Death by dread

Big loss: V. Ramesh, who was being treated for Covid, jumped to death from the fourth floor of the hospital. Big loss: V. Ramesh, who was being treated for Covid, jumped to death from the fourth floor of the hospital.

AT FIRST GLANCE, the fourth floor of the newly built CSR block in Visakhapatnam’s King George Hospital (KGH) looks well-ventilated, its large, sliding windows allowing unhindered airflow. But, since April, those very windows have become gateways to death.

The CSR block in KGH, the largest and oldest government hospital in the coastal town, houses Covid-19 patients. Two patients—Venkata Ramani and Venkat Rao—died after allegedly jumping from its fourth floor on April 15 and 27, respectively. On May 30, V. Ramesh leapt to his death from the same floor. As per the police’s probe, all three died by suicide.

Ramesh was a resident of the forested and hilly Araku village in Visakhapatnam district. He was a rural medical practitioner and also managed a small medical shop. Ramesh fell sick on May 11, said his father-in-law Chandu, and soon developed breathing issues. He was admitted to a local hospital, but was shifted to KGH on May 16. “I used to regularly make video calls to him. He told me he was doing fine,” said Chandu. “The day before he committed suicide, he told fellow patients that he was confident of getting discharged soon.” What transpired in the last moments of Ramesh’s life is a mystery.

The hospital has been receiving bad press, especially because of the lack of safety grills on the windows. “These are sliding windows. As a temporary measure, we have fixed it in such a way that they do not move,” said P. Mythili, superintendent, KGH. “We wanted to install grills, but no worker was willing to enter the hospital (because of Covid-19).”

What would drive Covid-19 patients to suicide? “Some of them are depressed as they are staying alone here,” said Mythili. “Since they are in a hypoxic (oxygen deficiency) state, they are in a state of confusion. This can be one of the reasons.”

Since the onset of the second wave, a spate of suicides has rocked Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Between April and July, at least 40 people have killed themselves, either out of fear of contracting the virus or after catching it. And, 20-year-olds to 70-year-olds have fallen victim to that fear.

Take, for instance, S. Yoganand, 31, a resident of Uppal in eastern Hyderabad. In April, his mother contracted Covid-19. “He kept thinking whether he will survive if he tested positive,” said his cousin Teja M. One day, Yoganand went missing for hours but returned home later, said Teja. His relatives got doctors and police to counsel him, but he ran away again. His body was found the next day in a nearby lake.

The fear of Covid-19 has led to mass suicides in Andhra Pradesh, too. Leela Prasad and Bharathi were found hanging at their Pedana town residence in Krishna district. The couple tested positive in May. “They were scared after getting Covid-19,” said sub-inspector T. Murali of Pedana police station. The couple left behind two daughters, both below 10 years.

The reasons for the current suicides, said Dr Praveen Chintapanti, consultant psychiatrist, Tranquil Minds, Hyderabad, could be an individual level of helplessness and a high degree of negativity prevailing in society owing to conversations around the virus and the taboos. Psychiatrists say that for every suicide, there are hundreds who are contemplating the act to the degree of execution. On June 3, a woman tried to jump from the fourth floor of KGH. She was saved by alert nurses.

However, are existing systems enough to stop the spate of suicides?