GANGTOK: On Sunday, EastMojo reported the story of 26-year-old Vishaka Chettri from Sikkim, who died, unfortunately, because of a shortage of ICU beds in the state, when her oxygen levels were as low as 8.
Pranesh Chettri, Vishaka’s bereaved husband, narrates the ordeal to help us understand how a young life was lost not because of COVID-19, but because of the government’s criminal failure to provide basic medical facilities like an ICU bed.
“My wife had recurring symptoms like headache, high pressure and fever starting April 24. But medicines seemed to be working,” he said.
Chettri was taken to the Singtam district hospital at about 1 pm on Friday, April 30. While her oxygen levels were at 60, a RAT test yielded a negative result. Doctors ordered another COVID test, which again gave negative results.
Since Vishaka showed all symptoms of being COVID-19 positive, her oxygen levels dropping fast, the doctors at Singtam immediately referred the couple to move to the ICU at STNM Hospital.
“Her oxygen level was low. But the ambulance had no oxygen. Then we got oxygen from outside and put it in the ambulance. Had she been treated at Singtam itself, she would have survived,” laments Pranesh, who is now in isolation.
Once they reached the STNM Hospital, Pranesh was told that no ICU beds were available. Gasping and struggling, Vishaka remained inside the ambulance for an hour after reaching the hospital. She was taken to the ward and Pranesh was told she wouldn’t get admission in the ICU, but at the high dependency unit (HDU) instead.
“By now her oxygen level was at 20. An hour later when the doctor came and checked her condition, he urged to take her to the ICU,” said Pranesh.
As all the 10 ICU beds were occupied, the doctors assured Pranesh that Vishaka would get all the required treatment at the HDU itself.
“I was alone and couldn’t do anything to help. I called so many people for help. CRH also said they didn’t have any ICU bed. Night staff present at the COVID ward all tried to help. We all saw this one person in the ICU who wasn’t critical and was constantly on his phone. All doctors and nurses requested the patient to leave the ICU but he kept insisting that he is a doctor’s relative. He started fighting, telling the staff to give him written that they’ll be responsible if he were to die,” Pranesh recalls.
By now, Vishaka’s oxygen level had hit a dismal 8. “I had booked a hospital bed in Siliguri to take her. But the doctor advised against it, saying she would collapse on the way.”
“This is sheer negligence. It is criminal when the chief minister asserts there is no shortage of ICU beds. My wife didn’t have to die at such a young age because of shortage of ICU beds. It is wrong on the CM’s part to make such assertions when 10 ICU beds is not sufficient considering the massive number of cases being reported in Sikkim. VIP patients, on the other hand, are kept in cabins with have separate washrooms. They are kept away from touching other patients. And that’s why I lost my wife,” said Chettri.
On Sunday, when EastMojo questioned Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay about the incident, the CM denied of having heard of any such case.
“ICU beds are sufficient, there is no allegation like that (patient not getting ICU bed on time). There must be a reason, administration and doctors are working and fulfilling the requirement of oxygen, ventilators and ICU. Some deaths happen suddenly like cardiac arrest. We have maintained to save the citizens, but some die when there are comorbidities. Our death numbers are very less compared to positive cases. We are trying our best to cure them,” Golay had said.
On Sunday, STNM doctors had said some patients refused to leave their ICU beds despite being stable. “Some of them had gotten better and were there just playing with their phones and despite our vehement requests refused to leave. By the time additional beds were added, it was late and despite our best attempts she expired the next morning,” a doctor had told EastMojo.
On Monday, STNM Hospital’s Medical Superintendent KB Gurung admitted to Vishaka’s death as “sad incident”.
“Our responsibility as doctors and healthcare workers is to save everyone that we can. Yet some conditions are beyond us. We feel sad when a patient dies in our hands. That day, when the incident unfolded, the ICU was indeed full. We have 9 ICU beds in the COVID Hospital and only serious patients are kept in the ICU. But despite the full capacity, the patient was provided oxygen in the ward outside. As medical professionals we tried everything we could,” Gurung told EastMojo.
On allegations of non-critical patients refusing to leave ICU beds, the Medical Superintendent insisted that only serious patients are allowed admission into the ICU.
To be better prepared in future, Gurung said the hospital has already opened the 8th and 9th floors of the main hospital for COVID-19 patients.
“If that gets full, then we have a private ward where 120 beds are available. There are around 400 beds in STNM Hospital. At present, the 120 beds in COVID-19 section are full. A Central ICU with beds on the 7th floor has also been started. We have 19 ICU beds with us now,” Gurung said.
The hospital spokesperson has also urged all asymptomatic patients to not come and get admitted in the hospital if they have been advised home isolation.
“We are keeping only serious patients at STNM Hospital. If they need isolation from their family, then they can be housed at other COVID-care centers. There are 100 plus patients in the COVID section as of today,” he said.