It was midnight on Saturday when Asif*, a 36-year-old COVID-19 patient in Bengaluru's Banashankari area was dropped off at the Haj Bhavan, a COVID Care Centre.
The ambulance which had picked him up an hour earlier was supposed to admit him in a hospital but after the patient, who was having breathing difficulties, was told that there was no bed available. The ambulance dropped him at the entrance of the COVID Care Centre, which houses patients who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.
"At midnight, seeing no alternative, he was taken to Haj Bhavan and he was dropped at the gate of Haj Bhavan," a relative of the patient told TNM. The Haj Bhavan is a quarantine centre and not a COVID-19 treatment facility and there were no beds available here either.
A slew of calls were made by relatives and volunteers looking to help the patient to the two helpline numbers listed by the state government - 108 and 1912. But no help was forthcoming. Eventually, a friend of the patient took him back home and he was later allocated a bed on Sunday night.
The patient's ordeal illustrated the difficulties faced by COVID-19 patients in Bengaluru in receiving care. "He is a strong and healthy person, so he was able to survive this. But what about people with complications? If this is the level of treatment and service, more people will die," says the relative.
The lack of healthcare could be the difference between life and death for some. The city's residents are still trying to get past the anguish of a tragic incident which occurred on Friday. A 63-year-old COVID-19 patient from Hanumanth Nagar in Bengaluru died near his residence. He collapsed while he was on his way to the main road expecting an ambulance to pick him up.
"We got the test report on Friday and at 12 pm, we got a call saying an ambulance will come and take him away. But the ambulance did not come till the house and came only till the main road. He collapsed on the way and eventually the ambulance drove away because he had not turned up," a relative of the victim told TNM.
According to the relative, an ambulance came at 7 pm in the evening after a delay of six hours. Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Commissioner BH Anil Kumar apologised to the victim's family for the inordinate delay in arranging an ambulance. "But what is the use of the commissioner apologising later? We called so many ambulances but there was no response. If the situation is such that we have to wait so long for an ambulance then what is the government doing?" says the relative.
"This is a terrible situation and only those who experience it know how bad it is. I hope no else goes through this," the distraught relative added.
Despite the Karnataka government's claim that there are 73 private hospitals and 16 government hospitals in Bengaluru designated for treating COVID-19 patients, a number of Bengalureans have shared stories of their struggles to find a bed in the city.
One of the first stories of a COVID-19 patient struggling to find hospital beds in Bengaluru was reported on June 28 when a 52-year-old businessman in the city with breathing difficulties passed away without getting the medical care he required. His family alleged that they were turned away by as many as 18 hospitals in the city.
The nephew of the family told TNM that the family tried to admit the patient in 18 hospitals while calling up 32 others on June 27 and 28. "We roamed till 4 am in the night. We finally took him home and arranged an oxygen cylinder at home. The next day we conducted a COVID-19 test at 11 am but before the results returned, his condition deteriorated. We again tried to find a hospital bed but we were turned down once again," said the nephew of the patient.
Eventually, the family managed to admit the patient in Bowring Hospital but he passed away shortly after his arrival at the hospital. The nephew of the patient told TNM that many hospitals asked for a positive COVID-19 test before admitting the patient while few hospitals said that the beds in their facility are unavailable since they are full.
Nine private hospitals in the city were issued a show cause notice for refusing treatment to the patient.
Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa also held a meeting with the management of private hospitals to allocate as many as 2500 beds for COVID-19 patients on June 29. But the accounts of patients struggling to find beds show that the situation in the city did not improve significantly.
"Even if the patient has a normal fever, they (hospitals) won't admit them. When there is a sign of breathing difficulties, they say there are no doctors or that their hospital does not take such cases," the relative of the patient from Banashankari said. "The government should come forward to ensure that hospitals allocate beds for patients and ensure there are no delays with the ambulance," the relative added.