Ferrying oxygen to finding hospital beds: Bengaluru’s Mercy Mission saves lives

Mercy Mission has 600 oxygen cylinders that they have been rushing to patients and hospitals in need during this COVID-19 crisis.
Mercy Mission volunteers cremating a dead body
Mercy Mission volunteers cremating a dead body
Written by:

At 7 pm on April 29, the Railway Hospital in Bengaluru was down to the last three hours of its oxygen supply. Admitted at the hospital were 50 COVID-19 patients, including 15 in the intensive care unit (ICU). The 80 cylinders of oxygen that was supposed to reach the hospital that day had not arrived. 

At the same time, Tanveer Ahmed, a volunteer with Mercy Mission, a collective of non-profit organisations involved in COVID-19 relief, was at Mediscope Hospital, 9 km away.  “I was there to take a dead body for cremation when I was told about the oxygen shortage in Railway Hospital. We had helped Mediscope recently and they told us they have few cylinders they can spare. We picked up 4 jumbo sized cylinders and delivered them to Railway Hospital around 8 :30 pm,” says Tanveer Ahmed. 

The hospital received around 80 cylinders in total from six different sources including from Mercy Mission, while Southern Gases and two suppliers based in the Peenya industrial area in the city accounted for the bulk of the cylinders delivered, according to Ashok Kumar Verma, the divisional railway manager of SBC in Bengaluru. “We managed to avert a crisis by arranging the cylinders at 8:30 pm. We had oxygen supply for another two hours at that time,” says Ashok Kumar Verma.

A week ago in an incident with similarly high stakes, the oxygen supply in the city’s HBS Hospital was down to critical levels. There were 55 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, 25 of them in the ICU. Syed Tousif Masood, another volunteer with Mercy Mission began making calls asking for an oxygen supplier. He found one, but the complication was that they were in Hosur, a distance of 40km from the hospital in Shivajinagar (80 km to and fro). “The team rushed to Hosur to pick up the cylinder but there were delays and we decided to ask the police if a green corridor can be set up,” says Ismail, who is a software engineer and another activist associated with Mercy Mission. 

A green corridor is when traffic signals along the route are kept green for an ambulance to pass. It is usually used in cases of organ transplants. The request was granted by Bengaluru Commissioner Kamal Pant who gave the details of the vehicle to the police control room. “The vehicle then reached the hospital in 31 minutes and it was in the nick of time,” says Ismail. 

In Bengaluru, many individuals and volunteer groups have stepped in tirelessly to fill the gaps in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in Bengaluru and among them, Mercy Mission’s practical know-how is making a difference in critical situations.

Mercy Mission was launched at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. During that time, among their other initiatives, volunteers known as Mercy Angels  stepped in to give a dignified send-off for COVID-19 victims in Bengaluru. This is something the group is still doing today.  Tanveer Ahmed is one of those involved in ensuring a dignified cremation for COVID-19 victims. The group has cremated more than 1000 dead bodies of people from different communities as per the wishes of the victim’s family, since the start of the pandemic.

Mercy Mission is a coalition of more than 20 non-profits in Bengaluru working in different areas in the city. As the first wave of the pandemic threw up new problems everyday, the volunteers expanded their work to cook food for migrant workers and manage helplines to answer distress calls. “There was no full stop to COVID-19 and so even we didn’t stop what we were doing. The only difference was that the number of cases were less and hospitals were not filled up (before the second wave) . In the last two weeks, the hospitals were filled up with patients,” says Ismail, a volunteer with Mercy Mission. 

And over the last two weeks, the organisation has turned its attention to helping people access hospital beds and oxygen cylinders. “When you see the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) dashboard, it shows there are HDU and ICU beds available but when you call up the official helplines –1912 or 108– you are told that there are no beds available.  In the last two weeks, people have found it nearly impossible  to access ICU beds” says Ismail. 

Mercy Mission’s helpline number (8660856709), connects people to the Emergency Response Teams that they work with. These teams help people find hospital beds and ambulances. 

But since the demand for hospital beds is high and very few are available, the organisation assists patients in getting oxygen cylinders to help them until they recover or find a hospital bed. “Since the pandemic began, we have been managing oxygen cylinder centres in Bengaluru. We give these cylinders to the patients who are not able to book a bed,” says Syed Tousif Masood, a volunteer with Mercy Mission who manages oxygen cylinders. In Bengaluru, there are seven places where Mercy has stored oxygen cylinders. These are in  Jayanagar, Boopsandra, Chandra Layout, Frazer Town, MG Palya, Mysuru Road and Koramangala.

COVID-19 patients usually need oxygen therapy when their saturation levels drop below 94. “Some patients are unable to book beds even though their oxygen saturation level is below 90 and we’ve often seen how the condition of such patients deteriorates quickly. An oxygen cylinder is crucial for such patients and the cost of oxygen cylinders have shot up now,” says Tousif.

Mercy Mission has 600 cylinders and they have been rushing them to patients and hospitals in need over the last two weeks to help those in distress. The organisation also manages ambulances and helps connect people to plasma donors and medicines like Remdesivir. 

For many like Tousif, volunteering has become a full-time job and they are taking extra precautions, wearing double masks and limiting the time spent with their families. “You just hope that you are taking enough precautions,” says Tousif. The work is both physically exhausting and emotionally taxing. “We have grieved so many strangers in the last few days...The patients we were not able to help in time,” says Tousif. 

But the distress calls do not seem to be ending and Mercy Mission’s volunteers say they will continue to help address the flood of emergency requests. With the lockdown in Karnataka set to continue until at least May 12, the volunteers also say they will also help vulnerable groups in the city get food and shelter. “This city is our community and we want to help as many as we can,” says Tousif.


Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute