A Delhi family’s COVID nightmare: ‘We’re rationing dad’s oxygen’

With only one oxygen cylinder and no way to afford another, the family of a cancer patient with COVID must make hard choices, giving their father oxygen only when he is gasping for breath.

A man waits to refill a medical oxygen cylinder at a charging station on the outskirts of Prayagraj, India, on April 23, 2021 [Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP Photo]

New Delhi, India – For the past two weeks, the Yeshudas family has been living in the throes of despair. Residents of Dilshad Colony, a lower-middle-class settlement in the northeast of the capital, New Delhi, all three family members are suffering severe COVID-19 symptoms – fever, nausea, breathlessness and vomiting.

But they have not been able to see a doctor as all of the nearby government hospitals “are choked with patients and have intimidatingly long queues outside,” explains 27-year-old Ajin Yeshudas. Private doctors are expensive and “well beyond our means”, he adds.

Ajin, who lives with his parents and works as a quality analyst in a BPO (business processing outsourcing) centre, says he came down with COVID-19 symptoms on April 14. He wanted to get tested “but the nearby hospitals were all overflowing with patients, so I had to wait for a week to even contact a lab”.

When his test came back positive, he immediately tried to quarantine himself from his vulnerable parents. But the family’s small, one-bedroom, 450-square foot flat with poor ventilation made that difficult and soon his parents started exhibiting symptoms.

“We have just one bedroom in the house which my parents occupy. I live and work from the living room but it’s not possible to totally isolate myself as I have to check on my parents, cook for them, supply meals and medicines to them. Physical distancing is a luxury we can’t afford,” he says.

A gurdwara supplies free oxygen to COVID patients in New Delhi amid rising concerns over oxygen shortages on April 24, 2021 [Anindito Mukherjee/Getty Images]

While Ajin’s 55-year-old mother, Sukanya, isn’t doing too badly, it is his father, Yeshudas Abraham, they are most worried about. The 59-year-old has cancer and suffers from kidney ailments and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“My father has been unemployed for almost a decade due to his ill health,” Ajin explains. “I’m the only earning member of the family drawing a monthly salary of $650. But I had to stop going to the office two weeks ago and now work from home. Even though I’m not well myself, I have to take care of my parents too.”

Sukanya was let go from her job a few years ago when the private company she worked for shut down. She was given a modest severance package but the loss of her $250 a month income was a hard blow for the family.

COVID has made their situation many times worse. Ajin says their neighbours have ostracised them for fear of catching the virus themselves and that the family is in debt and has no money to even consult a doctor for treatment.

“Though we were able to get tested, we couldn’t afford the doctor’s fees for treatment. So I had to beg my friend, who had also recently contracted COVID to share his own prescription with us. Based on that, I procured medicines for all three of us after borrowing money from my uncle,” Ajin says.

A patient wearing an oxygen mask is seen inside an ambulance waiting to enter a COVID-19 hospital for treatment in Ahmedabad on April 25, 2021 [Amit Dave/Reuters]

Despite his own ill health, Ajin has been running around the city for the past week desperately trying to find a hospital bed and oxygen for his father. Both remain elusive.

“My dad’s oxygen saturation level has plummeted to 60 while the optimal level is 97. So he’s in severe need of it. We managed to procure one oxygen cylinder for $150 through contributions from friends and relatives but that supply is fast depleting. I’ve sent out frantic messages on social media, to relatives and friends,” he says.

“I’m in a catch-22 situation because I always fear that my father may pass away while I’m queueing up for oxygen and a bed for him. Many times, in panic, I’ve abandoned my place in queues just to rush back to dad, fearing the worst.”

Out of desperation, Sukanya has taken to rationing her husband’s oxygen supply in case they run out.

“Only when mom sees him gasping for breath, does she connect him to the cylinder and the supply resumes giving him temporary relief. When his breathing resumes normalcy, we stop the oxygen supply,” says Ajin, adding: “We dread the time when this supply will run out.”

Shuttling between his home and the city’s hospitals, Ajin’s search for medical help for his father is wearing him down. “There is a huge scarcity of medical resources. Everywhere I go, I see ‘No beds or oxygen available’ plastered outside hospitals.

“This is the time when we needed the government the most, but it is missing in action. We pay our taxes and fulfil our duties as citizens but the government has failed us. God forbid, if my father dies, I will hold the government responsible for his murder,” says Ajin, his voice breaking with emotion.

Source: Al Jazeera