By Namrata Roy
The Fateful Night
Day 1 (June 14): It was just another day. Me fighting against time to wrap up the household chores, occasionally engaging in spousal tiffs, so that I can sit with my office work, work from home, the new normal amid the Covid pandemic. I remember the last time I wrote for this blog, it was about journalism in the times of corona, how unsettling our work is, the daily number crunching, the sorry state of affairs, how the virus had taken quite a significant part of the world population in its clutches. While I watched videos of masked, anxious faces in hospitals, little did I know that in two months’ time, the virus would take me and my husband in its deadly embrace. Seemingly in fine fettle through the day, I put a curious hand on my husband’s forehead in the evening only to find it was burning up. My first reaction was of course that of shock, as he did not feel any weakness, so much so that we wouldn’t even have known he was running a temperature had I not accidentally touched his forehead. Fever it was. 101°F. The immediate thought that crossed my mind was ‘Has he contracted the virus?’ But even quicker was my inner voice ruling out the possibility. ‘How is it possible? We hadn’t been stepping out, except for fetching household essentials, not going to office, keeping everything sanitized at home to the extent possible, taking all sorts of precautions to keep the virus at bay…’ He popped a paracetamol and we went to bed, hoping it was just a seasonal flu and things will be better the next day.
Day 2 and 3 (June 15 and 16): Nothing aggravated. He ran mild temperature throughout the day, mostly ranging from 99-100°F. But he had lost his appetite completely and started facing slight difficulty swallowing the food. No dry cough, no body ache, no breathing difficulty, no headache, in a nutshell, nothing to indicate that it could be Covid. I had constantly been updating both our families, who live miles away from us and were understandably worried. However, all of us thought, or rather wanted to believe it WAS NOT Covid, it couldn’t be. At this juncture, he made his first mistake – he consulted his family physician (a homeopath) back in Kolkata. Yes, I call it a mistake and I realized it when it was too late. I got to know that a week after. Anyway, his doctor said it was a seasonal thing and prescribed a medicine. And vehemently advised against taking any more paracetamol – our second mistake.
Cold Fear of the Unknown
Day 4 (June 17): This day, for the first time, I felt something was off. He ran a temperature of 102°F from the time he woke up. He was visibly weak, wouldn’t get up, no appetite, no other symptom. This was probably the first time I knew what it meant to feel helpless. But this was just the beginning. I called his mother, an elderly lady in her late 60s, who quite conveniently linked this with the lunar calendar and insisted that the high temperature was normal and that it would subside by the next new moon day! She advised me to put ice pack on his forehead, a quick remedy that often comes in handy in bringing the temperature down. By the time I arranged everything, his temperature was as high as 103.5°F. I called his doctor who was doubly sure it wasn’t Covid and that he didn’t need any other medication or even a paracetamol. His fever subsided after a couple of hours and now what he felt was extreme weakness and dehydration. His mouth was dry, he couldn’t swallow anything solid and insisted on a fluid diet. Another shock awaited me when at night I started feeling a bit weak. I brushed it off thinking it was just stress but the thermometer reading said otherwise – I was running a temperature of 101°F.
Day 5 (June 18): Things more or less remained the same. His temperature hovered between 98 and 99°F throughout the day and rose to 101-102°F at night. I had lost my sense of taste completely and my sense of smell was feeble. I no longer felt the urge to have my meals. This was the first time I reconsidered the possibility that I had been conveniently dodging, deep down I had a fear, an unknown fear…
When Close Ones Looked Away
Day 6-8 (June 19-21): His fever followed a set pattern now. Mild temperature throughout the day which rose to 101-102°F every night. I had excruciating pain in my eyes, absolutely no sense of smell and taste, no appetite and extreme weakness. His doctor kept prescribing the same medicine and diagnosed it was acute stomach infection that induced his fever, and that it would take a couple of days to go away. Truth be told, the idea of getting a Covid test done at this juncture did cross our minds but there were a few problems. One – we knew no such allopath in our locality who would prescribe a test, secondly – the only hospital that we had visited twice in our three-year stay in Delhi was a Covid hospital now. What if we were not Covid-positive and visiting the hospital to get a test prescribed put us at risk? Third, which I concede was a mistake, was believing his doctor that it WAS a stomach infection.
On the night of June 21, things got serious as he burned up and struggled to finish his dinner. He slipped into the bed but couldn’t sleep as he sweated profusely and kept twisting and turning. When asked what was wrong, he struggled to find speech. That’s when I knew in my gut that it wasn’t a seasonal flu or stomach infection. It was past 12. I called my parents who asked me to hand over the phone to him. Both of them tried to calm him as we thought it could be a panic attack too. He tried his best but no, he just couldn’t speak. I called his elder brother to find his phone was switched off. I tried calling his second sibling a couple of times but he was busy on the phone elsewhere. I was desperate. I knew it’s going to be hard. I kept calling till he finally answered. Next what followed was something that’s even more shocking and disgusting than the illness itself. The telephonic conversation went something like this…
Me: Hello (my tone spoke of my desperation and helplessness)
Me: Your brother’s running high temperature (which he already was aware for the last one week)… he cannot speak… he can’t even sleep. I feel helpless. I don’t know anyone here who can help. I think I need to admit him to a hospital first thing tomorrow. Can you or your elder brother please come to Delhi as early as possible? I desperately need your help. I cannot handle this alone. I am not well either.
Him: Ummm…Err…what are you saying? How can I come to Delhi? I have my office here…applying for a leave these days is so difficult you see. Plus, I don’t know anyone in Delhi.
Me: You don’t have to know. I will help you. I just need someone by me. I am all alone and had his condition not been this serious I wouldn’t have requested you guys.
Him: No but how can I…my work here…(I could sense his irritation by now. I could also overhear his elder brother saying ‘What is she saying? The doctor said it’s stomach infection. What does she want? We cannot go’)
Me: I don’t understand, you are prioritizing your office work over your brother who’s in such a critical condition?
Him: You are not supposed to be talking to me in that tone…I am much older…you…
I hang up… It’s past 2:30am. My husband still twisting and turning. His temperature above 102°F. I decide to wait it out till the next morning, staring at the night outside, all my senses slowly shutting down as I wonder what awaits me. My body burns up, my eyes ache but sleep eludes me…
A Frenetic Day
Day 9 (June 22): I called my parents first thing in the morning. It was around 5:30am. My husband’s condition was still the same. I didn’t know what to do, how to go about everything. That was when my father assured me he was making arrangements to come to Delhi, but even that would take some time. I tried calling the Covid helpline numbers. Nobody answered. I tried for the next one hour. No luck. Around 6:30, I called a former colleague of mine. She has always been more of an elder sister than a colleague. She gave me a few helpline numbers of hospitals and ambulances. I tried calling a few of them, nobody answered. It was around 8am when finally, I got to know of a certain hospital that was admitting patients, both Covid and non-Covid. I called them. They said they would take the patient in but he would have to wait for 2-3 hours in the ambulance till I finish some paperwork. The hospital was far from where I stay and waiting for so long was simply not an option at the time. So, they suggested another hospital in their locality. It was around 9am that I finally got in touch with the hospital and arranged for an ambulance. It came to my place an hour-and-a-half later and I admitted my husband around 12:30pm.
The Hospital Diaries
He was admitted in the ICU. Put on oxygen support. The doctor called me after a couple of hours. Gave me a form and asked me to sign. The next shock. It was the consent form for ventilation support. He said all the symptoms hinted at Covid and that his condition was pretty serious. He had 50% chances of being put on ventilator support and recovering thereafter. By now, I was completely in a daze, didn’t know what to say and merely followed instructions. I signed (as if I had a choice). I enquired about my health, told him about my symptoms. Another shock. The doctor said my symptoms could aggravate further and even I could land up in the ICU in next seven days!
I called his elder brother to keep him posted and requested him or his younger sibling to come here. I was just not in a shape to handle everything alone. Although my father was on his way, it was not possible for him to tend to both me and my husband, both Covid-infected. Also, if either of them came here, I could have stayed in home quarantine or maybe go back to my hometown where I would have other people to look after me. But this conversation was something similar to the previous one. I was given a heads-up on my responsibility, that at the end of the day the entire responsibility lies on the wife and that he would make sure that nobody from his family came so that I was bound to stay back.
I called my mother. She didn’t know what to say. My father was by then already in the flight. Apart from me and my husband’s health, I started having a different set of worries. For my father. He is 55 and diabetic. After the extensive research and articles on coronavirus over the last three months, I’m sure everyone by now knew the exact health risk for a person of his age and comorbidity. Delhi was witnessing a steady surge in Covid cases at the time, with the city reporting above 3,000 cases every single day. This hospital had several Covid patients admitted, my husband had contracted the virus, I was already infected. I was worried about my father. My head started spinning as I waited at the hospital lounge.
My father landed in Delhi and headed straight to the hospital. It was past 6:30pm. The last meal I had was the lunch the day before but quite surprisingly I felt nothing at all, no appetite. We spoke to the doctor. My husband’s condition was very serious and he had developed pneumonia patches in both his lungs. My father knew his stay in Delhi was going to be a long one as the doctor could say nothing about my husband’s chances of recovery. This is when another colleague of mine, an elder brother in a city away from home, stepped in to help. He arranged a guest house for my father and me as it would be very difficult to visit the hospital from my house every day, a commute of nearly an hour-and-a-half.
Relief and Worry
Day 10-18 (June 23-30): The first few days were pretty much the same. My symptoms aggravated, I experienced mild shivering, no sense of smell and taste, headache, shortness of breath and extreme weakness. My body wanted to give up but my mind didn’t. Each day I forced myself out of the bed, visited the hospital, accompanied him for tests that couldn’t be conducted at the hospital. I had no other option. I simply couldn’t let my father do any legwork as that would be akin to putting his life at risk.
Things started turning better over the next few days. He was responding to medicines. Was taken off oxygen support. Shifted to general bed and showed rapid signs of improvement. My symptoms thankfully didn’t aggravate. And finally, when his Covid test report came back negative, he was discharged. My father took his flight back home.
A word or two on my neighbours now. As the ambulance arrived and two men ran up the stairs with a stretcher and rang my doorbell, I was filled with a strange sense of anxious relief. Looking at my husband, they said that he was too weak to walk and had to be carried downstairs. They said the stretcher was of no use as the stairway was narrow. However, they said they needed more hands as they wouldn’t be able to carry him on their shoulders alone. I knocked on my neighbours. While one didn’t answer the door, the other did wearily. Asked if her husband was willing to lend a hand, she said his blood pressure was perennially high and that the doctor had specifically advised him to not ‘lift stretchers’. The ambulance driver and his help somehow lugged my husband down and managed to put him on the stretcher. While we sat waiting for the wheels to roll, I could sense curious onlookers massing on their balconies and staring at us as if we were tabooed. At a time when we were going through a harrowing experience, with little in the way of help, such insensitive attitude only goes to show how the stigma around the disease was more dangerous than the disease itself.
Staying on the stigma, one of my neighbours rang up one morning, saying she called to enquire if my husband had tested positive for Covid-19. Stunned, though not surprised, I wondered why she couldn’t ask if my husband was doing better, instead.
All’s Well That Ends Well
Now, when I write this, I can safely say our month-long Covid battle has finally ended. Both of us are home and doing well. Although the post Covid weakness is still there and we are still under medication, we are recovering, and recovering fast. He has skin rashes and my BP keeps fluctuating but we’ll get well soon.
This Covid battle has taught me some of the life’s lessons the hard way. Some people, we called ‘family’ looked the other way when me and my husband desperately needed them, I got help from unexpected quarters, my office colleagues have constantly checked in on our health, the two of my former colleagues (I shouldn’t be calling them colleagues any more) proved to be family and helped us when we had nobody else, my friends, who enquired after our health (some of them messaged every day) and my family – my parents and younger brother, who have been my pillars of support and didn’t let my spirit die.
Namrata is a journalist by profession and day-dreamer by passion. Currently confined to her home, she is throwing around a lot of temper tantrums juggling between her office work and household chores.
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