Many people are frantically running from one hospital to another – looking for an empty ICU bed for their critically ill loved ones as the country sinks further into the second wave of Covid-19.
Covid-dedicated hospitals in the capital have quickly become a scene of desperation and worry.
On Thursday afternoon, ambulances at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital were being parked at the entrance in short intervals to either receive or drop off a critical Covid patient needing an ICU bed.
Around 2 pm, a woman was in tears as she got on the back of an ambulance at the hospital. She was having to take her father elsewhere, who needed intensive treatment. She was turned away by the hospital on arrival because the hospital did not have any vacant ICU bed.
"Setting up an ICU bed is not an easy task. The hospital has so far installed seven exclusively for coronavirus patients," Dr Md Al Amin, the hospital's resident physician told The Business Standard.
"We are having to turn away 1 or 2 patients on average every day simply because we do not have an empty ICU bed."
Recently, Suhrawardy hospital dedicated all of its seven ICU beds to coronavirus patients, Dr Al Amin added. This means non-Covid patients requiring ICU treatment also have to go elsewhere.
Irin Parvin was at the hospital for her husband, a 54-year-old kidney dialysis patient who had been frequenting hospitals for his dialysis treatment.
On 5 April, the family went to Suhrawardy hospital when the Covid-19 test was recommended for the patient among other tests by the family's doctor in the Popular Diagnostic Centre. He tested negative the following day.
However, the patient's oxygen level dropped with time and a lung scan hinted at coronavirus infection.
On 8 April, the family decided to move the patient to a different hospital. "We are taking him to Dr Azmal Hospital," Parvin told TBS. "My husband needs to be admitted to the ICU," she said as she rushed to her car parked just a few feet away to keep some of their personal belongings, such as a stand fan, pillow, etc.
The family contacted Dr Azmal Hospital in Mirpur beforehand to see if they had any available ICU bed. The hospital has eight ICU and high dependency unit (HDU) beds in total - all were vacant at the time. The hospital is not a Covid-dedicated hospital.
"Although we are not sure if he has contracted the virus, we decided to bring my brother here [Dr Azmal Hospital in Mirpur] for ICU treatment," Mizanur Rahman told TBS. "My brother's health deteriorated significantly, and he now cannot breathe without oxygen support," he added.
Not only ICU beds, but Suhrawardy hospital also did not have a room for general coronavirus patients either in its red zone – a hospital wing dedicated to coronavirus treatment, according to the hospital's resident physician.
Kazi Obaidul Rahman was at Suhrawardy hospital's waiting room, with his 75-year-old father who tested positive on Wednesday night. Fortunately, Obaidul's father did not require ICU treatment at the time but their doctor advised to get him admitted for treatment.
Obaidul was told by the hospital that their general Covid-19 ward - dubbed as the red zone - is already at full capacity. He began to hurriedly dial contact numbers on his phone. "I am speaking with my friends and acquaintances, I hear there might be room for my father in Mugda hospital or City hospital," he added.
His voice quivered with the weight of uncertainty just like Irin Parvin's eyes spoke of the unseen weight.
"We have added 100 more general beds to our Covid-19 red zone ward since the first outbreak last year. We are currently at full capacity. Doubling our Covid-19 beds to 200 is still not cutting it," Dr Md Al Amin, the hospital's resident physician explained. "Our hands are tied," he added.
About 7km away, Farhad Sarkar was rushing from one building of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) to another with his mother on Thursday late afternoon. They needed an ICU bed for Farhad's 65-year-old maternal grandmother who tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in the week and her condition deteriorated over time.
The DMCH is one of several hospitals treating the majority of Covid patients in the city. However, it has 20 ICU beds, and all were occupied as of Thursday noon.
Farhad Sarkar and his mother were sent to the DMCH complex-3 ICU by hospital staff with a piece of yellow sheet. They were to give it to the hospital staff in charge of the complex-3 unit to be granted an ICU bed.
At first, they were turned away by the building guards, who said coronavirus patients were not treated here. The duo backtracked.
After a few minutes of whispered indecision, they went back in. On the verge of tears, the son led, the mother closely followed.
Upon reaching the complex 3 ICU unit, they were told to see a doctor in the next room. But there was no one there. The ICU nurses told them to look for the doctor in another ward.
The mother was in tears. It seemed as though they were on a wild goose chase.
After spending 20 minutes pacing up and down the ICU floor, making phone calls and even speaking to a hospital security personnel at the ICU floor entrance for some hope to secure an ICU bed, the duo took to the stairs to walk back to their ailing loved one in another building on the premises.
At the time, they had no clear answer as to what to do next.
Farhad Sarkar is not alone. There are scores of families in the capital who are looking for any way to secure an ICU bed for a family member. The recent uptick in critical Covid-19 cases has left Covid-dedicated hospitals in a struggle to accommodate ICU patients.
As of Friday noon, of 600 ICU beds across the country, 155 are currently vacant, according to the health directorate.
And, out of 305 beds in 19 covid-dedicated government and private hospitals in Dhaka, only 17 ICU beds are vacant in total. In the case of government hospitals, the number is only 3.