A son’s desperate struggle inside Kashmir’s covid wellness centre

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Mohammad Amin Matoo was at his home when he began to feel difficulties in breathing. The 65-year-old was taken to a private clinic the following day, where he tested positive for the Covid-19 disease and was advised to isolate at home.

But as Amin’s health deteriorated, the Matoo family’s doctor advised that he be put on oxygen support. In the absence of an oxygen concentrator or cylinders, and the inability of the government to provide one, Amin was taken to a hospital by his son, Mudasir Matoo.

At the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute Of Medical Sciences in Bemina, the triage centre for Covid-19 patients, Amin was referred to the oxygen support facility set up in the nearby Hajj  House complex — referred to as “Oxygen sarai”.

But the 100-bedded facility provided little succor to Amin. The day he was admitted to the facility, his oxygen levels continued to dip — to 79, much below the normal of 90 — and necessitated admission to a hospital. 

Amin’s oxygen saturation levels were no longer stable even with support. “The only facility available here is the supply of oxygen. A covid patient doesn’t only need oxygen, he needs treatment also,” said Mudasir. 

Doctors stationed at the facility for non-critical patients, said Mudasir, rarely attend the patient. Even as the facility was set up by Athrout, a local nonprofit, the medical staff belong to the district health authority. “It was either a paramedic or a volunteer who would attend the patients,” said Mudasir. 

As Amin’s vitals began to slip down to dangerous levels, Mudasir sought to admit his father to a hospital. But the medical staff at the facility refused to issue a referral, stating that there were no beds available anywhere. “They say how can they refer when there are no beds,” he said. “They need to refer him to a hospital now.”

Mudasir said that his father has gone quiet but is still conscious. “He doesn’t say it but he understands that the situation is getting worse,” said Mudasir, adding that he had feared that his father would die before they could be shifted to a hospital.

Amid a critical lack of hospital infrastructure, the administration had left the beleaguered Matoo family to fate: to struggle to breathe and possibly risk death.

The huge surge in the number of Covid cases in Kashmir during the ongoing second wave of the pandemic has brought the region’s healthcare to its tipping point, critical care infrastructure is already overwhelmed.

The majority of these cases are concentrated in the Srinagar city, where much of Kashmir’s health infrastructure is located. Poor infrastructure in peripheral hospitals has led to increased referrals of patients to Srinagar from outlying hospitals across districts. Already, Srinagar has nearly 10,000 active cases of Covid-19.

Mudasir took to social media in the midnight to post SOS messages, primarily on Twitter. Several users shared his messages but no real help reached the Matoo family for more than 16 hours. At 2 pm today, a phone call finally announced availability of bed.

The caller identified himself to be from Srinagar’s Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial Hospital, Rainawari, who had come to know about Mudasir’s plea through a control room, and informed Mudasir about the availability of a bed at the hospital. 

By 4 pm, Amin was shifted to the JLNM hospital, about ten kilometers away.

More than two weeks after advisor Baseer Khan had asserted — in a late evening press conference — that “nobody will face hardships in terms of oxygen and related things”, the Jammu and Kashmir administration continues to overlook non availability of critical care, leaving patients at the mercy of chance.

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