Srinagar: Two days ago, a 47-year-old female patient suffering from bilateral pneumonia was put on oxygen at SMHS Hospital Srinagar when the cylinder ran empty. Within minutes, her face turned deathly pale, and she was gasping for breath.
“All oxygen supplying beds were occupied at that time. So we had to put this patient on a cylinder overnight and it was exhausted by 12 in the afternoon. The worst part was that all the stored cylinders in the supply centre were already given to the patients. It would have taken at least two more hours to refill the cylinder,” the resident doctor treating the patient said.
The doctor said her oxygen saturation level dipped to 30 percent against the normal 96% and 98%.
“She had a case of severe respiratory distress. So I had to manage and arrange for a temporary oxygen cylinder after making several requests. I could ill-afford to leave her without oxygen for such a long time. Unfortunately, these scenes are becoming pretty normal in the hospital and there is little I can do about it,” the doctor said.
Kashmir is witnessing an exponential rise in the cases of bilateral pneumonia in the summer months. People as young as 17 and 20 years of age are reporting to the hospitals.
“The young patients come with a saturation of 96 percent in the morning. We send them home thinking they are stable. But within 10 -12 hours, their oxygen saturation dips to 88 percent and they become sick,” a medico at SMHS Hospital said.
He said the six designated COVID wards in the hospital are full.
“In addition, bilateral pneumonia cases have also flowed into general medicine wards. Whatever admissions we have in SMHS, 95 percent of them are the cases of bilateral pneumonia. Only 5 percent are routine cases,” he said.
He noted that the hospital has adopted an alternative discharge policy now. “The stable COVID positive patients are being sent home after two to three days or to a COVID care facility which caters to asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic patients,” he said.
To make the matters worse, the COVID suspects, COVID negatives, COVID positives, and cases of bilateral pneumonia are getting mixed. The apathy of patients and attendants towards COVID protocols has further worsened the situation.
Sample this: Two weeks ago, a 55-year-old COVID positive patient was admitted to SMHS Hospital. “Despite our warnings, his wife continued to visit the hospital. Consequently, she also acquired the virus. Their son also became symptomatic followed by his grandmother. She expired within two weeks of admission as a 95-year-old is too weak to combat the virus,” a junior resident doctor said.
The doctor pointed out that it has become normal in the wards to see a mother lying on one bed and son on the adjacent bed.
“If only they listened to us, this would never happen,” the doctor said.
Like every crisis, the NGOs, Masjid and Mohalla committees are now at the forefront to procure concentrators and Oxygen cylinders.
“Masjid and Mohalla committees are coming forward and they are utilizing the money for the upkeep of the mosques to procure the concentrators. Each Mohalla is procuring two to three oxygen concentrators for the patients and it is happening mostly in the peripheries,” a senior doctor said.
He explained that certain NGOs are also chipping in and giving the oxygen concentrators at subsidized rates to patients.
President Doctors Association of Kashmir Dr. Suhail Naik said the reality is that a large number of patients who are suffering from bilateral pneumonia do not come to the hospital.
“They try to manage their illness at home and this practice of hiding, illness, and self-management can prove disastrous. They are purchasing or procuring oxygen concentrators from different NGO and only visit hospitals when their condition deteriorates or land into major complications,” he said.
He said the priority of the government must be decentralization of health services and equip rural health care systems with level 2 and level 3 facilities from north to south.
“Oxygen is the drug of choice for COVID bilateral pneumonia and it should be available at all the hospitals in abundance. It is dead impossible for NGO to sustain the oxygen supply chain and only the government has absolute power and resources to upgrade oxygen plants or cylinders across the length and breadth,” he said.