COVID Oxygen Shortage

The tough and totally strange situation that we are being pushed into because of the pandemic  makes one rethink and reassess a lot of things and feelings we have been taking for granted. The most important being freedom of movement, the ease at which we gather and share life’s simple moments, the intensity with which we argue and disagree face to face..all this was based on the fact that we are in this together. But when restrictions came in and it became responsible to stay away and not be together  one wonders about how much we are in this together.   Being together may mean that  there is no  escape from the virus.  The first level of separation starts when there are 2 kinds of people- one tested positive and the other negative.

On the eve of the ongoing lockdown two weeks  ago I had the harrowing experience of searching from one hospital to another for oxygen beds as two close loved ones affected by Covid were facing fall in oxygen levels. It was harrowing because this was the first time that I am seeing two young, relatively healthy people so tired and weak. Secondly the enormity and gravity of the crisis caused by this small organism was more intense than I ever imagined. Given the negotiating power, contacts and skill to manage a crisis, we were finally in a hospital which managed to find two  oxygen beds for the patients. The time lag in all 3 hospitals were too much, but when you consider the number and frequency of people being brought in ,at least we had the assurance that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Watching the nature, age and behaviour of the people being brought in with Covid related issues, one thing was clear …one fourth of the people who came, especially the ones between the age of 25-35 are in a situation where their problems can be managed at home. They are either wrongly informed, over informed and in a panic state that increases the symptoms.

There is another group who are there because unlike the first one they overlooked many symptoms and took their body for granted. This and this alone has led to aggravation of basic and undeniable Covid symptoms leading to mild, moderate or serious stages. A few among these are in hospital on the verge of collapse of their lung function due to acute breathlessness and pneumonia.

There is then a group of senior citizens who are brought in by their offspring who are either Covid affected and anticipate the elders also to be affected. In  a few cases these people already have age related issues and symptoms akin to Covid. For them exposure to high risk zones like hospitals would increase their chances of contracting Covid.

At the other end of the spectrum the presence of all of the above people in the emergency section of the hospital raises management issues at multiple levels. For instance we were at one hospital occupying a parking space waiting for Oxygen masks from the Pharmacy along with 13 other ambulances carrying patients in various stages of crisis.. Starting with parking problems , this assembling causes increase in exposure of everyone who are around in that space. This includes the security staff, the ambulance drivers, the nurses and attenders ( though clad in PPE kits and masks etc) and people like me who accompany their kith and kin!

This also increases the work load of the hospital staff including doctors on duty who have to attend to the cases and suggest remedial measures. For example it was a doctor at one of the hospitals who found that both of them needed oxygen support. It was he who suggested activating the Oxygen cylinder in the ambulance and got the masks for us.

The most tough ordeal that a person accompanying a patient has to face is the need to rise up to the situation and face his/her level of exposure. At one end you cannot but go with your loved ones when they are so ill and in need of help. At the other end you are confused as to what all you can do- can one touch all that the patient has been using-their phone, their bags, a towel they may need? Can one help them in such a weak state to climb up to the ambulance? How does one apply the much heard of 2m distance ? It would be good to prepare oneself beforehand so that one is not caught unawares and goes into a panic..easier said than done..

An issue at the hospital that was a bit of a shock is the way in which an emergency case is handled even at the time of a pandemic. The person with the patient has to fill an elaborate lengthy form for which one has to sit on a chair, use pen ( in case you do not have a pen  with you what is  available with the nurse has to be borrowed)- the surface contact and time a healthy person spends  in that hospital space becomes long . Is this safe ? Then one has to go in and wait at a counter to pay the required admission fee. If you are not savvy with google pay etc you will be handling cash …is that fine ? Will constant cleaning with sanitizer ( which takes the skin off your palms) lessen the chances of infection?  Such questions for which you may not have immediate realistic  answers will surface when you are the edge of a crisis- you know it is too late to exit from the scene before assuring that the patient has reached a bed with assured oxygen supply . One young doctor in the hospital to whom I asked about the risk of my exposure replied in a matter of fact tone that it is a subjective issue. Till date I have not fully understood what he meant except that I came by my own choice when needed and I should therefore face the consequences, however dire !

At this juncture, the brilliant flashes of concern ,care and kindness one comes across from faceless fully covered personnel in the hospitals are amazing. From the ambulance driver whose voice alone I can recognise who agreed to wait till we found a hospital with required medical help to the nurses who silently got the oxygen masks from the pharmacy ( when I expressed hesitancy  about going in a lift to second floor where the pharmacy is located) to the nurses the hospital which had 2 Oxygen beds, the attitude and behaviour were exemplary. Though extra consideration was given in the hospital where we finally located 2 beds because of the  effort and calls made by a doctor who works there, the overall behaviour to all patients were the same.

The whole ordeal took more than 2 hours and obviously my dear ones were not yet in an emergency situation though their oxygen levels were low. All the while and after that I kept wondering about the ones who have no contacts, who are in a much worse state..all the while the pictures and images, the numbers and data of the less fortunate people who did not get their required breath of life giving air and passed on kept coming up. What was till then a mere number, a disturbing picture, all that I kept denying in my fear to accept the reality suddenly loomed large and stood next to me!

Yes, though we are in this together we are actually not in this together –standing there watching helplessly as the 2 gasped for breath and the relief on their faces when O2 mask was put on I was feeling guilty about the ease with which I was breathing- a process happening every second without us knowing. No ,we are not in this together –we are distinctly separated by the way in which we are able to breathe  – those who cannot take in atmospheric oxygen because of what Covid has done to their respiratory system, the ones who can still breathe normally  though tested  Covid positive whose 02 levels need to be constantly monitored  and the ones who are not affected at all and who can breathe normally. As days pass and the dear ones move from Category B and C to  normalcy with many critical care issues, I realise that there is nothing more valuable than being able to breathe. Perhaps we need to rename the Oxygen War Room to Oxygen Life room….

Like the Native American Round song

Breath of life

You are close to me

I am you

Because you are me

Anitha.S  narrating a real life situation and learnings with Covid affected patients


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