Watching people grab oxygen cylinders from the bedside of a dead patient in an attempt to revive their own family members, and doing the same for their own dead grandmother was a “dehumanizing” moment, remembers 23-year-old Vicky Jadhav. His grandmother, Sugandha Thorat, 65, was among at least 24 patients who died after an oxygen supply was affected due to a leak in the main storage tank at Dr Zakir Hussain Nashik Hospital on Wednesday.
“Seeing people die before your eyes in less than an hour is traumatic. But I can’t get over the look of people clamoring to take oxygen cylinders from the beds of dead patients and trying to use them to revive their own loved ones. I even tried to do it but it was of no use, ”says Jadhav.
Thorat was in a critical phase with his oxygen saturation at just 38 when Jadhav walked into the hospital at 10am to meet her. But she realized she was not receiving oxygen and raised an alarm with staff, she said.
“When I told them the system wasn’t working, they checked the system and then found a leak. As soon as that happened there was a panic on the third floor where most of the critical patients were detained with the staff bringing out jumbo cylinders to help patients, ”said Jadhav.
However, the jumbo cylinders did not replace the high volume airflow of the tank and many critical patients could not survive in the absence of respiratory support.
“It was chaos as doctors and nurses tried to revive patients. Relatives rushed into the ward after hearing that something had gone wrong… When we realized the oxygen had run out, relatives including me, clamped to get these cylinders from the bedside of patients who were got oxygen and died, ”said Jadhav.
Many gathered their family members from their beds and tried to take them in rickshaws and private vehicles to nearby hospitals. But some like Nitin Welukar, whose brother and mother were in the same ward, couldn’t do it.
“My mum was due to be released tomorrow while my brother Pramod was due to be released four days later. He was hale and hearty when I walked in this morning with his food. In less than two hours, he died in front of my eyes pleading for help and we couldn’t do anything for him, ”Welukar said of his 45-year-old brother.
Meanwhile, the hospital administration said staff had done everything they could to revive the critical patients but the sudden loss of high-flow oxygen was fatal to the critically ill.
“We used jumbo cylinders as well as dura cylinders available at the hospital. Cylinders were also obtained from nearby hospitals. However, these cylinders could not be substituted for the high-flow oxygen needed by critical patients that eventually caused their deaths, ”said a nurse who did not want to be named.
The hospital secured the safety of more than 100 other patients such as Rajesh Kanade, who has been in hospital for five days. His wife Sharda Kanade was with him when “the hospital panic” followed the leak. “A nurse came over to my husband’s bed and asked him to keep calm. She also gave him oxygen through a cylinder for some time, ”he said.
Those who lost their loved ones are now blaming the administration. “I don’t want to blame the doctors and nurses, they did everything they could. My anger is against the administration that failed to make the system they set up safe and practical, ”said Jadhav.