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A sliver of hope amid clouds of doom

May 21, 2021
-Shivani Chaturvedi 

With a nationwide spike in Covid-19 cases and the highly contagious virus seeping into every nook and cranny of the country, serious questions are being raised about India’s overwrought healthcare infrastructure. However, my experience as a Covid-19 patient in the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (RGGGH) – one of the oldest government hospitals of Tamil Nadu (Chennai) with robust healthcare facilities – has doled out a good measure of hope despite the pandemic gloom gripping the country. 

On Monday (April 12) noon, tower 3 of RGGGH was teeming with Covid patients and their distraught family members.

Patients and their relatives had travelled long distances not only from within the city, but also from small towns and villages from other districts in Tamil Nadu to avail the treatment. With a steady flow of patients seeking admission, a doctor-and-nurse team was deployed not far from the entrance of tower 3 – dedicated for Covid cases – to screen the patients for oxygen saturation levels. My husband and I were amongst those standing in the queue to get screened. While I had symptoms such as vomiting, congestion, headache and mild fever, my husband’s temperature reached a high of 104 degrees and he had also started developing shortness of breath. So we rushed 30 km to RGGGH. Till then, we had quarantined ourselves at home and were on medication prescribed by the doctor when our RT-PCR reports came positive on April 8.

Post screening, the patients were asked to get their blood tests done before the specific course of treatment could be decided. Following the blood tests, my husband and I were directed to the CT scan room, where our chest CT scans were conducted. While my husband’s medical report showed 75 percent impact on lungs, mine showed a less perturbing 5 percent impact on the vital organ.  

With acutely impacted lungs and rapidly dipping SPo2 (oxygen saturation) levels, my husband needed immediate medical care. With the prevailing shortage of beds in the city’s hospitals, we considered ourselves fortunate to find a bed in the government-run hospital which was undeniably well equipped to handle Covid cases with beds set up even in the ventilator store rooms. However, the 1,618 standard beds and 435 ICU beds in RGGGH dedicated to treat Covid patients were fast filling up due to an unprecedented surge in new infections.  

My husband was moved to the oxygen bed, a little away from my bed in the shared room. As his infection was severe, the doctors put him on emergency treatment immediately. Simultaneously, they also started my treatment to ensure the infection does not spread further.  

The entire Covid ward was divided into wings and each wing was staffed with well trained and dedicated doctors and nurses. The nurses would administer the medicines on time to all the patients and also address all the concerns raised by anxious patients or their relatives.

On day two of our hospitalisation, the doctor informed us that my husband’s condition had not deteriorated further and the next two days were crucial in terms of his recovery. The doctor also gave us hope that considering my husband’s age, we should remain positive about his recovery. 

With oxygen therapy and the prescribed course of treatment, my husband’s health steadily improved over the next few days. On day one, he was put on oxygen therapy at 16 litres per minute which was gradually brought down to 8 litres per minute and finally just 2 litres per minute by the fourth day. His SPo2 levels in room air had started stabilising at 95 percent, which according to the doctor, was a great improvement. On day four, the doctor decided to remove supplemental oxygen and closely observe my husband’s health stats. Timely medical intervention and the efficient team of  doctors and nurses had pulled my husband out of danger, and he was now stable. Moreover, the hospital care did not cost us anything as all the government hospitals in Tamil Nadu offer free medical treatment plus free nutritious meals four times a day. 

With our health stabilising, we were discharged on the sixth day of hospitalisation and were advised complete rest and home quarantine for 14 days. We successfully completed our two weeks quarantine on May 1. 

According to the data available with RGGGH, the hospital has conducted over 5.29 lakh RT-PCR tests and reported a recovery rate of 95 percent thus far. 

Recently, at least 10 private hospitals in Chennai could not treat the Covid patients who were asked to move out to government hospitals due to shortage of oxygen. Presently, RGGGH, like the other four government hospitals in Chennai, is also facing an acute shortage of ICU beds and does not have much oxygen supported beds left. However, the hospital authorities are committed to setting up additional facilities to meet the demand. Besides, oxygen concentrators have also been distributed to the city’s government hospitals for treatment of Covid patients. As of now, 33 concentrators have been given to RGGGH, 50 concentrators to the Covid Care Centre at Stanley Government Hospital, 50 to King’s Institute in Guindy, 80 to Communicable Diseases Hospital in Tondiarpet, 40 to Chennai Trade Centre and 40 to Kodambakkam Meenakshi College Care Centre.

Former director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Dr K Kolandasamy says that the government hospitals have augmented their capacity for storing liquid oxygen and the number of oxygen beds have been increased ten-fold. However, the hospitals need more oxygen concentrators. He also reiterates that exercising precaution, wearing a mask, maintaining hands hygiene and social distancing can go a long way towards reining in the pandemic. In addition, he suggests installing a pulse oximeter in every house to monitor the oxygen saturation levels. People in rural areas and small towns still don’t have oximeters, he says. Kolandasamy expresses concern over the conduct of private hospitals who, despite having the resources, are not inclined to improve their infrastructure and capacity to treat Covid patients. 

All told, the pandemic has claimed 18,734 lives in Tamil Nadu and the statewide infection tally till date stands at 16,99,225.

Shivani Chaturvedi is an EducationWorld correspondent who successfully fought and overcame Covid-19.

Also read: As schools, colleges open Covid care centres, IIT offers experiential advice

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