New Delhi: On June 14, 27-year-old Suraj’s 49-year-old father fell ill.
“We took him to a private hospital for check-up at first. All his reports were fine. Then someone suggested that we must get him tested for corona also. So we took him to RUHS (Rajasthan University of Health Sciences),” said Suraj.
The next day, RUHS informed his family that his father had tested positive for coronavirus.
“A medical team came to our area, they probed everything and quarantined us at our house,” he said.
Suraj called his father in the hospital in the evening to check on him. “Bauji ne phone pe kaha – mujhey yahan se lejao, mera yahan koi ilaj nahi ho raha hai (‘My father said, take me out of here, I’m not being treated here’)”, Suraj told The Wire.
“We calmed him down and assured him that he will be fine,” he said.
The following day, on June 16, Suraj’s father reiterated the same thing on the phone: “Please take me from here.”
“Bauji se baat karney ke baad hamney kisi jaan-pehchan waley se bhi baat ki thi, unhoney ne kaha sab theek hojayega (‘We spoke to someone we know in the system, he assured us that everything will be alright’),” Suraj said.
However, over the next two days whenever Suraj’s family tried to call his father, no one answered the cellphone.
When asked if Suraj tried reaching his father in any other way or if he tried going to the hospital, he said, “I tried the hospital’s number also but the number there is always busy. I tried going to the hospital but visitors are not allowed to go inside and meet with COVID-19 patients”
On June 19, Suraj’s family got a call from the mortuary of the Sawai Man Singh Hospital (SMS) saying that his father had passed away. “Main jaan na chahta hu ki hua kya, hospital itna laparwah kaisey ho sakta hai (‘I want to know what really happened in between, how can the hospital be so careless’),” Suraj said.
At the SMS mortuary in Jaipur, Suraj’s family learnt that the hospital had noted down the wrong address and phone number of the patient and hence, it took two days for them to inform the family.
“We live in Dharmapuri and I clearly remember giving our correct address to the medical staff but they had noted some other address. It was ‘Bharatpur’. This is carelessness on the part of the hospital,” he said.
The hospital, Suraj said, continued to give them a tough time. When he and his family went to the hospital to collect his father’s documents – they weren’t given any. They were told there was nothing that belonged to them.
“My father had a set of documents with him, his Aadhaar card, his test reports, etc. We were not given anything,” he said.
Even now, almost a month after his father’s death, no discharge ticket and not even the death certificate – which mentions the cause of death– has been given to them.
Only his father’s mobile phone was handed over to them by the ward boy. “Vo bhi hamey do ghantey wait karaney k baad diya (‘That too, we were given after waiting for two hours’)”, alleged Suraj.
His family’s suspicion about the events preceding his father’s death took another turn when they found a video on his phone.
In a short video, Suraj’s father can be heard saying, “Yahan ilaj nahi ho raha. Laa kar patak rakha hai. Isiliye main aatmhatya kar raha hu. main bohot dukhi hu (‘I’m not being treated here. They just kept me here. That’s why I am taking my life. I’m distressed’).”
The video can be seen here and could be distressing to some viewers.
Suraj has said that he tried to contact the hospital regarding the video but has not received any response so far.
Reports about Suraj’s father’s death by alleged suicide first appeared in a local newspaper – Rajasthan Patrika. After that, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), a group of activists and civil society members working for equal and accessible public health access, raise his father’s case.
Speaking to The Wire, Chhaya Pachauli of JSA said that the case seems suspicious. “They noted a wrong address, then they didn’t give them the documents. For two days, the hospital made no communication with the patient’s family. This reflects a lag in our public health system. There could be more such cases, who knows,” Pachauli said.
The JSA has also written a letter to the chief minister of Rajasthan demanding a probe in the matter. In the letter they say that it is evident from the video found in the patient’s phone that he was pushed into “intense mental stress regarding his health”. “The state of mind that he was in is clearly evident from a self-recorded video found in his phone… this raises serious questions on the quality of care being provided by this particular hospital to COVID-19 patients,” the letter said.
Requesting anonymity, a doctor from RUHS, in the know of the matter, defended the hospital and healthcare workers.
He said that with doctors and nurses attending to patients on all floors, he found it hard to believe that a COVID-19 patient was left unattended. “We did shift him to the ICU on June 16. Why did we do that if he was left unattended?” he said.
On being asked about the video, the doctor said that they were trying to ascertain the reasons surrounding it. He said that in the presence of nurses and doctors, it was hard for him to believe that a patient could have died by suicide.
“If the patient did this [died by suicide], we would have registered an FIR,” the doctor said.
The doctor admitted that an incorrect phone number and incorrect address was noted which was the reason why the family could not be informed about the patient’s death sooner.
When asked about the allegation made by the patient’s family (that they had not been provided with a death certificate – which would give them the exact date and time and reason of death), the doctor said that he would enquire about this from the hospital staff and make sure that the patient received everything.
Speaking to The Wire, The chief medical health officer of Jaipur, Narottam Sharma said that they have asked for a detailed report from RUHS through an official letter issued by the state government of Rajasthan.
The Jan Swasthya Abhiyan has also demanded that a committee be constituted for a probe. The state government should conduct a “detailed social and clinical audit of the death” and the report must be submitted within five days of its constitution, the Abhiyan has demanded.
In addition, JSA has also demanded that the chief in-charge of RUHS hospital “should be suspended with immediate effect”.
Suraj and his family are still in the dark about his father’s death.
Earlier this month, a similar case highlighting the state of public healthcare emerged in Hyderabad.
In a video, a 35-year-old patient had alleged that doctors did not provide him with a ventilator even after he complained of breathing problems. He said that no one was listening to him or taking care of him. He ended the video by saying, “Bye daddy, Bye all”.
The superintendent of the hospital in Hyderabad later told the media that all these claims were baseless and that the patient died of myocarditis and did not need a ventilator at all.
If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers (www.spif.in/seek-help/) they can call to speak in confidence. You could also appear them to the nearest hospital.