Mansoor Ahmed, acquired a doctor’s degree (MBBS) from Mysore Medical College in 1974. It was sadly ironical that the 76-year-old doctor, who practiced medicine for close to five decades, could not find a bed for his wife, 68-year-old Sajida Shireen, despite making several frantic calls to colleagues for help.
“I begged my former colleagues to help but their hands were tied as their hospitals lacked resources,” he told The Quint.
Reason, Bengaluru where Dr Ahmed lives, is facing an acute shortage of hospital beds. As of 19 April, out of 6,102 beds for COVID-19 patients in Bengaluru hospitals, 4,475 are occupied, The Quint has gathered from the state’s health department. In the city, 323 out of 341 ICU beds are also occupied.
A Senior Citizen Scouts for Help
Emotionally drained and physically exhausted, Dr Ahmed was unable to tap into his years of medical experience while taking care of his wife. An overwhelmed Ahmed struggled to operate an oxygen cylinder and had to take the help of his niece Nida Zahara, who had procured the cylinder from a private vendor. Government hospitals do not provide oxygen to Out Patients (OP).
Shireen had developed symptoms including shortness of breath on 13 April.
By 15 April, she was gasping for breath as her oxygen saturation level had dipped to 85 points. Any dip below 90 points is considered a threat. The couple were not able to get Shireen's RT-PCR test done. “We booked a test but the sample collectors did not turn up. We got an oxygen cylinder and tried to help her but her saturation level kept dipping,” Nida told The Quint.
Ahmed tried reaching out to former colleagues who still practice in six of Bengaluru’s top hospitals. “They were helpless as they could not schedule a test because of the active case load,” Ahmed said. In Karnataka, as of 19 April, a total of 1.42 lakh patients are under treatment for COVID-19.
On 16 April, the family arranged for an antibody test at a private health clinic, because a COVID-19 positive result is mandatory for hospital admission. “She tested positive and we started looking for beds on the government run helpline,” Nida, who is the principal care-giver for the couple, said.
“I reached out to my friends again. They failed a second time as all beds were occupied in their hospitals. I was rendered helpless.”Mansoor Ahmed
Next, Nida approached Mercy Mission, an umbrella organisation of 20 Non Governmental Organisations that has been working on COVID-19 relief since June 2020.
Help From Volunteers
Bengaluru is currently managing its health emergency with the help of health volunteers. Zahra Ali Akthar, a volunteer at Mercy Mission and member of Project Smile NGO, said hundreds are reaching out to them.
From 1 April to 18 April calls received on the Mission’s helpline increased from 40 to a whopping 722.
“We have been taking calls on 24X7 shifts. Most people are reaching out for oxygen cylinders, hospital beds and remdesivir injections,” Akthar said. Doctors too have been reaching out to them for help, she confirmed.
On 19 April, Ameen Mudassir, the founder of COVID Helpline Bengaluru circulated a video in which he appealed for the government to step in. “In the last two, three days we are receiving calls from families who are literally begging us. Crying and asking, ‘Sir, get us one bed. My mother is dying. My son is dying. Get us one injection of Remdesivir. And we haven’t been able to arrange it,” Mudassir broke down on camera.
Ahmed said that the medical fraternity is facing an unprecedented crisis and that all doctors are helpless. “They are not able to help family or friends. Then, think about the common man.” Ahmed’s wife could not be taken to a hospital on 16 April.
The next day, Shireen’s health, due to multiple co-morbidities including diabetes, deteriorated further.
The family remained glued to the phone and Mercy Mission finally arranged help. “We finally got a bed in a private hospital. We arranged for an ambulance from Mercy Mission and went to the hospital as the facility did not have ambulances available. She was admitted late night on 17 April,” Zahra said.
Humiliating and Frightening
Describing the ordeal, Dr Ahmed says it felt like being brought to one's knees. “In forty years of medical practice, never had I faced such a situation of helplessness,” he said. Ahmed used to be a pediatric physician and has worked in Libya, Saudi Arabia and India.
He was not allowed to accompany his wife as he had received only one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. When he went for a second dose he was turned away due to vaccine shortage. “The doctor at the medical facility said he will inform me when the vaccine is available. It was humiliating and scary,” Ahmed said.
Zahra Ali Akthar, the volunteer who has been handling acutely serious patients says some people have even been trying to abandon their ailing elderly family members. “Two women tried to leave their ailing relative at the Mercy Mission office in Bengaluru. We finally had to get the senior citizen admitted in a hospital,” she said.
Karnataka’s health department has claimed that there is no shortage of oxygen. Industrial oxygen will be diverted for medical use, minister for health, Dr K Sudhakar, said on 19 April.
However, the condition, even of those admitted in hospitals, does not seem to be promising, On 20 April, Ahmed’s wife Shireen who developed a lung infection had to be administered further doses of remdesivir. “The hospital suddenly asked for her Aadhar card. Again we had to scramble for help. The suffering seems unending,” Zahra said.
But Dr Ahmed says, after the many days of challenges, he is now no longer overwhelmed. “I have mustered enough courage to face this,” he said.