With the corona pandemic (COVID-19) spreading like wildfire in Mumbai, many patients are finding it difficult to get a bed in the hospital. Even those few who are lucky enough to get a bed, are fed up with the apathy and inhuman treatment by hospitals despite slapping hefty charges.
Here is a translation from Marathi to English, first-person account of Kiran Karalkar from Agripada in Mumbai, who has been serving as a health worker for many years at the Parel-based Nana Palkar Smruti Samiti, which runs shelter-homes for poor patients who come to Mumbai for medical treatment.
I have been working as social worker and providing health-care services to patients at the Nana Palkar Smruti Samiti in Parel, Mumbai.
On 1 May 2020, I felt a little feverish. I took a tablet and felt somewhat better, but the fever wouldn’t go away for next few days. So, on 7th May, I went to the KEM Hospital in Parel and did my COVID-19 test. The next day, my report came positive.
I then called up several hospitals for getting admitted, but was told that there was a waiting list. Then I decided to go to Nair Hospital, which is close to my house and I am known there as being active in organising blood donations camps. I was admitted there on 8th May at around 9.30pm without any hassles.
However, my real struggle began after the admission. I realised that there wasn’t even a clean bedsheet available. But being a health worker, I thought, I should sympathise with my co-professionals and cooperate with them, and hence I took possession of my bed without making a fuss.
A doctor visited me and after my check-up, instructed the nurse about my medicines. They also put me on the drip. However, the apparatus was not fixed properly: as I went to the toilet, the needle came out and I started bleeding. I was given loose cotton and was told to use it to stop the bleeding, which I could manage after several unsuccessful attempts.
But what happened next is something I can never forget in my life.
The patient lying next to me, who had been on dialysis succumbed to corona. His dead body lay on the same bed for several hours, and the hospital workers did not even draw the curtain over the corpse, leave alone moving it away. I was lonely, with no one to even speak with. The dead body of a person who had died of the same ailment that had afflicted me, was lying for several hours in front of my bed. I could not get rid of its vision, even with my eyes closed, and I had no idea for how long the body would remain there on that bed. With every passing moment I felt more and more sick, physically and mentally.
A dead body isn’t something I was unfamiliar with. During the 32 years of my social service, I have seen many dead bodies and have even helped perform the last rites for some. And yet, looking at a dead body for several hours created an unprecedented anxiety in me. This is worse than one’s own death, I thought with great sadness.
As the body was taken away, orders were suddenly issued for me to vacate my bed and shift to the one which had had the dead body on it.
The reason given by the lady doctor, who attended on me, was that since I would need oxygen and this facility was available on that bed, I must shift there. Actually, even my bed had the facility for such an attachment. However, I kept my cool and moved over to the other bed.
That was my worst night at the hospital. I was exhausted mentally and was deteriorating physically. Overstressed and frightened, I couldn’t sleep a wink that night. Even today, I have no words to express the horror I went through that night.
I spoke on phone with my nephew Tanmay Karalkar, and told him of the mental stress I was going through. My family then decided to shift me to the Global Hospital in Parel. However, till today I have not received my test report for the swab taken on 10th May.
On the 13th May, I was shifted to Global Hospital in Parel around 9.30pm. The hospital staff was reassuring and my family and I thought our worries were at last over.
As per the hospital protocol, they even took away my slippers along with my clothes and said that the hospital would provide me with replacements. They also took away my mobile and I was not allowed to contact anyone for the next three days. During these three day, I received neither any slipper nor even toothpaste. I remained on my bed helplessly, following all instructions.
After three days, they gave me my mobile back. I immediately called Krushna Mahadik, who is the manager of Nana Palkar Samiti and requested him to provide me with toothpaste, toothbrush and towel. After much effort, these items finally reached me and for the first time in four days, I could brush my teeth and wash my face, which somewhat improved my bedraggled and stinking state.
And then Global Hospital started revealing its true colours. From day one, there was no timetable for food, which anyway was of poor quality. On enquiry we were told that food would be provided as and when it became available.
There were instructions for providing hot tea to corona patients, but we never saw any of it. Anytime during the day, someone would bring tea cups and place them on the table without even bothering to inform the patients.
As per my information, each patient is charged for the kits that are used for his or her treatment. But here, they were not even changing their hand-gloves. The staff used to administer medicines to all patients in the ward without changing gloves. Overall, there was dearth of even basic minimum service, not to talk of quality.
We used to get a change of clothes after two days and once they even gave me a pillow cover to use as a towel!
I had no cough, but still, they performed three chest x-rays on me, for reasons beyond my understanding or knowledge.
The patient next to me was Satish Kokamkar from Mulund, who was also a staff member of the hospital. He would often tell the staff to change their gloves. In fact, he even had an argument with a health worker who refused to do so.
Added to this misery, my swab test report was still not handed over to me. I got the feeling that the hospital does not share the findings of tests with anyone until their treatment package is finalised.
On 22nd May, I was told that my test report was negative and that they were planning to discharge me the next day at an unspecified hour.
That night I slept peacefully in the belief that finally the ordeal is coming to an end. The belief was erroneous, as I learnt the next day, when a nurse came and told me that she needed to take my swab for a test.
Another swab test? Why, when my report is negative, I almost yelled.
She said she was acting under orders. I then asked her for the name of the doctor who had asked for this new test or the name of the director. I told her to call them immediately, or else I would create a scene.
After this, I was told that I would be discharged from the hospital in the afternoon.
Then I was told to go to the emergency department in the basement for getting medicines, after completing the discharge procedures. I stood in the queue but they did not give me any medicines.
I returned home after paying a bill close to Rs4.10 lakh.
I am aware that many have suffered more than me. But I am sharing my experiences to alert those who have the misfortune of contracting the disease in these difficult times.
Corona has been a windfall for many in the medical field and hospitals are happy to make hay while the sun shines. The patients, devastated physically and mentally, are being royally plundered of their hard-earned savings without even getting proper treatment in return.
I would earnestly request readers to give every possible support to everyone who is tested positive for corona and his/her family, by keeping a keen eye on such unprofessional and unethical conduct within the medical field.
(Translated by Yogesh Sapkale/Shubha Khandekar)