I was recently admitted in hospital for COVID-19 and fortunately discharged, soon enough. I thought I would put down some personal experiences and thoughts.
In late February 2021 after a long nine-month, literal lockdown at home, my son wanted to hang out for a couple of hours with his friends. We too at home, fed up of seeing a young man not able to breathe the air in the happening world, relaxed the rules, and let him go out for a couple of hours. For the past year, in the neighbourhood and among relatives, our family has been known as the ‘OVER CAUTIOUS COVID FAMILY’. People often made fun of us. Our flower vendor once said it is a rich man’s infection and nothing will happen to the poor!
After he got back home, my son followed COVID home protocols as a precaution and made sure that he didn’t come near any one of us, especially his octogenarian grandmother so that she is protected. After his self-isolation of two days, he said his body was aching and that he had a slight temperature. This was in the third week of February, which was an almost flat COVID period. I had to travel on work and thought maybe it would be a good idea to get him and myself tested before I left.
There came the report which said my son was positive, while I turned out to be negative. Well, we followed the protocols as the doctor prescribed, like home isolation with nutritional supplements and constant monitoring of temperature and saturation levels. He completed 14 days of isolation with very mild symptoms and entered the recovery cycle. The story didn’t stop there! The invisible little virus had weakened his muscles slightly and we had to consult the doctor in-person after 4 weeks. As concerned parents, my husband and I, double masked et accompanied him. By the way, by then my mother-in-law, my husband, and I had already gotten our first jab of the vaccine.
The next day, my husband started getting body aches and a slight feverish feeling. The next day we made a trip to the hospital. My husband tested positive and isolated himself quickly. I started wearing the mask and distancing myself from my mother-in-law. By the evening, I thought of getting tested even though I had no symptoms. The next day, I got a positive report.
My isolation started in another room and now my mother-in-law cooked and my son supplied all that she needed. The first two days were okay, but my fever crept up and I was asked to get admitted. My CT scan showed no patches and I was given Fabiflu and other relevant medicines and discharged saying that I was perfectly fine. The hospital made some small mistakes like messing up my medicine sequencing and not including crucial information in the discharge summary. The CT film and report were not included in the discharge summary as well. The nurse asked me to collect it from the radiology section. Since I was positive, I was not allowed to enter the section so I asked the boy who accompanied me in the lift to collect it and hand it over to me. The section first denied that I had ever had a CT done, but my repeated request to the onlookers (who were supposed to be part of the hospital) got me my report but not the film. Again another round of requests later, I gate-crashed into the section, shouted and finally got it. Those 45 minutes of torture made me wonder, ‘why can’t hospitals get a proper process in place’? By allowing me to be there in the vicinity, I put everyone vulnerable to the infection and also added a load of stress on myself, the patient. Or is it that the system is NOT ready to handle these cases?
Once I got back home, the doctor was courteous enough to respond to my WhatsApp messages and instructed me on what to do. The problem was I started having a roller coaster ride as far as the fever and cough were concerned. My cough became terrible to the extent that I could not even talk. My appetite went out the window, and I started vomiting. I almost felt like I was being put in a front loading washing machine and getting spun and swirled, thrown up and down.
In my journey so far, the only silver lining was that my saturation level never dropped below 96.
The inconvenience that I was going through made the doctor advise me to repeat the CT. I went back to the same hospital and got it done and there they saw patches and a person in the fever clinic asked me to get admitted. But there were no beds. I almost broke down and by then I was also seeing how patients were requesting for beds and the staff was feeling bad turning them down. So I waited for my doctor to see me in the fever clinic lounge. He saw my CT and said since my saturation was good there was nothing to worry about. He assured me that nothing would happen and asked me to be relaxed and go home. I did so till late that evening. But by night my cough became unbearable and I was completely drained out. I needed to get admitted, asap. Thankfully, we got a bed by the following morning. I was given a room in a Female General Ward with six of us sharing a common washroom.
Another doctor, another scan, another set of investigations followed. The doctor started the treatment. He wanted to start with Remdesivir. He was told at the time of admission that there was Remdesivir in the pharmacy but when he came for the visit he found that there was no stock. I had to wait for a day to see if it got supplied. Somehow we managed to get the first two doses from outside and the remaining supplies from the hospital. My treatment finally began!
The next morning I heard a running commentary from a mom admitted in the next room about how to switch on the gas stove to boil the milk and manage other household chores! She had left her two young children 11 and 5 locked up in the house and was admitted here, with her mother in the ICU. Her husband was away in Hyderabad to take care of his father, who was critical.
Six rooms, 10 human stories. This is a Female General Ward with six rooms and two shared washrooms. A luxury, we felt. A gynecologist admitted in another room, whose husband was in the ICU, a Bank Manager with high blood sugar, a lady in the early stages of pregnancy, a young nurse from the same hospital who turned positive, and an elderly woman who was completely lost in this whole situation. We felt the situation wasn’t different from a war-affected region. ‘Sister, sister where should she go?’ One sister, six patients and all calling her at the same time! Someone wanted her to get them a tablet, someone’s drip had stopped, someone was vomiting and another’s oxygen mask had slipped. In between, she was sending someone to the OT, handling new admissions, and managing discharge summaries.
A night duty nurse told me that post her COVID recovery her blood pressure continued to be high. She had a 10-year-old at home. I feel terrible about the way we treat our frontline warriors. They are risking their lives all the time. The doctor! No words to explain it! Relentlessly visiting us two to three times a day, patiently listening and physically checking us. They are from a different planet!
Coming to medicines, forget critical ones like Remdesivir. Even generic medicines like Dolo fell short. The nurse would go around from room to room, checking if anyone had surplus with them and made small adjustments to make sure we were all medicated as per the prescription.
On my first day in the ward, they kept saying that the very scarce Remdesivir would come. They knew someone who had information from Drugs Control that it would be supplied by the end of the day. The drug didn’t arrive so some patients had to miss the course in between and continue when it was supplied. The scarcity was so bad that one of the hospital staff asked me to keep mine safely in my bag! Scarcity can lead to anything! I saw another patient literally pleading for one vial. Gosh! What was this?
Despite this, I had a great experience in getting to know people, getting emotionally connected and to some extent, being able to extend some help. I felt moved when my neighbour, a doctor-patient, thanked me for emotionally supporting her when her doctor-husband’s condition was critical, and when the elderly lady on the other bed asked me to help her communicate what she needed with the dietitian and getting her fruit bowl adjusted and redistributed….. Small things but they mattered. I call it a COVID connect!
We created a small community amongst ourselves in those 7 days! Both the doctor-patient and I felt that after 30 odd years we were back to hostel life all over again. The young nurse-patient brought laughter to the wing with her colleagues visiting her and chatting with her. Though noisy, it reminded us about the life we could look forward to after recovery. As my treatment neared completion, I was eager to leave the place because I knew that there was another patient lined up waiting for the bed. This is indeed an unprecedented time in the country. The health structures have become crippled, governance has collapsed, and this is because we did NOT care to plan for it.
I must acknowledge that during this journey of mine, I am thankful for the many friends I have – some of them even went to the extent offering poojas in my name and prayers at church. I am thankful for my colleagues’ constant support- texting me and asking if I needed anything, my mother-in-law’s prayers and continuous support. I was filled with gratitude in seeing my son suddenly grown up and taking on responsibilities, my brother running around to get the drugs prescribed and lastly my husband and my brother-in-law trying to get me second and third opinions on the line of treatment… I must say I am blessed! I want everyone to be blessed and be out of this terrible situation. Simple planning, communication, and execution of protocols at a decentralized level may solve many of these problems. I understand the enormity of the challenge but can’t we address some of them with proper coordination? We claim that we have advanced medical science at our disposal, advanced technology, access to sophisticated management advice, but…what is really there?
Head of Research, Akshara Foundation