Srinagar, Kashmir – In less than a week, says 23-year-old Umer Farooq, his life has turned into hell.
On April 20, her 53-year-old mother, Haseena Bhat, tested positive for COVID along with her father, Farooq Ahmad Bhat, 63, and brother Wasee Ullah Bhat, 28. The family all live together in Srinagar in Indian administered Kashmir. .
Six days later, Umer’s previously healthy mother died in her arms and her father – who still doesn’t know his wife is dead – remains in hospital in critical condition.
“When we got the positive results on April 20, my dad broke down; he started to cry like a baby. The hysteria around us and the terrible condition of COVID patients in Kashmir has frightened all of us. He worried about my mother the most, ”says Umer, who is a student at Islamia College in Srinagar.
At first, fearing that he would not be able to take care of his family if he also tested positive, Umer did not get tested. He has since tested negative.
Two days after her positive test result, Haseena began to have difficulty breathing.
“My mother felt sudden shortness of breath and could not speak or move. Without any medical experience, I called a doctor friend of mine who suggested that I admit my mother to the government hospital in Srinagar. I took her straight there.
But the conditions at the hospital made him panic, he said.
“By the time I entered the hospital, there were so many people in distress everywhere that I started to lose my mind there. I was like crazy… shaking.
“My mother was unable to breathe. Once she was admitted we saw her oxygen level fluctuated from 75 to 80 [95 is considered safe, damage to the brain is a risk below 80]. I would ask the staff to put her on oxygen, however, due to their rules, I had to fill out a form first, ”says Umer.
According to Umer, this exercise lasted around 30 minutes due to the chaos in the hospital – while her mother’s oxygen level was dropping.
After tests and an x-ray, Umer was told his mother would be transferred to a room for COVID patients with pneumonia.
“The doctor told me that the nurse would come and provide my mother with medication at the prescribed times.”
But, he said, after a few hours the nurses still hadn’t come to see his mother. He went to the nurses’ station to ask them to watch her, and eventually a nurse arrived.
“She gave my mother the prescribed injections. That day and the next day, I had to leave my critical mother alone so that the nurse would give her the prescribed injections each time, ”Umer recalls.
The next day, he says his mother “would say random words and say things that didn’t make sense.”
“I was worried his brain might be affected by the virus. The doctor told me that with low oxygen levels a patient tends to lose control of their senses.
With nearly 3,000 infections and 25 deaths per day currently reported in Indian-administered Kashmir, hospitals in Srinagar are overcrowded and understaffed.
The hospital was overrun and Umer said he could see there was not enough staff to take care of all the patients. So he spent the next two days coordinating with the nurses, monitoring his mother, and carrying oxygen cylinders from the hospital’s oxygen facility.
In the midst of all of this, her father had also started to deteriorate at home and found it difficult to breathe. Umer ran to his house and drove his father to the hospital. Her father’s condition began to improve with the first cylinder of oxygen.
But, on April 25, Haseena’s oxygen levels, which had stabilized the day before, started to drop again – this time to just 65.
“The doctor informed me that in cases where COVID has caused pneumonia, it is difficult to predict the patient’s future condition. It made fear run throughout my body. The doctor informed me in most cases that the patient was not surviving.
Umer says at least three people died every day in his mother’s ward. “These people would be fine one minute and the next day they would stop breathing.
He would tell his mother that he would make sure she got home safe.
But his oxygen levels continued to drop. Next, Umer says he overheard two people on the ward talking about a possible shortage of oxygen cylinders at the hospital.
“My mother was only alive because of those oxygen cylinders. Hearing this, the possibility that my mother would die if the hospital ran out of oxygen was killing me from the inside out. I rushed to the establishment where the oxygen cylinders were kept and bought two, ”he says.
But an oxygen cylinder would only last an hour and a half.
“Obtaining these bottles was not an easy task either, I had to plead with the staff, show them my mother’s reports and make them believe in the condition she was in.”
According to reports, there are only 93 ventilators in all of Kashmir to cover a population of seven million. In Srinagar, there are only 13,000 liters of oxygen available per minute, which doctors consider insufficient to meet the needs of the patients they see.
“One of the cylinders I bought was faulty – its key didn’t work, and I started to panic because the cylinder my mom was on was about to finish and it was the last cylinder I had. I had. I ran through the hospital to find someone who might be able to help me, and finally, after 15 minutes, I found a technician who was repairing the cylinder, ”says Umer.
Umer went to the facility again to see if any more cylinders had arrived. There were none. He started calling his family and friends who gave him the contact details of an NGO that was distributing oxygen cylinders for 50 rupees ($ 0.68).
“I asked a friend to drop off two bottles for me at the hospital. It was around three in the morning, ”he says. At 6 a.m., her mother was on the second of these.
Umer’s friends tried to get more oxygen cylinders from the NGO, but Haseena died before she could even do so.
“I lost my mother in my arms at 8:10 am on April 26,” Umer said.
“My mother, the most important woman in my life, whose face I saw every morning, who supported me in everything I did, had died in my arms in a hospital bed. Only because the oxygen could not be arranged for her in time.
At 9 a.m., Umer took his mother’s body from the hospital. “I, with only 10 family members, offered the last prayers for her in the cemetery. My father still does not know that his wife is deceased.
Umer’s father is still on oxygen at another hospital in Srinagar, while Umer’s brother Wasee is now stable and mourns the death of his mother, devastated at never seeing her one last time before her death.