My tryst with Covid19

Source :SIFY
Last Updated: Wed, Jun 24th, 2020, 19:41:21hrs
Shashwati Goswami

Someone told me when Covid19 became a reality in India that if anyone was as clean as I was, that person can never have Covid19. That was the time of lockdown and I was under lockdown like the entire country was. The lockdown eased and we returned to work. I do not have a personal car, so I went to office by Uber. I maintained all necessary precautions as was mandatory while boarding the cab. So did my cab drivers.

As soon as I alighted at the porch of our institute, the security guard would invariably spray sanitizer into my hands and the mobile phone. I would enter the work place. I would clean my room again with sanitizer, wiping everything from the door knob, switch board to the hand bag I carried. I was behaving like a maniac. I had very less communication with people as only 20% of the employees were attending work. Even while meeting people, I was continuously wearing mask and washing/sanitizing my hands. Coming home, I would wash myself head to toe and wash my clothes as well.

I started going to the institute from May 19, 2020. After that I went on May 21, 22, 26, 28&29 and on June 1. On June 2, one of our international students was diagnosed as Covid19 positive and so the institute was shut down for sanitization. I was home.
I was observing that after 2-3 days of going to the institute, I was feeling extremely tired after I reached home. I would leave office latest by 3 PM, whereas before lockdown my work timing was from 9.30 AM to 6 PM. I thought I was tired as I had lost the habit of going to work due to the lockdown. I was also having mild but consistent headache. I dismissed it as fatigue due to work.

On June 5, towards the evening my mouth started feeling bitter and my headache spread to my neck and shoulder. I retired early that night. At around 2.30 AM my son who sleeps with me woke me up as I was crying. I was in sleep but had terrible body ache. He got me a Paracetamol tablet and after 15/20 minutes the pain subsided. Next day in the morning I felt my throat was sore and I had a running nose, sneezes and headache--- all symptoms of flu. I immediately took a telemedicine appointment with my physician at Sitaram Bhartia Hospital. As soon as he came to know that I was travelling to office by public transport and also about my symptoms, he asked me to get tested for Covid19. Here started the ordeal. He also suggested an antibiotic and another medicine for cold.

Just a few days before June 5, the state government had forbidden private labs from testing. I do not know about the order but all the ICMR listed private labs told me that they cannot do it as they were no longer authorized to do testing, even if I have a valid prescription. The government helplines suggested that I go to X, Y, Z Covid19 clinic and stand in queue and get a prescription from a government doctor and get the test done. I do not have a car, so according to me ethically I should not travel by public transport and put people at risk as I was symptomatic. I told them that, but they had no reply. I said that I am extremely weak to wait in queue and that I already have a prescription, they said private hospital prescription will not work.

I tried to book an ambulance. They said that they cannot take me for testing as ambulance service is there only for hospitalization: “Kisi bhi tarah aa jao Madam, test karne ke liye aanahi parega. Sab aa rahe hai aap bhi aa jao, hum kuch nahi kar sakte hai. Yehi sarkari protocol hai”. And they were right!

Ultimately, I reached out to friends/colleagues. One of them used his political clout and eventually on June 7 morning, after two days of worrying, I got a confirmation from the authorities that they are sending someone from a private lab to take my sample on Monday i.e. June 8. The n-number of calls I had to make, forget the mental trauma I had to go through to receive this confirmation was exhausting beyond explanation. I was in a terrible shape physically and was so worried for the health of my children that it drained me mentally too. I knew that if I am not tested and I develop complications I will lose precious time in getting critical care. I have a history of hypertension.

Even after confirmation of the date of test, it was not easy to get it done. I had to again make at least 10 calls and many messages to eventually get someone to come home around 2PM. I paid by cash and the swab was taken. The result came late at 10.30 PM next day and I tested positive. I somehow was relieved rather than worried. However, my symptoms had almost disappeared by now. I only lost complete sense of taste and smell and my throat was a little sore. That was June 9, 2020.

I shared my results with the RWA officials and next day health workers from SDMC arrived and put two notice boards on my door, one announcing home isolation for me for 17 days and the other quarantine for my children and the house help for 14 days. I had mild symptoms and I had adequate facility of isolation, so I was suggested home isolation only. No contact tracing was attempted even when I told them that I was taking Uber. They showed no interest. They didn’t even note down anything. They sanitized my flat thoroughly on June 10. The RWA sanitized the staircase the previous day itself. I tried to reach out to all possible people I was in contact with.

People in the colony panicked, and I do not blame them for that. Our building has elderly people in almost all flats except mine. The experience with RWA was very good after the initial hiccups which was quite expected, as I was the first case of Covid19 positive in the colony. They made my supplies free flowing and were concerned. It felt very comforting to have people like them around. Incidentally the RWA officials were ladies. Can we find a pattern here?

My younger son developed symptoms on June 10, and my elder son is asthmatic. I informed the RWA officials and they talked to the relevant health officials. They said that all the members can get tested provided they go to clinic. I asked the doctor how should they go as I have no vehicle. She had no answer, she only talked about the protocol. In fact, she told me I should send them by auto or cab. When I asked her what about the protocol of symptomatic person travelling by public transport, she had no answer. She said apologetically that she cannot help. She had the same discussion with the RWA officials too. Therefore, I talked to the private lab which had conducted my test and my good luck was that the government had by then again allowed the private labs to conduct tests provided I get a prescription. The RWA got me all the prescriptions required from the health officials. Tests were done on June 13 and results came negative on June 15.

I was relieved with the results and only after that realized that I was feeling extremely tired. My sleep had gone haywire and I was in a very irritable mood. I lost appetite and eating was an exercise. On the morning of June 17, I was feeling extremely weak and was having shortness of breath. I could not talk properly and I was having difficulty in breathing. My Oximeter was also beeping frantically. I panicked and reached out to my physician. He suggested that I go to the hospital immediately. Next three hours were spent on getting the ambulance. The cost of the ambulance was pitched at 4,500. I had no options I had to avail of that. It was a weird experience. Everybody was watching me with curiosity at the hospital. I felt almost guilty for being sick. The preparation to test me, admit me etc. was extensive. Continuously I was wondering what next? There was nobody with me. I didn’t want my children to be exposed so I went alone. Thus, everything I was doing myself, from payment to filling up the consent form. The experience was almost surreal.

The author, Shashwati Goswami at the Sitaram Bhartia institute of science and research, New Delhi where she was admitted.

I was hospitalized for three nights and released. The nurses and the doctors were very caring and I was happy with their treatment. My parameters were checked every hour, I was on drip. Every day blood tests were done. The doctors talked to me over phone at least twice a day and visited me twice a day. They were very happy that I decided to go to the hospital at the earliest symptoms. According to them, most of the patients they have seen reach the hospital when the situation becomes quite severe. 

And there are also cases where a patient seems to be doing good and all of a sudden, the condition deteriorates. So, even if I am discharged I need to keep a close watch over my condition. The doctors also suggested that I should be home for more days than the suggested quarantine period, as data coming out of various countries are still confusing regarding the contagiousness of the patient. I have decided to stay home for another 10 days.

Once home I checked my blood reports. I saw that many of the parameters were not very good. My hemoglobin which was always in the range of 13.5-14.5 had gone down to 11.8 on the first day, second day it was 10.6 and the last day it was 10.4. However, the platelet count was going up from 1.55 to 1.58 to 1.66 on the day of release. The Liver Function test and Renal Function tests were also showing anomalies. Then only I realised how dangerous the disease is. My case was in the milder range yet it had affected almost all organs. Thankfully my lungs test reports like the x-ray and Dimer showed normal functioning.

I want to also tell you about my social experience. The first question I faced from almost everyone was, how did I contract the disease, asked in almost an accusatory tone. Some people told me that I was being unnecessarily paranoid. There was a feeling of people looking at you with disgust almost ostracizing me and my family. As if the transmission of the disease is miasmatic, conveniently ignoring the fact that if it is so then ostracizing me would not help. Most of the phone calls were not out of concern, they just wanted to know where did I falter and contacted the disease. I stopped taking calls and replying to messages.

The horror stories in the media made people extremely worried when I was hospitalized. They almost thought it was my end. When I did not crib, they thought I was too scared and so I got myself hospitalized.

My takeaway:

1. Remain vigilant, not scared. While being scared, the potentiality of committing mistakes is quite high.
2. Reach out to your doctor the moment you see and experience flu like symptoms as well as diarrhea.
3. Eat good food which is rich in vitamins and proteins. Thanks to the wet market story of Wuhan, many people tried to blame my consumption of non-vegetarian food for my illness. Good food will help you fight the disease. And it should comprise of your normal food groups.
4. A lot of fluid is important, I am drinking plain water and coconut water.
5. Medical insurance is important in this time of dismal public health facility. More importantly it is the right time to fight for free medical benefits for all.
6. Never panic, never blame the patient. Everybody does not have the luxury of staying home. If you go out the possibility of contracting the disease is highly increased. It is only a matter of time before everyone is affected by it. Till then eat right and mentally be strong enough to fight it.

Unanswered questions:

1. Why did the other family members not contract the disease?
2. Why do ICMR have a rule of not testing me again to confirm my Covid19 negative status?
3. Why does the government change rules every other day?
4. Why is it mandatory for the patient to visit a clinic for test when she/he is highly symptomatic?
5. With so much of confusion what will really happen to the poor and the marginalized?
6. Can they be provided nutritious food to fight the disease?

Hope my experience helps others fight the disease and remove stigma from the disease.

Shashwati Goswami is a professor at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi.

Note: The views expressed in the article are of the author's and not of