Hospitals, kin scramble to find oxygen in Mumbai - Hindustan Times
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Hospitals, kin scramble to find oxygen in Mumbai

ByJyoti Shelar
Apr 20, 2021 01:31 AM IST

At Sunday noon, the 51-bed Sai Hospital in Dharavi had oxygen to last only for about 30 minutes

At Sunday noon, the 51-bed Sai Hospital in Dharavi had oxygen to last only for about 30 minutes. All of its 51 patients were on oxygen support and the only option was to discharge them to be accommodated in other facilities. Fortunately, a spare dura cylinder from Worli’s National Sports Club of India was brought to the Dharavi hospital just in time. “We were on the verge of making arrangements to shift out the patients,” said Dr Khalid Shaikh, the director of the Dharavi facility. “A delay of a few minutes could have put all our patients in danger,” he said.

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According to Dr Shaikh, earlier the dura cylinders used to be replaced thrice a day. But after the shortage hit, this process has been irregular. On Saturday night, even as the oxygen at the facility was fast depleting, it could manage getting only one empty cylinder replaced with a filled one. “The vendor was supposed to come back on Sunday morning, but he did not,” said Dr Khalid Shaikh.

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As Mumbai battles a lethal second wave of the pandemic, oxygen shortage has hit the city badly. Smaller hospitals, struggling to cope with the short supply, have been shifting out their patients to jumbo facilities. Many are spending hours calling vendors and fellow doctors in amid panic to arrange for oxygen cylinders.

According to Dr Shaikh, his Dharavi facility has four dura cylinders. “We use three and keep one as a backup. But this was the first time that our back up was also getting exhausted,” said Dr Shaikh adding that the demand for oxygen beds has increased so much that he has to turn down more than 50 bed requests every day. “I am spending hours on the phone simply coordinating with vendors and other doctors to arrange for oxygen,” he said.

One dura cylinder is equivalent to around 30 jumbo cylinders and one jumbo cylinder contains 7,000 litres of oxygen. With some patients requiring as high as eight to 10 litres of oxygen per minute, a jumbo cylinder can get exhausted in less than an hour. Mumbai has a little over 150 public and private hospitals managing Covid-19 patients. Their daily oxygen requirement had touched 235 metric tonnes in the ongoing second wave and with the rising number of patients, the demand for oxygen has risen further.

“A lot of smaller hospitals have started admitting Covid-19 patients, without managing the oxygen back up,” said Dr Prince Surana, who is running a 75-bed Covid-19 hospital in Chembur and a 50-bed one at Malad. “We now know that oxygen is the key to saving the lives of Covid-19 patients. Just having a bed is not enough,” he said. At his Chembur facility, Dr Surana is currently utilising six dura cylinders per day, while the Malad facility needs 70 jumbo cylinders daily. “I am carefully managing with a buffer. But I have to refuse patients to manage the existing ones,” he said.

Doctors across the city have formed WhatsApp groups to coordinate and loan cylinders at this time of emergency. For instance, Dr Surana sent five jumbo cylinders to a hospital in Ghatkopar where two cancer patients required oxygen urgently. “Most small facilities are running with such coordination and are alerting the groups when they have less than four hours of supply,” said Dr Deepak Baid, secretary of the Association of Medical Consultants.

The shortage has left patients and relatives in a lurch. It took more than 50 hours for 73-year-old Mohammad Shaikh to get an oxygen bed. By the time he was shifted to the civic-run Bhabha Hospital in Kurla, his saturation had drastically fallen to 45%. “We were on the verge of a breakdown when we finally found the bed,” said Misbah Waghoo, Shaikh’s daughter-in-law. Shaikh was admitted to Kurla’s Arpan Hospital for treatment of bronchitis when he was diagnosed with Covid-19. While the hospital, a non-Covid facility, asked the family to shift him, panic struck when the facility exhausted their oxygen cylinders. “We managed an oxygen concentrator but it was not enough. His oxygen level kept dipping,” said Waghoo, adding that they spent hours coordinating with the civic war room, till they received a call for an oxygen bed.

BMC run peripheral hospitals are the worst hit with the shortage due to the breakdown of the supply chain of their main distributor. On April 17, as many as 168 patients were shifted out after six hospitals -- Bhabha Hospital (Bandra), Bhabha Hospital (Kurla), Bhagwati Hospital (Borivli), Centenary Hospital (Govandi), MT Agarwal (Mulund), Trauma Hospital (Jogeshwari) -- ran out of oxygen. A day before, 46 patients were shifted out of Bhagwati Hospital to other jumbo centres.

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