Hyderabad: The 80-day coronavirus lockdown has left permanent scars on many families. For many, life has never recovered.
The life of Sarala (name changed), 58, from Piduguralla in Andhra Pradesh, has changed for the worse due to the lack of medical attention in April and May. During this time, her lung infection worsened into a life-threatening condition, which required difficult and expensive treatment. Though she has recovered, her lungs have been damaged and she will have to depend on an oxygen concentrator and BiPAP machine for the rest of her life. A BiPAP or Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure delivers pressurised air through a mask.
Sarala had developed the infection in early April. She had trouble breathing, and was always tired. She would sleep much more than usual. Her daughter Anuradha (name changed) said, “There were days when she would sleep for 20 hours in a day.”
Sarala’s family tried consulting with a local doctor in Piduguralla but he was in home quarantine after having recently returned from abroad. A local hospital was sealed off after a COVID-19 case was reported there. For over a month, the family had no doctor or hospital available.
By the end of May, the Andhra Pradesh government eased some restrictions on intra-state movement. The couple’s son, who lived in Uppal, Hyderabad, tried to get an e-pass to go home. His request was denied by the Telangana police. Some relatives helped Sarala get to Guntur, but hospitals there wouldn’t admit her without a COVID-19 test.
On May 27, Sarala underwent a test at the Government General Hospital at Guntur and it retuned negative. The hospital said she would have to give a swab again since the testing machine had malfunctioned. She tested negative a second time on May 30.
By this time, Sarala’s condition had worsened so much that she started experiencing delirium. Her blood oxygen level, according to the family, was less than 40 mmHg (values under 90 are considered low) and carbon dioxide levels were dangerously high. The family hired an ambulance to Hyderabad. The negative COVID-19 test secured her a bed at a corporate hospital in Secunderabad.
Srikanth (name changed), Sarala’s son-in-law, said, “The doctors told us that we had delayed too long. They told us she had less than a 50 per cent chance of survival.” Sarala’s lung had to be drained of fluid. She was in the ICU for over two weeks.
Sarala’s husband, while waiting on her at the hospital, suffered a stroke. A surgery was performed on him in the same hospital to place a coronary stent. They were discharged by June 13. The cost of hospitalisation was around Rs 8 lakh, most of it uninsured.
Living with her son in Uppal now, Sarala is forced to use an oxygen concentrator or BiPAP machine at all times, both of which are expensive to rent or buy. Anuradha said, “She can take them off for just a couple of hours a day. If she doesn’t use them, her oxygen levels fall.” She can no longer play with her grandchildren or even walk without getting tired.
Sarala’s family has no complaints against the hospitals and doctors but they believe that had there been more coordination during the lockdown and less confusion, Sarala might have been in a better shape. Srikanth said, “It was a systemic failure. All the organs of the state that were supposed to help us stopped working.”