In a corner of Praveen Kumar’s home at Jhandeda village in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur, frangipanis, hibiscus and jasmine are in full bloom. “They were planted by my younger brother, Ashwini,” said Praveen, 44, who works as a junior engineer in Muzaffarnagar. “This is all that remains of him.”
Ashwini, 32, was a repairman with the state’s electricity department in Saharanpur.
“He developed a fever and cough on April 23,” Praveen said of his brother. “My eldest brother Arvind and I took him to a local doctor, who gave him some medicines. But the next day he had difficulty breathing.”
In Saharanpur, people who complain of fever and shortness of breath usually end up in crowded local clinics before going to a designated Covid hospital. Ashwini was no exception. He was taken to Saksham Hospital first and then to one Dr AK Jain.
“At both places I was told his oxygen level was falling. They suggested we take him to PGI hospital,” Praveen said, referring to Shaikh-Ul-Hind Maulana Mahmood Hasan Medical College, Saharanpur’s biggest Covid facility.
At PGI, Ashwini tested positive for coronavirus and was moved into a Covid ward on the afternoon of April 25.
“They were highly incompetent,” Praveen complained. “There was no way to contact a doctor, nurse or a ward boy at the hospital.”
Inside, Ashwini was in pain. “He called me and said he had a headache and was thirsty but the nurses were hardly tending to him,” Praveen claimed. “We would be in touch with him, and he would say just one thing, ‘No one is looking after me. Brother, take me from here.’”
Similar accusations were made by relatives of several Covid patients at PGI. “I sent water for my thirsty uncle, who is admitted here, at 7 pm,” said Prashant Kumar, a Saharanpur resident. “It’s 10 pm and he hasn’t received it yet. I just got a call from him. ”
Naresh Agarwal’s son Mohit, 32, is also admitted in PGI. He has been sleeping outside the Covid facility for nearly a week now. "No doctor is tending to patients in the ward," he told Newslaundry. “My son told me this over the phone. His oxygen level is 45. I spoke to the doctor but no one seems to listen to me.”
Ashwini complained of thirst on the afternoon of April 26. Praveen’s elder brother, Arvind, a factory worker in the city, took the stairs to deliver juice and water for him to the ward boy. “The elevator wasn’t working and the ward was on the third floor,” Praveen said.
By the time he reached the ward, Arvind was breathless and started coughing. When his cough did not subside after four hours, Praveen decided to hospitalise him. He went to other hospitals in the city since he did not suspect Covid.
Ashwini’s breathlessness had worsened by then and he was moved into the ICU.
At a clinic in Saharanpur, Praveen was told that Arvind’s oxygen level had dropped and he needed to be admitted. They went to four hospitals, one after the other, only to be turned away from each. Medigram, Saksham and V Bros hospitals did not have any beds, Tarawati hospital did not have oxygen.
Arvind was finally admitted in the Seth Baldev Das District Hospital, a government facility, where Praveen went through another frustrating drill, only worse. “The district hospital was a pinnacle of incompetence,” he said. “There was chaos everywhere. We were asked to take my brother to the Covid ward ourselves. There, ward boys were reluctant to even put him on oxygen support. We had to do it ourselves.”
There were doctors around but they just looked on. “If they could not help us inside the ward – full of dirty bed sheets and littered masks – what’s the use of them?”
The district hospital’s doesn’t list helplines, guidelines or contact for hospital staff. It has placeholder text and graphics on finance, mostly in Latin, and an address, “1, My Address, My Street, New York City, NY, USA”. The contact number is +1234567890.
Arvind tested positive for covid in a rapid antigen test at midnight on April 27. Next morning, when Praveen woke up, he got two calls, one each from PGI and district hospitals: his brothers Ashwini and Arvind had succumbed to Covid at around 2 am.
“Everything went dark when I heard the news,” he said, plaintively. “I was simply cold for a few minutes. I cried at the state of the system. I cried looking at all these guidelines issued by the government. They are useless.”
Four days later, Praveen told us his father too was unwell. He had a fever and cough. Since Ashwini and Arvind’s death, nobody in their family, including Praveen, had been tested.
“We thought two of our brothers tested positive and died,” he said. “So we are afraid. What if another turns up positive?”
Newslaundry contacted Shaikh-Ul-Hind Maulana Mahmood Hasan Medical College and the Seth Baldev Das District Hospital to ask about the allegations made by relatives of Covid patients, especially Praveen. This story will be updated if we receive a response.