Imagine choking on a morsel of food and gasping for air—that rencounter with death most of us have had at the dining table at some point in our life. The Heimlich manoeuvre may save you from that stubborn crumb stifling your windpipe. Now, scale that choker several times up. What happens when your lungs, battered and heavy with fluid from an infection, struggle to pump air and process the amount of oxygen required to keep your body fully functional, and let you be a living, breathing human? You need oxygen—pure, medical grade—from a respirator, from a ventilator, from a cylinder. What if this oxygen isn’t available, like it happened when the second wave of the Covid pandemic peaked in April-May in India, overwhelming our healthcare system? Death—slow, painful and wretched, like a fish yanked out of water.
We have seen it during the month-long carnage—thousands dead begging for a breath, heart-wrenching scenes in hospitals, their emergency units and carports. A daughter tries to revive his father by pressing his chest with her folded palms. A wife gives mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to her husband, fully aware she would be infected too, if not already. An inconsolable woman refuses to leave her husband’s corpse. A father pleads with a doctor for an ICU bed for his son. A man begs a patient to share his oxygen cylinder with his younger brother. They died of Covid, but it’s the lack of oxygen that killed many. What do you call it when a soldier dies of a gangrened bullet wound? The bullet killed him, or the sepsis? Both, actually. Depends on how one quarters and fillets the cause of death, and fills out the official report. Hundreds of deaths in the coronavirus pandemic followed this order: Covid, oxygen shortage. There are other factors, but for the context, oxygen is the least we should be able to provide to save lives. So then, are we prepared if there’s a third outbreak?