Overworked Lucknow Hospitals have No Time for COVID-19 Protocols

Visitors are unmonitored. Patient attendants serve as nurses. But bodies cannot be released for funerals without an undertaking for pandemic-appropriate behaviour.

Lucknow: When a 90-year-old relative of Kiran Dixit, who runs an NGO called Ithai, went to Lucknow from Azamgarh for COVID-19 treatment, she took him to the nearest private hospital, waited until his condition stabilised and then took him to her home for the rest of his treatment.

“The hospital staff did not follow COVID-19 protocols. So it made better sense to have my relative treated at home,” said Dixit. “I have told all of my extended family to get their COVID-19 treatment at home as far as possible.”

Lucknow has so many coronavirus-infected patients that the only word you can use to describe the city’s hospitals at this time is ‘chaotic’.

Spend a couple of hours at any of the hospitals in Lucknow’s Alambagh area and beyond and you will see why. The hospitals have different names, but the scenes within them are similar.

Many small and medium-sized private nursing homes or hospitals are so severely pressured that the staff exhibit a startling lack of concern for all hospital protocols, including COVID-19 appropriate behaviour. Visits to hospital after hospital showed the same sort of thing: Limited staff in sections designated as COVID-19 wards. One oximeter used on several patients. Poorly lit, barely clean rooms. Attendants of patients serving as their patients’ nursing aides.

There are no separators in the rooms. The average room, big enough only for one patient, houses two patients and two attendants. A ward that has four patients with COVID-19 has no space for attendants, but the attendants must nurse their patients and call the doctor only in an emergency.

The struggle at these hospitals is unending. There are no restrictions on visitors. Inside the COVID-19 ward, you could find more than two attendants. This widens the scope of infection. The ward boys sell you essentials such as gloves, cotton, diapers for a cut of the price. Nothing is available for its actual price.

But no one dares to raise a voice against this treatment. The hospital has, after all, has provided patients with a bed and oxygen. If you do dare complain, there is one standard reply: “Apna mareez le jao – jahan marzi le jao, jo marzi karo (Take your patient wherever you please, do as you please).”

Irregular regulations

Hospital fees also cannot be questioned. They are often unaffordable, even though, according to Dr D.S. Negi, the state director general of health, the government has issued rules for private hospitals and are enforcing them with inspections.

“We have issued guidelines and regulations for private hospitals and even capped charges on oxygen and ICU beds. There are strict norms set by the government,” said Dr Negi. “We have also cracked down on some private hospitals,” he added.

These regulations were perhaps set too late for Ramesh Sharma, a woodwork contractor who, on April 26, had to take his mother to a hospital for treatment.

“I first went to a private hospital called Avadh and then to Apollo Hospital, Sarkar Hospital and finally to K.M. Hospital,” Sharma said. “Apollo asked for a deposit of more than Rs 1 lakh for admission and said my mother needed an intensive care unit bed. This was beyond my means. So I ran to Sarkar Hospital, which asked for a deposit of Rs 90,000. I did not have that money. Finally, I admitted my mother at K.M. Hospital. Their fees were also beyond my means but at last, I could get a bed for my mother.”

However, the hospital bed did not come with a ventilator. Although Sharma and his son slogged for hours every day to ensure that her oxygen cylinder remained full, Mrs Sharma senior passed away on May 1.

“My shop has been closed for the past two months,” said Sharma. “There is no income and we spent our savings on my mother. So here I am after the sufferings of two months. My mother, my money and my confidence – everything is lost.”

Also Read: COVID Crisis: A Personal Experience of Treatment in Lucknow

Scenes from a hospital

At one of the small hospitals in the Alambagh area, I witnessed this scene.

A man whose one-month-old baby had been left with a relative so he could take care of his COVID-19 affected wife at the hospital was confused. His wife had been on oxygen for three days, but her condition had not improved. In fact, her oxygen levels were falling even lower and she could not breathe.

He gave her a frantic pep talk: “You have been given your medicines. Why can’t you breathe? You’re not trying hard enough. Try. Try.”

Then he started screaming at his wife: “Why aren’t you trying? Why? What is wrong with you?”

Somehow he managed to speak to a doctor who was polite enough to tell him that his wife had acute COVID-19.

Another critically ill patient in the same hospital died at about 4:30 in the evening. The hapless relatives asked about the procedure to take the body.

The doctors informed them that they would get the body after giving an undertaking that they would follow the COVID-19 protocols while cremating the deceased. Otherwise, the body would be kept at the hospital until picked up by the Lucknow Nagar Nigam.

The body was kept for more than four hours in the same room where other patients were being treated.

Kiran Dixit was correct. The hospitals of Lucknow, as they are at this time, are best avoided.