By Sritama Bhattacharya
29th October, Midnight
I put my hand on her temple. It was burning. I tried drawing her attention to the implications but my mother dismissed it. Besides, we have been in the lockdown for months now. That is a lot of time to develop the nonchalant “it’s probably nothing” shrug.
It was Lakshmi pujo today. She was still running a temperature, so we tried coaxing her out of her desire to cook for us a lavish meal which was also going to be our pujo offering. She was coughing more than usual. We were considering getting a test done, but her dogged determination to resist the possibility of Covid made convincing her seem like a lot of work.
We reasoned, debated and argued with (in that particular order) Ma and she finally agreed.
I took her to our family physician in the morning. We called Dr. Lal Pathlabs and a man in PPE turned up within a few hours to collect her swab. Since the fever persisted, we isolated her in our master bedroom. I dragged out a folding bed to sleep on, and a mattress. We started preparing ourselves for the worst–despite my mother’s optimism. We got hold of a Pulse Oximeter and started measuring her oxygen saturation.
We work best together as a family when one of us–or all of us–are falling apart. Each of us has our fair share of the total work that gets done in the house every day. There are things that are negotiable for me, but aren’t for Ma. Like mopping the floor once every day. If it were on me, I would push for a case of 3-4 times every week, but Ma won’t have it any other way. So when we had to isolate her, she started mopping the floor. I figured that we are running out of patience already. Immediately after her venture, she had another bout of fever. She still believes that it isn’t covid.
Baba and I, on the other hand, started taking care of our practical needs and necessities. We made xeroxes of our Mediclaim documents and reports, started taking multivitamin and zinc tablets, sanitized our whole apartment.
We received her Covid report today and we immediately informed our extended family. A few of our family members have been experiencing similar symptoms, and for reasons I wouldn’t want to speculate, they did not seem too keen on getting tested.
In a few hours, our neighbours stopped opening windows facing our house and started eyeing us differently. But that’s not the whole truth. Some of our neighbours also supplied us food and cooked for us later on. Dipanwita aunty, if you are reading this, thank you.
Our living space is changing with each passing day. Ma loves decorating our house, and she has handpicked every little drawing room embellishment that we have. With Ma confined in a room, the flower vase on our dining table has been put away, the fruit basket has antibiotics, cough syrups and other medications landed in it, the non-veg rack in our fridge has stains of spilled milk and she is running a temperature so high, that she cannot even cry(or yell at us) over it. I have been up till dawn for the last few days, keeping vigil, checking her temperature. Baba has been preparing breakfast for us, I have been doing some of the cooking and the dishes.
Since we are fighting something invisible, Baba and I are frequently sanitizing ourselves. The antibiotics have been helpful so far, but ma has stopped communicating with us altogether.
She is still running a temperature ranging from 101-2 degree F. Ma has lost her appetite and she looks somewhat depressed. She is barely responding to our queries.
By the evening, the fever subsided and she seemed exhausted. We were seriously considering hospitalisation. Most of the nursing homes and hospitals have all the beds occupied, given the surge of Covid cases after Durga Pujo.
I went to our local pharmacy with gloves and mask on to get a few medicines for us, and ran into one of our neighbours who asked me what I was doing outside, with a Corona patient living in our house. I asked him if he would be so kind as to supply us with our medications. I liked the sight of him recoiling.
She had fever even today. I went to R.N.Tagore today, and consulted a Doctor and he recommended hospitalization. Baba and I couldn’t sleep a wink.
“If I make it through this, we’ll meet again” were her exact words before she was carried into an ambulance. Ma’s oxygen saturation dropped drastically this morning, and Baba and I rushed her immediately to a hospital. From a stable 96, it had dropped to 86 overnight, and we started making calls to secure a bed somewhere.
The admission process was difficult.
I returned home, mopped the floor, cleaned the house, dusted, washed our clothes. I put everything back in its place just the way she likes them, so that when she returns– if she returns– she will return to a place she has worked so hard to turn into a home. The rest of this phase, I suppose, will involve a lot of waiting. Especially for that one call that we are supposed to receive from the Covid ward.
Ma is home now. We didn’t put up our Diwali lights this year; we didn’t buy any lamps. Festivals are different for the ailing, the recovering, the ones who are waiting for something to happen. She was so weak, that she could barely climb a flight of stairs. We have been through hell during this time. From having neighbours shutting their windows close to having relatives refusing to pick up our calls–we have experienced a range of events that have probably changed the way we have been looking at the world. We sanitized the house before her arrival. Ma entered her room and she immediately started looking for the mop. There is hope, after all–even for the ones with damaged spirits and broken hearts.
Sritama is a Research Scholar. She is also an editor at the Times of Corona.