Thirty-one-year old Shahnawaz Shaikh’s Ford Endeavour was his prized possession. When he bought it in 2011, the Malad resident spent extra on a premium number plate – 007 – and a customised music system. During the lockdown, he had been using it as a makeshift ambulance.
But on May 28, the sister of his business partner – who was six months pregnant – died of Covid-19 in an autorickshaw, outside a hospital, after being turned away from five others.
On learning that her life could have been saved if she had received oxygen in time, Shaikh decided to sell his SUV, use the money to buy oxygen cylinders and give them for free to others in need. Since he began distributing them on June 5, he has given oxygen cylinders to more than 250 families of Covid-19 patients.
|Five of them were approved in June 2018 but are less than 10 per cent complete; the planned addition of nearly 3,000 beds could now have helped in the pandemic.|
Shaikh said, “[The woman’s husband] took her to five hospitals but none was willing to admit her. Some said they didn’t have any vacant beds for people with Covid- 19 symptoms. Others didn’t have ventilators.
She died in an autorickshaw outside the sixth hospital.” He said that when he narrated the incident to some of his friends who are doctors, they told him that she could have been saved had she been provided oxygen in time. This, he said, made him resolve to find a way to help people in similar situations. He started doing some research, and soon realised there was a shortage of oxygen cylinders on the market. He said, “A friend of mine helped me contact a manufacturer directly. They were touched when I told them I wanted to buy cylinders and give them away for free.
They were very helpful after that.” To raise money for the cylinders, Shaikh decided to sell his beloved SUV. Once he acquired them, he and his friends spread the word, along with his phone number, on social media. “There are just two simple things we ask from people calling to say they need oxygen cylinders – one, a doctor’s recommendation, and two, that they come pick it up themselves,” he said. In exceptional cases, like when the entire family is in quarantine, a team of volunteers in protective gear travels across the city with oxygen cylinders. “The farthest we have traveled is from Malad to Haji Ali. Volunteers don’t enter the house and, despite wearing PPEs, maintain social distancing,” he said.
f someone reads my columns and thinks doctors do not suffer from anxiety about their patients, they would be wrong. If you are a doctor, it is almost given that you will suffer a great amount of anxiety and stress.
Shaikh said he gives each batch of relatives the oxygen kit and a crash course in its use, which he put together with the help of Dr Sabauddin Shaikh of Care Hospital. He said, “[Dr Shaikh] helped us make a video to demonstrate the use of the cylinders. He has also provided other support when needed.” Apart from this, Shaikh also advises each family to consult a doctor on the oxygen pressure required by the patient. “I’m not claiming to provide an alternative to hospitalisation. All we can help with is providing life support to people with breathing difficulties,” he said.
Asked if it pained him to sell his SUV, Shaikh’s response was an emphatic “no”. “It’s not hard to give up one car to save someone’s life. Even if I’m blessed by just one grateful family for this deed, I will be able to buy four such cars some day,” he said. Shaikh recalled that just a few weeks ago, at the start of the lockdown, he had used his SUV as a free ambulance for people in Malad. “There are so many poor people in slums in this area who cannot find transportation, even to hospitals. Many of the people I took to hospital later turned out to be Covid-positive,” he said. Because of this, Shaikh said, he has been taking extra precautions at home. His wife and two-year-old daughter live in one part of the house, which he does not enter unless he has been properly sanitised.