'I begged them to lay her on the ground, start treatment,' says Mumbaikar who lost sister

Updated: May 25, 2020, 08:21 IST | Hemal Ashar | Mumbai

Harinakkshi Nair's story of loss of her older sister to pneunomia is that of most frantically looking for a hospital bed during these times

Harinakkshi Nair with Hariyali Desai (in foreground)
Harinakkshi Nair with Hariyali Desai (in foreground)

It has been a fortnight since Mumbai resident Harinakkshi Nair lost her older sister to pneumonia. The younger sibling is still trying to process her grief, but is unable to forget the horror that they underwent while trying to admit her to a hospital.

"Even in my sadness I cannot shake off the nightmare that transpired before her death," said Nair.

Admit her
Nair, 49, lived with her sister Hariyali Desai, 59, in Matunga. She said, "My sister came down with a cough in the first week of May."

On May 10, Nair recalled, "My sister was feeling weak and also had some temperature. We decided to admit her to a hospital for safety's sake, on doctor's orders."

They first rushed in an ambulance to a Mahim hospital. Nair explained, "There was a medical team on ground outside the hospital. My sister was now finding it even more difficult to breathe. Yet, this team of medical professionals simply said, 'Sorry we cannot help you, there is no bed available'." A frantic Nair begged that they should start treatment, "I told them, if there is no bed, put her on the floor, please begin treatment. But I was told why are you wasting time? 'Take her to another facility'."

No place
The ambulance sped towards Bandra West. "We went to another hospital which also had a tent pitched outside the main building. There too, I was told, there are no beds available. I entreated, 'she is breathless, can somebody administer oxygen, do something?' I had folded my hands in front of the 'Gods' in white, yet I was told to hurry and rush to Kasturba hospital. They had no place and could not treat her," she said.

In both places she said the attitude was move out immediately, do not wait for a minute more on our premises. By then Nair said, a person at that hospital had even asked the ambulance driver why he was ferrying a COVID-19 suspect case around, since he could get infected! Nair said, "I saw fear in the driver's eyes. Then, humanity took over and he assured me, do not worry, I will take your sister to another medical facility. I thought to myself the less educated have more sympathy and empathy than the super qualified with a slew of degrees."

Oxygen low
The ambulance scythed through the city, towards Kasturba Hospital in Lower Parel. Treatment started, Hariyali was given oxygen. "I was told her levels were low, she had pneumonia. Her lungs were compressed because of her weight." Nair said the staff was excellent. "I had to leave, but I was assured that she was doing better."

At 2.45 am on May 11, though, Nair got a call from Kasturba, that Hariyali's oxygen levels were falling. "In one hour, I got a call saying she was no more," she said. Even as the ground seemed to cave in beneath her feet, "my husband gave me strength," Nair added, there were formalities to complete. The Nair family got the body on May 11 afternoon, after COVID-19 test results said she was negative. "We did the cremation shortly after," said an emotional Nair.

Time lost
The death certificate stated it was pneumonia with respiratory failure. Hariyali, who worked in the hospitality field for over 30 years, "was like a mother to me. I have lost her, but I want to highlight just how difficult it is to get any medical treatment, or a bed in a hospital at these times. This is a shout out to the authorities who need to look into the precious minutes and hours lost, as non-Covid patients try to get emergency treatment. I can never get Hariyali back, but if by speaking out, I can awaken those to the desperate situation and save one life, it has not been in vain," said Nair. Her story is those of others in the city, today.

01 hour
Time it took for Hariyali to pass away after admission

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