On Sunday, Maria Mehra, a 56-year-old patient of COVID-19, was having difficulty breathing at her home in Mumbai. Her oxygen level had dropped to 76 and she needed immediate medical attention.
But there were no beds, given the number of infectious diseases in the metropolis in the last few weeks.
Her distraught family tried to make a hospital bed or oxygen pen but could not find her until Mary’s sister-in-law Jackson Quadras, 47, spoke to Shahnawaz Shahalam Sheikh.
The sheikh gave them an oxygen pen in the middle of the night.
A few hours later, Quadras found a hospital bed in Malad, a town north of Mumbai, in Maria but remains grateful to Sheikh whose temporary intervention helped her.
“Shahnawaz bhai (brother) is everything to us. He saved my brother-in-law’s life, ”Jackson told Al Jazeera.
Sheikh, 32, has a “COVID military room” in Mumbai to help people with old oxygen as Indian hospitals run out of life-saving oxygen for critical patients of COVID-19 with hypoxaemia – also low blood pressure.
In May last year, the cousin of one of Sheikh’s friends died at the hospital gate because he was not received on time.
The case involved Sheikh, who decided to spend all his money to buy 30 cylinders of oxygen to help people living with HIV.
“My friend lost his cousin because the hospitals were overburdened with COVID patients. I have decided to provide oxygen patients with oxygen cylinders until they are admitted to every hospital, ”he told Al Jazeera by telephone.
He sold an SUV to help people with air conditioning
But the need for oxygen was growing and Sheikh felt that 30 cylinders were not enough. In June last year, he sold his SUV to buy another 170.
With a total of 200 cylinders, he and his 20 crew from now on have helped nearly 6,000 people, saving many lives.
In the second COVID-19 wave that swept India this month, Sheikh says his team has helped more than 600 people with oxygen levels.
“Every day, we look for hundreds of people to help us. Sometimes we can help and sometimes not, ”he told Al Jazeera.
The sheikh, now known as Oxygen Man, said the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad encouraged him to take action, which he hoped would help the people to produce a “wrong picture” about Muslims in the country.
“There are many misconceptions about Muslims in our country today. I want to change this image, ”he said.
Like Sheikhs, thousands of Indians, regardless of age and occupation, are volunteering to help vulnerable families as the country struggles with serious illnesses and their health system is struggling to cope with the growing number of patients.
Volunteers are running SOS teams day and night to help people get hit by the second coronavirus, which on Thursday saw a very dangerous day but still 3,645 people died and recorded 379,257 new COVID-19 cases.
Over the past two weeks, radio broadcasts in India have been turned into mobile phones, with people seeking to guide the availability of medical beds, oxygen, plasma donors and essential medicines such as remdesivir.
Ishwar, 55, whose name is known and lives in Gurgaon, the largest city in northern Haryana state, was diagnosed with COVID last week. On Saturday, her oxygen level dropped to 65 alarmingly.
Her 22-year-old daughter, Priya, who is also called by the same name, said she became anxious and helpless because she could not find a hospital bed.
“I was angry and helpless because nothing worked. I was very angry with the government, “he told Al Jazeera by telephone.
Enthusiastic Priya sought help with the SOS message on Instagram. He immediately found Manasi Hansa, who has been part of an online volunteer group.
Hansa, a 30-year-old lawyer, is a lawyer who helps his clients find oxygen and hospital beds.
“Until last week, people did not know what the oxygen compound was or what the optimal level of SPO2 was. Today people are running ICUs at home, “he told Al Jazeera.
Hansa helped Priya find her father’s hospital bed, which is now oxygenated.
“He not only gave me guidance but also followed. He called me, gave me strength, counseled me and asked me how my father was,” said Priya.
“These people are doing a wonderful job. Posting numbers is easy, but calling the person you are talking to and talking to them takes courage. It is not easy to deal with the crowd, but it is a distraction. ”
Another challenge that many Indians face is finding people to support the last rites of their loved ones who have died of COVID-19.
Fear of contracting the disease has increased as families have been forced to take care of themselves in order to protect the dead from hospitals or to transport them to crematoriums.
In the central Indian state of Bhopal, the state capital Madhya Pradesh, Danish Siddiqui and Saddam Quraishi have burned at least 60 Hindu bodies killed by the virus.
Siddiqui, 38, works with the local urban department and is currently in charge of COVID’s special ambulance patients.
He also said that he would have to intervene in behalf of the many relatives of the deceased if they refused to follow the traditional customs of their families.
“Everyone should say goodbye. I want to serve the people because I believe that people are bigger than religion,” he said.