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Exhaustion, Helplessness: A Delhi Ambulance Driver’s Day at Work

As Delhi battles its fourth wave, here’s what a day in the life of an ambulance driver in the city looks like. 

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3 min read

Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya

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“Around a month back, we were receiving just two or three calls for COVID-19 patients in a day. But now, there's no limit,” remarks 45-year-old Tej Bahadur, as he steers his ambulance towards its base in east Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar. A pilot with the CATS Ambulance service since 2018, Bahadur is no stranger to the wheels.

After all, he had worked as a government vehicle driver in Delhi before taking up the job of an ambulance pilot. In the first year, it felt like driving any other vehicle, Bahadur admits, but things changed quickly when the COVID-19 pandemic hit India in early 2020.

“In the beginning, it would feel like driving just another car. But then, COVID-19 emerged as a huge concern for the country. You can see the condition of the country today. It is only now that I have realised what it takes to do the job of an ambulance driver.”  
Tej Bahadur, Ambulance Pilot

Well aware of the risk associated with his job, the resident of Gokulpuri in northeast Delhi says that the moment he steps out of his house, he leaves thoughts about his two children, wife, mother and an ailing brother behind.

They Leave ‘All Thoughts at Home’

Every morning, Bahadur leaves his two-room house in Gokulpuri on a motorcycle for Lal Bahadur Shashtri Hospital in East Delhi. Following the 20-minute drive, he shares a cup of tea with paramedic Hoshiyar Singh, inspects the ambulance and then leaves for his designated base at about 8 am.

Asked if thinks of his family during the many calls he has to attend, Bahadur says “we leave all out thoughts at home. As soon as we get a call, we just see whether we have to see left or right.”

On the day we followed Bahadur, his first call came from a resident of Mayur Vihar, who had developed renal complications and was in need of urgent hospitalisation. “We can’t ignore such patients if we get a call, hospitalisation for them is as important for as for COVID patients,” he says. 

After dropping the patient at ILBS in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, Bahadur gets his second call from Lal Bahadur Shashtri Hospital. But upon reaching the hospital, the ambulance pilot learns that the patient is suspected to be COVID-19 positive, with dipping oxygen levels.

The call is cancelled as the oxygen in his ambulance is not high-pressure enough to sustain the air-starved patient oh her journey to GTB hospital.

“He may not survive on the oxygen cylinder we have. We risk our lives and just speed a way to the hospital. But, in case the hospital doesn’t admit the patient or makes him wait for 15-20 minutes, his life will be at great risk.”
Tej Bahadur, Ambulance Pilot

This is followed by a third call, where the patient who is COVID-19-positive, refuses to get admitted to LNJP saying that he’s doing fine and has been under the constant care of a medical team.

The fourth call comes in the form of a COVID-19 patient, who has to ferried to and from the CT scan centre.

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Faced With Despair

But just as the sun began to set, Tej Bahadur encountered the youngest COVID-19 patient he had attended to since 2020 – three-year-old Sukhvinder Singh. The toddler had been admitted to LBS because of diarrhoea, but tested positive for the COVID-19 only after hospitalisation.

Since LBS isn’t a COVID-19 designated hospital, Sukhvinder’s parents were asked to shift the toddler to GTB hospital. However, upon reaching the Delhi government hospital, the ambulance wasn’t even allowed to enter its premises on the pretext of unavailability of beds.

“The government doctor has referred the child to GTB. They should say that they don’t have beds available and that the child should be taken to Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital. They are not even doing this. What is the point of closing gates? Have you ever seen shut hospital gates in life?”
Tej Bahadur, Ambulance Pilot

Sukhvinder was then taken to Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital, where too, he was denied admission. After spending about two hours searching for a bed, the three-year-old returned to LBS with his parents. “We don't know anyone here. Where else will we go? Because of lockdown, I haven't been able to go to work,” said Sukhvinder’s father, who works as a labourer, earning about Rs 300-400 per day.

Having pulled out all stops to help the toddler get a hospital bed, Tej Bahadur had his own moment of despair. “I tried everything possible to get the child admitted. I feel that I won't be able to get any patient admitted because those senior to me had given up.”

When asked about the mental toll the second wave has had on him, Bahadur says “If our mental balance is disturbed, the situation in the country will turn even worse.”

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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