It begins drizzling just as I step into the campus gate. The raindrops come as such a relief in this heat, that I don’t bother to hasten my pace. Soaking in the pleasure of the raindrops falling on me, I reach the department, only to find that I have arrived too early as usual. I hang my backpack on the fence, and decide to stroll on the road. The shade of two banyan trees ensures that I am shielded from the raindrops. I like the breeze against my face. The 3000 steps on my pedometer turn to 5000. As I walk I realize that today, there are hardly two relatives waiting outside. It is quiet. Is it the rain, or has the patient load reduced? There are no rushing ambulances either. A rarity to find peace these days in the morning.
I said that too early. As I watch, an ambulance drives in. The driver keeps moving the vehicle forward and backward, trying to park straight. Suddenly my eyes fall on the writing on the ambulance. It mentions the name of a private organization in Sasaram. Sasaram in Bihar? I must be mistaken. Why will an ambulance come to Delhi from nearly 1000 km away? Surely there must be other hospitals in the vicinity. I look at the registration number of the ambulance. Sure enough, it is a Bihar number. Rather strange, I think. The driver cabin is separated from the patient by a plastic sheet used as a screen. A teen girl and a boy descend from the ambulance. They look extremely tired and bedraggled.
I’m distracted by some of my colleagues who have arrived. One of them had been complaining of mild symptoms since the weekend, and I urge him to get tested. I then mention how strange it is to see an ambulance from Bihar in Delhi. They look around to where I point, and suddenly one of them gives a whoop of recognition. The man who has just descended from the vehicle happens to work as a driver for one of our faculty members. A few questions reveal that he has brought his wife who has COVID from Sasaram, as she wasn’t getting better there.
An hour later, everyone seems to be outside the department. The driver and his children have admitted the lady in the ward, and now they are standing outside with several bags. He has a long story to narrate. He went back home almost a week ago, when he heard that his wife was unwell. Her fever was not getting better. He tried getting her treated at the local places where he was asked to pay Rs 100000, with no improvement in his wife’s condition. She started getting breathless. He was asked to get an ultrasound done. In consultation with the faculty here, he insisted on getting a HRCT done. It showed a score of 22/25 and he panicked.
He tells us the story of how the private ambulance demanded Rs 50,000 to make this trip with no scope for concessions or bargaining. This even when it was just a van without any oxygen facilities or paramedics. He tells us how he procured two oxygen cylinders from the black-market for Rs 60000. And then of the 16-hour long journey where he had to give injections and regulate the oxygen himself. Hope glistens on his forehead with his sweat as he says: “She looks tana-tan. I know she will make it”.
That glow of satisfaction on his face shows that he tried his best. I’m thinking of how his entire life’s savings must have gone into this journey, and I’m wondering of the debt that he must have landed himself into. While he looks satisfied, my heart is sinking, thinking of how the lady would have survived that trip. I don’t have the courage to tell him that with a score of 22/25 her chances of survival are bleak. He and his children haven’t had a bath or a proper meal for the last three days. We all tell him to go home and rest, as his wife is now in the right hands.
What is this tendency amongst people to exploit the most needy in their worst hours to make a profit? How callous can the citizens of this country get in a calamity? The cost of pulse oximeters is hitting the roof. We don’t even know the quality of these locally manufactured gadgets which are being made by new companies. Just thinking of all the people who hoard stuff and mint a fortune in a crisis gets my goat. Are we fit enough to be called human?
A friend tells me how he took his ailing aunt to a hospital where she was declared dead on arrival. Given the circumstances, they decided to take her directly to the crematorium from the hospital. An hour-long trip within Delhi was charged Rs 17000 by the ambulance driver. Simple drugs like prednisolone are missing from the market. A batchmate talks of how she spent 8 hours hunting for medication for her breathless spouse, before she got it couriered from friends in Mumbai. And to think these are either doctors or healthcare workers who know the system. What about the common man on the street? Atma-nirbharta to the fore indeed!
Two days later, I ask the faculty member how her driver’s wife was doing. She is doing well, I am told. What a relief to hear this news after all the heroics the driver attempted, I think. But wait, didn’t she have a terrible CT score? “I’m not even sure the CT scan he was given belonged to the same patient,” she says.