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Health , World

Pune, Maharashtra: A Haze of Delirium and Rumors of a Medical Hoax

by Priya Mirchandani May 21, 2021

Editor’s Note: This feature is part of The Fuller Project’s ongoing series, Gasping For Breath: Women Provide A Glimpse Into India’s COVID Disaster. Read the full series here.

The elderly lady stares unseeingly ahead, lying in her hospital bed in Pune’s leading private hospital. She knows she’s lucky to be in a room with an oxygenated bed, but she can’t help but wonder how many roommates she will continue to outstay in this heavily guarded COVID isolation wing.

A tangle of tubes imprison her to her bed, one for nourishment, one for antibiotics, one for oxygen and one that carries waste away. She is lucky to have dodged having a tube down her throat, too, to coax her lungs to open up.

The woman arrived in a haze of delirium, seeking treatment for an acute urinary tract infection. But she fell prey to the virus in the hospital itself. Her speech is impaired, her mind fuzzy. She keeps yanking at her tubes and at her mask. The medical staff have placed restraints on her wrists.

A white blob in a PPE suit approaches and the woman looks away, not recognizing her daughter. Having already battled COVID, the daughter has been allowed to check in on her mother, whose vitals are stable now. But she seems to be retreating into her head. The doctor needs to pull her back.

Right now the medical staff are losing both patients and hope. They are running low on energy, morale, oxygen supplies, lifesaving drugs, beds, staff, and even morgue space and crematoriums. 

Fake Remdesivir vials have been making the rounds. Outside the hospital walls, a sea of humanity waits, hoping to score a bed. The ER’s security pushes people back. The queue outside the chest scan room and the MRI center spills all the way down into the belly of the hospital, and out the other side.

It is 10 p.m. and the city of Pune echoes with the wail of ambulance sirens. Every siren pushes the stress decibel up one notch.

Not far away, in the woman’s home, her daughter tries yet again to convince the 29-year-old domestic helper working for them to register for the vaccination. But the young woman is a victim of political chess and mass skepticism. She says she does not plan to go anywhere near a vaccine that is rumored, incorrectly, to cause infertility, pneumonia and stroke. She believes it won’t affect her if she stays indoors.

If her elected prime minister and party workers are holding election rallies around the country, her favourite cricketer is fearlessly playing, and the holy sadhus are congregating in thousands at the Kumbh pilgrimage, surely then COVID has got to be a hoax, she says.

Meanwhile, the nation is turning into one giant funeral pyre. The old woman in the hospital breathes heavily, her blood sugar spiking yet again.

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