Rohan Aggarwal is 26 years old. He doesn’t even complete his medical training until next year. And yet, at one of the best hospitals in India, he is the doctor who must decide who will live and who will die when patients come to him gasping for breath, their family members begging for mercy.
As India’s healthcare system teeters on the verge of collapse during a brutal second wave of the novel coronavirus, Aggarwal makes those decisions during a 27-hour workday that includes a grim overnight shift in charge of the emergency room at his New Delhi hospital.
Everyone at Holy Family Hospital – patients, relatives and staff – knows there aren’t enough beds, not enough oxygen or ventilators to keep everyone who arrives at the hospital’s front gates alive.
THE NIGHT SHIFT
Aggarwal spends the night fighting constant emergencies in the wards. Three of his patients die, including a young woman.
While helping out in the ICU, Aggarwal sees a senior colleague. Both of their fathers have been sick, and have recently recovered. They share a private joke, and Aggarwal realises it is the first time he has laughed in weeks.
It isn’t until 5 a.m. that he manages some sleep in the break room of the ER.
By the time he emerges, bleary-eyed, a few hours later, Vadhera, the older woman who didn’t get a bed in the ICU, has died. Her nephew Pulkit stands by as her body, wrapped in a white shroud, is loaded into an ambulance for cremation.
Rohilla, the woman whose son had tried 15 to 20 hospitals before Holy Family, will take her place in what is a slightly less cramped corner of the emergency room, though she should be in the ICU, too.
Finally, after 27 hours, his shift is over, and an exhaustion has taken hold that makes him want to sleep for the rest of the day, and the next one too.
But he has one final job: A friend’s father is sick, and he’s asked Aggarwal for help – one of many such calls he receives each day. Nine times out of 10, there is nothing he can do, no matter how loved or insistent the caller, but he tries all the same.
And so he puts his mask back on and heads back inside.