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.
“Who to be saved, who not to be saved should be decided by God,” Aggarwal says.
“We are not made for that – we are just humans. But at this point in time, we are being made to do this.”
India has reported a global record of more than 300,000 daily cases for the last two weeks – figures experts say are almost certainly conservative. In the capital, fewer than 20 of more than 5,000 COVID-19 ICU beds are free at any one time. Patients rush from hospital to hospital, dying on the street or at home, while oxygen trucks move under armed guard to facilities with perilously low stocks. Crematoriums work round the clock, throwing up plumes of smoke as the bodies of victims arrive every few minutes.
During his marathon shift, which Reuters documented to provide one of the most comprehensive accounts of overwhelmed hospitals during India’s harrowing surge, Aggarwal says he fears what will happen if he gets infected, too, knowing that his own hospital will be unlikely to find him a bed.
He is unvaccinated: He was sick in January when shots for medical professionals were being rolled out, and then by February, he began to relax.
“We were all under the misconception the virus had gone,” he says.