking point. Beds, oxygen and medical personnel are scarce. Some Covid patients die in waiting rooms or outside overwhelmed clinics before even seeing a doctor.
Only a few Covid-19 patients manage to be admitted to the congested hospitals of India. But once inside, some are faced with a different kind of terror: a lack of medical care or supplies as people around them die.
Covid-19 patients are waiting outside the Sardar Patel Covid Care Center in New Delhi on April 25.
Race against time
In February, officials ordered the closure of the Sardar Patel Covid Care Center, believing India had beaten the virus.
When it became abundantly clear that this was not the case, the 500-bed facility reopened to chaotic scenes on April 26.
Local media reported that despite huge queues of patients outside the hospital, far fewer people were admitted than capacity.
Senior officials from the Ministry of Health and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, who run the center, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment. Sadanand was hospitalized the day after the opening of the hospital. When Goldie came to visit a few days later, the facility was overcrowded, she said.
A look inside the Sardar Patel Covid-19 Care Center, in Chhatarpur, on April 25, 2021 in New Delhi, India. In the cavernous warehouse-style facility, some patients lie on cardboard beds.
Medications are limited, and Sadanand said he has only seen a doctor once or twice every three days since he was admitted last Tuesday.
He saw two men in nearby beds screaming for medicine, but within hours they died when their oxygen seemed to run out
On Saturday, his fifth day at the center, at least five people around him had died.A corpse lay next to his on the bed for hours before it was removed.
India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said last month it would “rapidly” expand the facility to 2,000 oxygen-supplied beds to help address the city’s lack of hospital space. About 40 doctors and 120 expert paramedics had already been sent to the center.
Workers carry biodegradable cardboard beds in a makeshift ward of the Sardar Patel Covid Care Center and Hospital in New Delhi, India, on April 24, 2021.
But that goal does not match Sadanand’s experience.
“The government thinks they have opened this hospital, the patients are being treated here,” he said. “But nothing like that actually happens.
” Doctors rarely check on patients, Sadanand said. He fears that if he needs medical attention, he would be 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 is feeling a little better.
Sadanand Patel at Sardar Patel Covid Care Center. “You’re going to die lying on your bed because there’s no one to call the doctor,” he said. Others have had the same experience.
Sarita Saxena told CNN on Friday that her brother-in-law was admitted to the center after being rejected by at least seven hospitals.
She doesn’t believe there are doctors treating the patients – the only people who take care of them are family and friends.
Those people are at risk of catching Covid because there are no walls in the center to stop the spread. Others outside the hospital are so concerned about the lack of care that they are trying to fire their relatives.
Sadanand says he is so scared that he has repeatedly asked a doctor to move him to another hospital.
He made the same plea for his wife, but nowhere else will take him, Goldi says.
“He asked me to take him out of here, that he would stay at home, he’s not feeling well here and he’s very scared,” Goldi said on Saturday.
“I kept trying to explain that at least you get oxygen if you stay here.” At the Sardar Patel Covid care center.
At the Sardar Patel Covid care center. Diminishing oxygen supply Lala Lajpat Rai Memorial Medical College (LLRM), a hospital in the city of Meerut, in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh, is flooded. Everywhere people – on stretchers, on tables, on the floor – are groaning and desperate for oxygen.
According to hospital staff, there are approximately 55 beds for 100 patients. There are only five doctors. Some patients are on the floor.
One is 32-year-old mother of two Kavita, who doesn’t have a last name. She’s been lying on the hospital floor for four days, struggling to breathe. She says she has not been given oxygen and has seen 20 people die.
“I get worried,” she said. “I’m afraid I’ll stop breathing,” she said. Oxygen is a scarce resource in India, which reported more than 2.5 million cases in the past week.
Other countries have shipped oxygen bottles and concentrators to India that can help produce oxygen, and the government is transporting supplies across the country using its train network.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, said on Thursday that there was plenty of oxygen in the country and there was no need to panic.
“Oxygen was available in sufficient quantity before and now there is even more,” he told reporters outside a hospital. “We have so many more sources of oxygen available in the country … Whoever needs oxygen should get it.
” A health worker wearing a personal protective equipment suit visits a patient in a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid-19 coronavirus ward in New Delhi on May 1, 2021.
A health worker wearing a personal protective equipment suit visits a patient in a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid-19 coronavirus ward in New Delhi on May 1, 2021.
But hospitals are still struggling. Some hospitals have tweeted SOS messages and tagged official accounts advocating for more oxygen to help patients gasp.
Relatives of patients stand in line for hours outside oxygen filling centers with empty oxygen bottles. According to Dr. SCL Gupta,
the medical director of Batra Hospital, twelve people – including a doctor – died in a hospital in New Delhi Saturday after the facility ran out of oxygen.
Some hospitals have warned patients that if they want to be admitted for treatment, they must provide their own oxygen.
“We have now told patients before admitting that in an emergency they may need to get their own oxygen supply if they are admitted here,” said Poonam Goyal, a senior physician at Panchsheel Hospital in north Delhi on Saturday.
Outside of LLRM, family members of patients walked back and forth while waiting for news. Inside, LLRM administrator Dr. Gyanendra Kumar that the hospital had enough oxygen, but that there was a staff shortage.
“We don’t refuse anyone,” he said. “I have never experienced a crisis like this before the coronavirus, but this crisis I think we are dealing with it well.
” Lack of Medication Although Goldi Patel is relieved that her husband is getting oxygen, she is concerned about his general condition – without medications to treat his lung infection, the damage has spread to 80% of his lungs, a CT scan shows.
Every time he sits up, he starts to cough violently and the pain tears down his chest, she said. At the hospital, he gets food, water, and oxygen, but little medicine – hospital staff gave him antibiotics after telling staff she was going to kill herself.
On Friday she went to the center to bring medicine to her husband, who is the only earner in their family.
Goldi Patel outside the hospital in New Delhi. “Along with oxygen, the treatment is just as necessary,” Sadanand said.
“You can’t just live on the hope that things will be okay if you get oxygen.” Dr. Chandrasekhar Singha, a senior chief counselor in pediatric intensive care at Madhukar Rainbow Children’s Hospital in New Delhi, said a patient with an infection in 80% of their lungs should have their infection treated with antivirals, steroids and antibiotics, in addition to oxygen .
“Giving oxygen is buying you some time,” he said in general, adding that 80% of the infection “didn’t look right.” Goldi calls her husband every two or three hours. They only talk for a few minutes before his breathing becomes labored. “It feels dangerous,” she said. ‘I don’t let him talk too much. I’m tense all day. ‘
Goldi and Sadanand Patel. Goldi is afraid 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 that would cost 900 rupees ($ 12).
Still, she says, she needs to support her husband. Both their parents live in Uttar Pradesh and have no other support.
Both are frustrated with the ineffective response from the authorities. Sadanand said if he thought he was being treated well, he wouldn’t have involved his wife at all.
“If someone was admitted and treatment had started, you would never want your pregnant wife to go out during Covid cases to (try to find) a facility for you,” he said. “In your mind you will always worry about what will happen if she gets the coronavirus.”