“We knew she would die:” A mother’s death, an attendant’s tale

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On the sixth day of her admission in the hospital, Rouf Rashid Bhat was sure that his mother would not survive.

On the morning of 24 April, Salima Rashid’s oxygen dropped abruptly to 55 SpO2. Bhat said he ran from one doctor to another to get his mother shifted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital as 50-year-old Rashid gasped.

But he was told to wait as the ICU was full.

Unable to bear his mother’s agonising struggle, Bhat requested the hospital administration for BiPAP or Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure — a non-invasive form of ventilation used for providing oxygen support — but was told “to bring one from a non-profit”.

He left the hospital in search of BiPAP at 10 am and returned an hour and a half later. “I managed to get the BiPAP but the hospital staff could not figure out how to connect it for around one hour,” he said.

Around 4 in the afternoon, Bhat was finally asked to shift his mother to the ICU since the previous patient had died. “They were treating her so badly in the ICU as if she wasn’t even alive. They literally lifted her and put her on the ICU bed like a sack,” he said.

At 4:45 pm, Rashid’s oxygen saturation level dropped to 24 SpO2 and with that Bhat lost the hope of saving his mother. “She died after that and I could not do anything,” said Bhat.

“My mother had realised she would not survive,” said Bhat. “We also knew she was going to die.”

From Ward To Ward

Bhat was himself COVID-19 positive and despite that he had to be his mother’s attendant and also had to run to the market to buy food and medicines for her.

“I used to wear a mask, that was the only precaution I could take. I had no option but to go out,” said Bhat, who spent six days in SMHS hospital taking care of his COVID-positive mother.

On 12 April, right after Rashid came home after getting her first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, she started coughing.

For two days, Bhat continued giving antibiotics to his mother at home but there was no sign of recovery. After going for Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) as well as RT PCR on 14 April, Bhat came to know that he along with his mother had been infected.

The abrupt drop in his mother’s saturation level forced Bhat to rush her to SMHS hospital where he had to request the doctors to get her admitted, he said. “I told the doctor that my mother and I were positive and we could infect others. Where should they have kept us? In the COVID ward, right? But they told us to go to the medical emergency ward instead,” Bhat said.

Bhat was told to shift his mother from one ward to another till she was finally given a bed in ward number three, he said, where COVID-positive patients were kept together with the other patients. “There was no longer a separate COVID ward in SMHS,” he said.

Bhat spent the next six days rushing across various wards of SMHS — one of the biggest COVID care hospital of Kashmir valley — looking for the doctors to check on his mother, rushing to the market to arrange medicines and BiPAP for her and sitting near her to comfort her, forgetting about his own illness.

Six Days, Many Struggles

On his first day in the hospital, Bhat noticed COVID-19 positive patients roaming around freely in the hospital. “I myself was positive but I was forced to go out and arrange things on my own,” said Bhat, adding that he had to carry an oxygen cylinder for his mother on his shoulders.

During the next few days, Bhat said that the doctors would hardly visit the wards for checking on the COVID-19 patients and just one doctor undergoing post-graduation had been assigned the duty at the ward where Rashid was admitted. “I hardly saw the Unit Head three times in those days,” he added.

While seeing the condition of COVID-19 patients around him, Bhat kept insisting on getting his mother’s X-Ray done, however, there was no portable X-Ray or CT Scan machine available in the ward, said Bhat. “How could a patient go out to get the tests done?” he said.

Seeing his mother’s deteriorating health condition, Bhat wanted to ensure that she was getting proper food required during COVID-19 but due to the unavailability of food in the hospital, Bhat said that he was forced to go out to make purchases.

“The administration needed to take care of the fact that if there were so many COVID patients in the ward, nobody should have been allowed to go out,” he said. “But there were no facilities and no food for the patients.”

During her stay in the hospital, Rashid’s condition worsened once during the night and there was no doctor available in the ward, said Bhat, as the doctor was “sleeping in his room”. “I had to wake him up,” said Bhat.

With the hospital administration failing to stop the attendants from entering or leaving the ward, each COVID-19 patient had many attendants staying inside the ward, said Bhat. “People did not even wear proper masks or protection gears,” he said.

Doctors Speak

Kanwarjeet Singh, Medical Superintendent, SMHS hospital, said he has been recently appointed as the MS and is not in a position to speak on the issues.

Nazir Chaudhary, the former MS, SMHS hospital, said he cannot speak on the specific case. When asked about the overall mismanagement, including the allegations made by Bhat, Chaudhary said, “It is better to speak to the principal”.

Saima Rashid, Principal Government Medical College, Srinagar, did not answer the phone call.

A doctor at the SMHS hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it is not possible to maintain ward separation as the patient numbers are “very high”.

“There are limited numbers of wards, so ultimately every ward will have to take COVID19 patients … we are seeing hundreds of patients every day and we are not able to discharge enough patients and keep up with the pace of admissions,” the doctor said.

Irtifa Kanth, the spokesperson of Resident Doctors’ Association SMHS hospital, said the doctors “have been able to handle the situation the best way possible”.

He said the SMHS hospital receives 30 to 40 COVID-19 admissions and 10 to 15 non-COVID admissions each day as well as 400 patients every day treated in the casualty ward.

He said there are more than 200 COVID-19 pneumonia and bilateral community acquired pneumonia patients admitted at the hospital at present and nearly 150 non-COVID patients.

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