On April 13, I started feeling a little uncomfortable at the office, so I came back and decided to isolate myself. I was home after a long time, however, I kept myself isolated and did not meet family members. It was surprising for my six-and-a-half-year-old daughter why I was home but not meeting her. I had little idea that COVID-19 was almost upon me.
Despite my all efforts to isolate myself, I did expose myself to Suprita, my wife. Soon, both of us were struggling but was also living in denial. At this stage, getting RT-PCR testing was very difficult. So, we decided to be in touch with a doctor who practised alternative medicine. I guess that was a wrong decision. I gave him the benefit of doubt, though I never trusted it completely. Soon, homoeopathy started to get replaced by allopathy, but things were not improving.
I and Suprita were getting worse.
Suprita was still trying to keep my spirit high. Finally, an X-ray and CBC was done, and the outcome was a clear indication of COVID. I had a chronic platelet count related issue, and it was reflected in my report. We started taking papaya leaf extracts and somehow convinced ourselves that we were getting better. This was far from reality.
From bad to worse
But things started changing for the worse on around April 19, and doctors advised me of proper allopathic intervention. We decided to go ahead. My friend Nitesh, along with Dr Brijesh. who lives in the same building where we stay, took up the entire ownership of my admission etc. Pinaki, my Brother was in a mission mode. Ahmer, my brother from another mother, kept reassuring me that nothing would happen to me. He told me not to worry about finances. Ankita was there to cheer me up as much as possible. My Bengali friends like Bodhi and many others from my gang of well-wishers joined in. Suddenly, my situation changed from bad to worse.
At some point in time, my oxygen level fell to 69. I was about to collapse, yet the hospital admission was not in hand. Somehow Nitesh, Pinaki etc. arranged for getting me some oxygen in a hospital. But they did not have any bed with oxygen. Nitesh was frantically taking me from one hospital to another. I could see this happening, but I saw death closely by then. Finally, they managed to get me admitted with a bed that had oxygen support. When I reached, I was at an oxygen saturation level of 45. I remember telling the doctor that I have a six-and-a-half-year-old daughter and many responsibilities, so I cannot afford to die like this. He replied that the next 72 hours are crucial. I almost choked then.
Soon, the entire staff of Sai Ashirwad Hospital were on me as if only my life mattered to them. Dr Sourav, nurses, and other staff were all trying to save my life. I was on BiPAP support, and my entire body was getting thrown with the Pressure of oxygen. I felt as if I am in an aeroplane which had just taken off. I could hear doctors saying I would not make it. But I was determined to fight it out. I needed a CT scan, but the place that had this facility was not ready. At this point, Minal, our neighbour, fought and convinced the centre to get my CT scanning done. I tried my best to keep myself as awake as possible and be aware of what was happening around me. I could hear technicians speaking among themselves that it is 25/25, and perhaps it would be fatal.
While all this was going on, a few lakh rupees were already transferred to my account by my in-laws. Soon I needed seven doses of Remdisivir medicine. Ahmer, Nitesh, Bodhi, Snehanshu, Soumen, Priyanka, Iman etc all jumped into the picture and ensured I had all that I needed. At home, Suprita and the rest of the family were fighting, perhaps a more difficult fight. To see their husband and son return home.
I also had on my side the support of Suprita’s uncle, an eminent doctor, to guide us remotely. My mom, dad, my in-laws, and other family members were silently, yet strongly, behind me. Manish, whose entire family was suffering from COVID in Bihar, was also desperately praying for my recovery. My grandmother-Singhma-as we call her, was continuously praying for me. Nandita Boudi and her family were all praying for me.
Soon I thought I was getting better. But little did I know that it was just the beginning of an unimaginable struggle. I found myself fighting a lonely battle, where all others were there to support, you but it was my battle, and like every battle, I was all alone. I guess I fought bravely.
Using diaper day in and day out, not being allowed to move out of the bed, eating, shitting, sleeping in the same bed shook my heart and soon I started acting crazily. I would complain about every possible thing. I would eat whatever they gave me. Food was routine, and I would eat without even looking at it.
The smallest of the things, like getting to have tea with Marie biscuit was something I was looking forward to, even though in the real world, I hate that biscuit. Soon I realised, that in life, these things do not matter that much. Nights were the most dangerous times for me. I did not sleep properly for even one night for 12 days in a row. The staff tried to make me comfortable so I could catch some sleep, but somehow it did not work at all. I would stay wide awake the whole night, taking BiPAP oxygen, coughing badly, and unable to sleep even for a minute. The vibration of the BiPAP would make me feel like a goat chewing oxygen throughout the day. On some days, I will receive Bipap for 21 hours. I took it as a challenge to make it through, come what may. Soon doctors, nurses, and other staff became my fan and complimented me for my struggle.
Soon, my wife Suprita was also hospitalised. But the great warrior that she is, she did much better than me and was discharged within a few days but to temporary hotel accommodation. It was such a relief that she was back home, and the rest of the family members were also found to be COVID negative. For the first time after our wedding, I was not present on Suprita’s birthday.
In the middle of all this, the news of Priyanka’s dad’s death broke me. My tears would just not stop flowing. I was crying and crying. Every death was troubling me. The death of eminent Bengali poet Shri Sankha Ghosh and his wife within a few days, the passing away of Barkha Dutt’s father, the death of so many citizens, including Rohit Sardana, all moved me. I would read about and cry on the inside in the dark so that no one saw me crying. I tried my best to not show my tears. But there was a particular sister who would walk to me and put her hand on my head and say the worst is over. You are going home soon. Never in my 41 years have I cried so much. But I have also realised crying is not necessarily bad as long as one can cope with it.
I owe my life to Nitesh, Ahmer, Pinaki, Suprita, Bodhi, all the doctors, sisters, staff etc. My brother Firoz took care of providing all support back home. Harsh, Nicole, Rajat, Venkatesh, Shajiya etc helped whichever way they could. I am there because you all made it happen. Later, I heard that a special prayer mass was organised for me. I feel so special and am sure many many more of you would have prayed for me.
Our government has failed us
I must confess like every other battle, this is also a lonely battle for all the patients living in dark. Giving up is usually very easy. This is not necessarily only about me. It is also about the government’s inability to provide basics to its citizens. Fourteen months after the COVID pandemic, if we are still failing to give minimum infrastructure to our ailing citizens, then there cannot be a shame bigger than this. We are exposed to the world and I guess no amount of media management is going to save us. Our government has miserably failed us. They want you to arrange your bed, your oxygen, and if you don’t manage to do so, then arrange your funeral pyre. Maybe one day, they will construct a huge statue in some corner of their dream Central Vista project as a mark of remembrance for the people who could not survive this ‘atmanirbhar’ pandemic.
I look forward to heading home today. But recovery is still going to be far. The doctor says my lungs are badly damaged and it will take six more months to recover completely. I hope our government also recovers and understands the value of the lives of its citizens. In this article, I may have missed out on many names, but that’s my bad luck and inability to thank you enough. I am sure many of you worked silently too.
I am signing off from bed number 3 of Sai Ashirwad Hospital as strong as ever. My lungs may be weak and may take time to recover from COVID, but I will surely not give up. I must also confess what a grand twist and turns I have seen in the last few weeks of my life. We all did well.