However, smaller hospitals — with lesser influence but equally worried about the Covid patients in their care — were jittery and reaching a breaking point. Some of them began asking their patients to look for beds in other hospitals while stopping new admissions.
“We are supposed to give life. If we cannot give even oxygen, our patients will die,” said Sunil Kumar Saggar, CEO of Shanti Mukand Hospital in Karkardooma, in a choked voice around 2.43pm on Thursday with his hospital left with just two hours of oxygen. He was anxious about the 110 Covid patients in their care.
The crisis had started brewing at this 200-bed hospital around 3am. Out of the 110 Covid patients, 12 were on ventilator with one consuming 18 litres of oxygen per minute. Saggar, along with a couple of doctors, reviewed the situation and hoped to survive for some more hours, relying on the 1.7 metric tonnes of oxygen received from their vendor a day earlier. By 5am, more doctors had arrived. However, as the day progressed, the hospital realised it would soon run out of oxygen.
The management reached out to ministers and several other people but to no avail. They then put new admissions on hold and started telling their patients to either arrange for a cylinder or shift them out. Even as Saggar’s video went viral, panic was setting in among the patients. “We discharged five of them but told them we were trying to arrange supplies and if they felt unwell, they could come back later. Two other patients refused to leave and said they would wait and watch. The oxygen tanker finally arrived at 7.20pm. We had one patient who had crashed but we managed to save him. The supply we have received will keep us going for another 20 hours,” said Saggar. He added that Delhi Police provided a green corridor for the tanker.
Meanwhile, in Najafgarh, Rathi Hospital, which had 65 Covid patients, was also nervously watching its oxygen stock getting depleted. While Delhi Police officials had managed to arrange some for them on Wednesday, it wasn’t enough. On Thursday morning, around 8am, the hospital sent out an SOS, asking for help. They also put out a tweet informing people that they would soon run out of oxygen.
Speaking to TOI, hospital owner Dr Ankur Rathi, said: “Almost 60-70% of our patients needed oxygen. We first thought we would start telling our patients to leave but realised there were no ambulances available and no oxygen cylinders to go with them. We realised it was a helpless situation either way, so we put out a tweet.”
The hospital spoke to the cops. “It was a team effort and even our patients started looking out for vendors. By evening, we somehow managed to sail through but this is going to last only for seven to eight hours,” said Rathi, indicating how nerve-wracking the entire exercise had become.
Metro Hospital in Preet Vihar, which was taking care of 100 Covid patients, started shifting them out around 9.18pm after it ran out of oxygen. Dr Kousar A Shah, chief operating officer of Akash Hospital in Dwarka, said they have 233 Covid patients, of whom 75% were able to breath only because of oxygen support. “We have only an hour of oxygen left. All my officials are running around begging for oxygen cylinders so that patients don’t suffer,” he said in an appeal to the government on Thursday afternoon.
After being asked to look for admission elsewhere by Ishan Hospital in Rohini, family members of a patient summed up their predicament. “It is like leaving a patient to die. There are no beds available anywhere else. We managed to get one here after pleading with the doctors and running around for four days. We cannot go anywhere and we can’t be here either knowing that the oxygen supply is limited.”
“A patient who is on ventilator support will die within minutes if oxygen supply stops. Someone who is on high-flow oxygen may pull through for a while longer but not much. That is why there can be no delay due to any reason in the supply of oxygen,” said Dr Sumit Ray, head of critical care at Holy Family Hospital in south Delhi. The hospital has more than 380 Covid patients on oxygen support.
“The situation is unprecedented and horrific. At one of our hospitals, the critical care specialists had to reduce the amount of oxygen being given to patients while they waited for the supply. There was no other way to keep the system running, but at the same time it posed a serious threat to the life of the patients. Our nurses and doctors are crying seeing the patients struggle to breathe due to a problem that can be easily solved through proper coordination,” said an anguished doctor, who did not wish to be identified, at a top private hospital.
Meanwhile, in Ghaziabad, Shanti Gopal Hospital in Indirapuram and Chandra Lakshmi Hospital in Vaishali were getting ready to discharge patients.
At Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi, doctors said, as of 8pm on Thursday, they had only five hours of oxygen left. “At present, 510 Covid patients are admitted and 142 of them are on high-flow oxygen support. If we don’t get timely replenishment of oxygen, there will be mayhem,” said an official. Similarly, Batra Hospital in south Delhi had only two hours of oxygen left.