India had hit the coronavirus peak in September and the total number of cases has been coming down since. Our recovery rate has been fairly good at 92%. Coping with the virus has varied widely for different people. The virus has definitely taken a toll, not just physiologically, but mentally too: the harrowing experience of hunting for a hospital bed, the several weeks-long isolation, and even losing loved ones. We see the statistics rise and fall. But behind every single statistic is a person, their loved ones and their stories. Here I have compiled four such COVID stories in an effort to highlight the personal impacts of this virus.
A Family That Gets COVID Together, Stays Together
Mahek’s grandfather has two brothers, and their three families live together in the same house. When the pandemic hit, her entire family religiously followed lockdown rules and avoided going out. They were aware of the risk of living with five older people with comorbidities. And yet, somehow, coronavirus did make its way into their family. The first one to show symptoms was Mahek’s mother, and it was scary because she had been a heart-patient, having suffered a cardiac arrest before. The doctor asked her to be hospitalised immediately. While she only had about 15-16% patches in her lungs, the idea of being alone at the hospital was stressing her out. Her diabetes shot up because of the stress, and Mahek recalls that she had never seen her mother in so much pain before.
“It felt like a movie when the ambulance came and first took my mother away, then my four of my grandparents and finally my father. Six of my family members were in the hospital. My dad was the only one who actually could be treated at home too, but he got himself admitted so that he could take care of my grandparents in the hospital.”
After everyone left, Mahek and her siblings were isolated together, away from the only three adults who did not catch the virus—one of her grandmothers, an aunt and an uncle. Being the eldest sibling, she was suddenly saddled with several responsibilities. She was sweeping, cleaning, washing clothes, utensils, taking care of everyone’s medicines and monitoring vitals, all while she had COVID herself. She worried about her family in the hospital, but couldn’t speak her mind to anyone. Her parents were already stressed and sick themselves, and her younger siblings were dependent on her.
“The worst nightmare we could imagine for our family during a pandemic happened to us. We are very grateful that everyone came back safely from the hospital. We had been so scared of COVID, perhaps due to everything we saw on the news. After having gone through it, we are less scared but equally worried. The whole family being together in the hospital and at home made recovery easy for us, I think.”
Something unnecessarily unkind that her family had to face was their neighbour’s behaviour during the hardship. “They had put up two wooden sticks outside our house and anyone passing by would literally turn away and take another route. I understand the fear but maybe that was a little harsh.”
You Win Some You Lose Some
Archana and her husband run a marketing firm where she is the head of accounts. Their office was running on low capacity, following protocols. In August, one of her employees came down with fever and a while later, Archana also experienced similar symptoms. The employee tested positive and the team sent to test everyone in contact with the employee at the office found everyone negative, including Archana. She was relieved and continued to take regular fever medication, although nothing explained her unusual tiredness. She decided to get tested again and turned out she had about 45% patches in her lungs. Archana had to be immediately hospitalised.
She was able to get a bed the same day, owing to her family’s contacts. On her first day in the hospital, she was stressed about how long she would have to stay there, and whether she would even return home. She knew how hard it was to get Ramdesivir (the required medicine)—people were ready to pay fifteen times the price but couldn’t get it. At the hospital, she checked her bedside drawer and when she saw her medicines, six complete doses, in there, she felt reassured that she will definitely get better and go home soon. After 8 days, she was discharged. Meanwhile, her daughter had tested positive too. Thankfully, her symptoms were mild and she was home-isolated.
Once she was home, Archana recounts, “I was so glad to be isolated with my daughter. I had been worried about work at the office, but I realised that things were going on their own, without me too. I could spend time with my daughter without worrying about going to the office, managing time, answering the doorbell—I am so grateful for that time. I had been very privileged throughout, I know this is a tragic time for many, people have lost their lives, but I was still grateful to have realised the importance of time through this disease. I am always running around, taking care of things, office to home, home to office. I felt as if I was cured and brought back home safely so that I could use the rest of my time to do better deeds in life.”
She took the whole experience positively. The only bitter part was, again, their neighbours’ behaviour. Even after they were out of the isolation period, they got their house professionally sanitised, their neighbours asked their house help, the milkman, etc. to not go to their place for another month.
The Guilt of ‘If Only…’
Kuldeep has worked at a hospital’s pharmacy for fifteen years. He continued to go to his job every day throughout the pandemic. His parents, wife and son live with him, and knowing the risk involved, he made to take all the precautions. When one day he came down with a fever, he took paracetamol, felt better the next day, and didn’t think much of it. Soon, his son and wife also came down with a fever and then got better just like he did. It all appeared fine.
A few days later, Kuldeep’s mother felt pain in her kidney. The doctor diagnosed her with a minor kidney infection. But in the X-ray they took, they detected some COVID patches in her lungs and asked them to shift to a COVID ward. That’s when they found about 85% patches in her lungs. Kuldeep was very worried. He had seen several cases in the previous months and knew the odds were against his diabetic mother to recover. When his family got tested, they all turned out to be positive as well. He felt guilty — had he isolated himself immediately when he first got a fever, maybe his mother would have been okay then.
Despite his contacts as someone working at a hospital, he had a hard time finding a bed in a COVID ward in the city. Thankfully, his mother was unaware of the severity of her condition, so she escaped the added mental trouble of worrying about her health like that. She was recovering very slowly, but after 8 days, she tested negative for COVID and was moved to the green zone. Although the infection in her lungs was still at 80%, Kuldeep felt reassured—she might take longer to get better, but he had hope that she would get better.
Kuldeep was with her when she was moved out from the COVID ward to an ICU. A few hours after that, she succumbed to the infection and passed away.
The grief, the guilt, the hustle to arrange a bed in the hospital, the struggle to get a plasma donor, it was the worst time Kuldeep had ever been through, he says. He realised that despite being employed in healthcare, despite his experience serving through the pandemic, he only understood the seriousness of this disease after the tragic loss of his mother.
Livelihood Or Life
Usha works as a domestic helper—washing utensils and clothes in households. Some day when she was out on work, washing someone’s clothes, she believes, she came in contact with coronavirus. Maybe someone delayed informing her about an infection in their family. She is not sure. When she started showing symptoms, she went to a government hospital and tested COVID positive. She knew how it was—people were dying, hospitals were full, she had grandchildren at home, and her family depended on the money she earned. She was worried but also grateful that she did not have a severe infection. She got her medicines from the government doctors and was asked to be home-isolated.
At first, she was nauseated by the idea of being alone in a room with nothing to do. She had to take it one day at a time. Her grandchildren kept asking their mother why they couldn’t play with aaji. Talking to them on the phone was nice. Her fever went down after a few days. She knew she had to stay strong throughout so that she wouldn’t need to be admitted to a hospital, and her family remained safe.
Usha is grateful that they did not have to lose much money on her sickness. While there are other earning members in her family, and they have enough to not struggle for basic everyday needs right now, Usha worries about not being able to return to work soon. Her income is essential and she cannot sit at home for too long.
Uncertainty, fear, and stress seem to have been common for those who contracted the coronavirus. Some people are trapped away from their homes, while some have lost family members. While every experience is different, tough times are made easier to go through if one has their loved ones supporting them. In the case of a disease where recovery comes with the prerequisite of isolation, it takes a different kind of strength on part of the patient as well as their loved ones. The pandemic is still not over, but we can hope to continue caring for each other and be more empathetic towards those who have it harder than us.
Mansi is a student of philosophy and environmental studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include performing arts, politics and octopuses.
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