The catastrophic second wave of Covid-19 ravaging the country has left Bengaluru battered, with its active caseload currently hovering over 3.5 lakh.
The figure is three times that of Delhi and six times that of Mumbai. Irrefutably, the worst-affected metro city in the current wave, Bengaluru has left its citizens scrambling for beds, oxygens and other medical supplies.
Sample these harrowing scenarios that bring out the sheer helplessness of the city’s residents.
Hopeless search for a bed
On 19 April, a 29-year-old Covid-19 patient’s family had reached out to the News18 team as they needed an ICU bed. The patient was at a prominent hospital in Whitefield, but only a regular bed was available, and his condition was deteriorating fast.
The News18 team reached out to the city’s Covid-19 war room, but was told that ICU beds are not available. A High Dependency Unit (HDU) was available, but at a hospital 20 km away.
The family was not sure if they should move the patient so far. They sent a close friend to the hospital concerned to start the admission process and ensure the bed was indeed allocated. But the family was curtly told the bed was no longer available.
“There is a mismatch between what is available and what is showing on BBMP website. I have no HDU vacancy right now. We had walk-ins, we had to take other patients in,” said the hospital supervisor.
This happened even after the BBMP allocated a bed to the patient. The rule is if the BBMP has allocated a bed, hospitals cannot refuse admission to patients.
Officials at the war room threw up their hands. “When there is a vacancy, we allocate the bed. They are supposed to admit the patient. If the hospitals say no, we have no control over that. What can we do?”
A senior officer at the war room even said, “Why did they take four hours to go?”
The patient’s family, meanwhile, felt helpless.
“Imagine if we had taken the patient and then realised that this bed is also gone. Already, this hospital is asking us to discharge the patient and vacate. They say if BBMP has allocated, it has to be done. If this hospital discharges us, where do we go then?” said a patient’s family member.
Plasma therapy saved this 39-year-old woman
It was 30 April. The husband of a 39-year-old Covid-19 positive woman had taken her to a private hospital in south Bengaluru, where she was stabilised with oxygen supply at the emergency. But the hospital didn’t admit her.
Next morning, after spending a night in the emergency ward at the hospital, the patient’s condition deteriorated. The family somehow managed to admit the patient at a hospital in Whitefield. But her condition deteriorated further. She was advised Remdevisir doses, which were not available at the hospital’s pharmacy. But after registering with the state control room, the medicines were delivered in about an hour.
Doctors also advised the family to be ready with a donor for plasma. The family luckily found a donor in Tumkur. The patient’s plasma therapy began, but she was still critical five hours later. It was on May 3 that the patient began showing signs of recovery.
Repeated denial of hospital admissions
A 67-year-old woman with several comorbidities was gasping for breath on May 1. She had lost her husband just four days back.
Her daughter-in-law took her to a hospital in Rajajinagar, where her rapid antigen test came out to be positive. Her oxygen level dropped to 57, which stabilised at 70 after she was administered oxygen at the emergency ward. But moments later, the hospital staff told the family to admit her in some other hospitals as they have other patients to see too.
The family then begins frantic search for a hospital. They called the BBMP helpline, following which an ambulance was sent after they allocated a bed in another hospital, just a kilometre away.
But when the patient was taken there, the hospital denied admitting her due to lack of ICU beds.
The family called the BBMP again, but they said no ICU bed was available anywhere.
The family, however, stays put at the hospital’s emergency ward. They refused to budge in the hope of finding an ICU bed there or somewhere else. They were, however, told to vacate repeatedly by the hospital’s staff. The family finally took her back home with an oxygen cylinder. A relative then “somehow” managed an ICU bed in a private hospital in Basavanagudi, about eight km away. They rush in an ambulance and got her admitted.
On May 3, the patient’s condition was improving but she was still under “ventilation and observation for 24 hours”. But on May 6, the patient’s condition deteriorated and she died.
Knocking on CM’s door
On May 6, an ambulance arrived outside Chief Minister B. S. Yediyurappa’s residence in the heart of Bengaluru.
The wife of a Covid-19 patient from Ramohalli in the vehicle was frantic. The family had taken the patient, Satish, to almost 15 hospitals, but couldn’t get admission anywhere.
“My father was in home isolation,” said Preetham S, Satish’s younger son, a Class 9 student.
“But around 1.30 am, he started getting breathing difficulty. So we administered steaming, then called an ambulance.”
The ambulance came around 3 am, and they went to at least a dozen hospitals in the vicinity. Satish was working for Thomas Cook India, processing visas and documentation, but with the tourism sector down, he has only been getting a sustenance allowance since the last lockdown.
The family had started a small grocery shop a few months ago, and Satish had been considering whether he should take up this trade permanently. But before he could make up his mind, he was gone.
“Most hospitals said unless we have a ‘BU’ number (the numbers given by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike for patients), they cannot admit us. One hospital’s security stopped us from entering the gates, pretended to call someone inside, and the guard then told us there were no beds,” said Preetham.
“We had the Bangalore South MP’s helpline number, which had appeared on TV. We called, but it was switched off till 7 am. After 7 am, we got some recorded responses, we could never connect to anyone,” he said.
“We called 1912, that wasn’t any help either. We even went to hospitals in Rajajinagar, and the KC General Hospital, a government hospital. We found patients there like us, equally frantic. Another hospital we called cut our call saying the BBMP has to call them before we do,” he added.
Preetham said they landed at the CM’s house in the hope of getting some help.
The CM’s office did manage to direct them to MS Ramaiah Hospital, but before the family could reach there, Satish had breathed his last.
“We didn’t know who to call, we had tried helplines, had tried hospitals directly. If something had been done earlier, maybe we could have saved him,” Preetham said.
Following the incident, police have put up barricades around the CM’s home to ensure such a scenario doesn’t recur.
Over the last 20 days, the Karnataka government has constituted and reconstituted task forces, committees, groups of ministers, designated and re-designated officers, ministers, and held daily reviews to take stock of the pandemic in the state.
New guidelines have been passed on how hospitals must not insist on Covid-19 report, and that they must admit all symptomatic patients without a question.
But the process of getting a hospital admission hasn’t changed since April 20. The only way to get into a hospital in Bengaluru seems to be by sheer luck and not all of us are so lucky.