With the country struggling to contain the outbreak of the new coronavirus, horrifying experiences of both suspected and confirmed patients of the COVID-19 have started pouring in as people narrate their ordeals amid the global health crisis.
In this regard, I reached out to a “recovered” coronavirus patient, who remained admitted to Lahore’s Mayo Hospital for three long weeks.
Not only did I ask them what it was like to stay away from their family at such a critical time, fearing never getting to see them again, but also about their experience at a rather infamous government facility.
“Nothing you have heard is untrue. The deplorable condition of the hospital, the initial inattention of the government and slackness of the hospital staff… all these things made headlines because they were true,” said the patient, who asked not to be named.
They said they had travelled from Abbottabad to Islamabad in the last week of February and later to Lahore following a two-week stay in the federal capital. “I fell sick two days after arriving in Lahore, my hometown. At first, I ignored the symptoms… a mild fever, after all, is quite common when you’ve been travelling back and forth.”
“But then I started developing other symptoms. I couldn’t stop coughing and [my] fever just didn’t go away,” the patient said, adding that they had already isolated themself as a precautionary measure after returning from Islamabad where the virus was rumoured to be spreading.
They said they got themself tested from a government facility but the results turned out to be negative and a second test from a different facility proved that they actually had contracted the virus.
“One suspected patient, two different facilities, two different tests, two different results in two days. Doesn’t make sense, does it?”
It merits a mention here that the patient hasn’t been the only one to receive two different test results from two different facilities in Lahore. Last month, the wife of a political bigwig had reportedly tested positive at a private facility and later negative at a government facility. Fashion designer Maria B’s cook had also tested negative for coronavirus on March 26, a few days after testing positive at a private laboratory and being admitted to a Lahore hospital.
According to reports, the federal government is also sceptical of Punjab’s coronavirus testing data. “So far, 13,380 people have been tested for [COVID-19] in Punjab,” Chief Minister (CM) Usman Buzdar tweeted on March 28.
While according to statistics of the provincial government, the figure jumped to 14,890 on March 30 in Punjab, it doesn’t tally with the data maintained by the National Institute of Health (NIH) that coordinates with all provinces to update it on a daily basis. According to NIH data, only 13,321 tests had been conducted in Punjab till March 28.
“Mayo [Hospital] was not an option for me, owing to the poor condition it is known to be in for the past several decades. But I had to go there because a doctor in the family advised me to seek treatment at Mayo,” the patient said.
They added that they had no other option but to listen to their “doctor-friend” since the government had been keeping people in the dark. “I had no idea where else to go or what else to do.”
The patient then started narrating their experiences from the hospital and shared what their family had to go through due to the Punjab government’s policy of “criminalising patients”.
“Not only was I admitted after a group of men in hazmat suits picked me up from my residence, but my house was also guarded by police as other family members were home-quarantined.”
Although Punjab government officials say that such policing is required to arrest the pandemic, many believe such dealings have led to creating panic among citizens.
“At the hospital, nobody came to check my temperature within the first 24 hours. Hygienic conditions were pathetic at the hospital, there were bloodstains on the floor and walls, clean drinking water was not available and the bedsheets we were being forced to lie on were pitiful.”
They said given how disgusting the washroom was, going there was like a punishment and it felt like they would get sicker if they stayed at that hospital any more.
“While things did start getting better with the number of cases in Punjab increasing and media bringing patients’ ordeal to the notice of authorities concerned, there still was a long way to go. Those around me at the hospital and no escape from my dreadful reality made it harder to breathe with infected lungs,” they said.
“Every passing second added to my anticipation to recover and get back home, or just lose my battle against coronavirus instead of being forced to live in that depressing environment.”
Internet, they added, “is always a sweet relief”, but the ages-old structure of the hospital with limited access made it nearly impossible to get any signals.
“I thought things would get better for me and nothing could be as hard as the first week, but it only got worse when people I had seen being brought in, started to get very sick. One of them, a really old patient, even passed due to the staffers’ [alleged] negligence.”
The patient in question was a 73-year-old, who was seen tied helplessly to his bed in a video on social media. In the hospital’s isolation ward, the patient could be heard asking for medical staff to tend to him, but his hands and feet were tied to the bed.
The patient was allegedly not given medication, oxygen or adequate attention by the staff, following which he reportedly passed away. Subsequently, Punjab CM Buzdar ordered an investigation into his death.
“But you cannot put the blame entirely on doctors and other staff members. They too are humans who are being forced to work under extremely poor conditions. Until my second-last day at the hospital, which was last Friday, I had not seen all staffers in the coronavirus ward with proper protective equipment.”
To a question, the patient said they were extremely grateful to the doctors performing their duties on the frontline in the war on the pandemic, “and to Allah for finally making the provincial government authorities take the matter seriously”.
“I don’t know how I survived both the infection and my stay at Mayo Hospital. But what matters is that I did,” the patient said while also urging people to stay at home “if not for themselves, for their loved ones who might not be able to survive such an ordeal”.
At least 2,079 people had contracted the illness by the time this report was filed on Wednesday. The number of infections in Punjab stood at 748 with Sindh trailing behind at 676 cases, 253 infections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 184 in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), 158 in Balochistan, 54 in Islamabad and six in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK).
The number of fatalities stood at 27 while 82 recoveries had been reported.
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