I am among the 1.35 billion people who have realised, over the past few months of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, just how harrowing it is to be a common Indian.
My 43-year-old wife tested positive for COVID-19 on April 10. She was hospitalised on April 15 and put on a ventilator on April 27, where she remained till she breathed her last on May 24.
Efforts to arrange money and medicines, and even prayers to the Almighty to spare my wife’s life, all proved futile in the end. Like many in this country, my pain at losing a loved one was magnified by helplessness on all sides — watching her reduced to a vegetative state and dying alone with no one to hold her hand in her final moments.
We may never be the same again after undergoing the trauma of the past few months. Time may help us rebuild our lives around our loss, but the scars may never fully heal.
However, while many of us found our faith in humanity shaken, it survived thanks to the many strangers on the internet who went out of their way to help those in need.
‘Angels on social media’
On April 20, the doctors in Noida, where my wife was in hospital, asked me to arrange for Remdesivir. I called up various chemists, hospitals, drug distributors, companies, and government departments like the chief minister and district magistrate’s offices, but to no avail.
After hours of searching, I was told that the medicine was available in Delhi. But to my horror, they refused to hand it over as my wife was admitted in Noida, and they had orders to give medicine only to Delhiites. A couple of days later, I heard the roles were reversed when a Noida dealer refused to give Remdesivir to a patient admitted in Delhi because of the local DM’s order. But who had the time to fight or oppose these orders?
Out of desperation, I turned towards the black market, but no help there either. In a last-ditch effort, I turned to social media, and to my surprise, I was able to procure four vials from different people, who refused to take a single rupee. On April 30, I was asked to arrange for plasma. Again, people online helped. Same story for other medicines like Moi-Stir and Posaconazole.
These were people I had never met, and do not expect to meet. They had no self-interest, giving you faith that angels in the form of good people can always surface in times of need.
Opening eyes to doctors and nurses’ plight
It is widely acknowledged that doctors, nurses and other hospital staff did a stellar job despite the pressure they have been feeling since March 2020. In my family’s one-and-a-half-month ordeal, I could see a sense of frustration stemming from helplessness among them too, because of the lack of medicine, oxygen and rest. They were also the first to face the wrath of the patients’ relatives.
They were fighting a two-front war — one with virus and another with the anxiety and fatigue they faced. And you could see that at a human level even when your own pain and stress were high.
On April 19, my wife’s oxygen saturation levels dropped to 59; she was sinking, and nothing was helping. At that point, a young doctor came in, and after a struggle of almost three hours, she got her levels back to 88. I was later told that this young doctor came back from rest only because my wife needed undivided attention, which the doctor on duty could not have provided at the time.
An ICU staffer got a box of juice for my wife out of money from his own pocket; a nurse called me at 6:45 am on April 27 to let me speak to my wife as she was not doing too well — it was deviation from standard practice that could have got her reprimanded. Such people made the hospital journey less painful, not only for me, but countless others no doubt.
That phone call was the last time I spoke to my wife. At around 8:45 am, she was put on a ventilator, never to recover. On May 24, when she died, I was in the ICU near her lifeless body. I heard two nurses giggling. It was excruciating, but I remained silent. Later, I realised the nurses were hardly laughing at my tragedy — they have been seeing death every day and have every right to try and keep up their motivation and spirits. It is hard not to be numbed by months of dealing with a pandemic.
Yet, there were still moments of frustration as the loved one of a very ill patient, when the hospital staff followed the official mandate to the letter, especially when the number of deaths in the ICU shot up. When I reached the hospital on the same day as the call from the nurse, at 7:15 am, I was not allowed to meet my wife because of protocols. The pain of it will remain with me for the rest of my life.
The hospitals played an important role in these tough times too, but when the demand for Covid care got higher, various private hospitals took it as an opportunity, and in quite a few cases, gave beds to people who could afford to pay cash up front. You could see the point that getting regular upfront payments improves the cash flow of any business, and hospitals are no exception. But their decision left poor and middle-class families in the lurch, draining their lifetime savings even for those who had the forethoughts of taking insurance. In cases like ours, where we also lost our loved ones to the coronavirus, it was a double whammy.
We elect governments to ensure that they take care of citizens. Since the process is political, the people in power must manage both governance and politics judiciously.
During the first wave of COVID-19, a total lockdown brought major difficulties for many people. As time passed, it became evident that the lockdown was not a well thought-out exercise. However, many of us stood by the government, as the intent and messaging was correct.
In October, when the first wave in India was waning, other countries in the West were battling the second wave. But our leaders, instead of learning and preparing for the second wave, declared victory against the pandemic in India in various fora. There were mega rallies and melas, all of which sent out the message that the coronavirus was beaten. People dropped their guard, and gave the second wave an opportunity to crash over us. When it struck, our lack of preparedness was laid bare.
Countries across the world took every possible step to ramp up vaccine production even before the first vaccine was rolled out, but our leaders lectured the world on India’s victory over the pandemic. Every minister and government institution hailed the prime minister for his leadership; no one receiving the message had the vision, courage or competence to take course of action based on learning from the experience of the West. Only the mounting death toll and the desperate requests for oxygen, life-saving drugs, cylinders and ventilators forced new measures to ramp up vaccine and life saving drug production. I wonder how many lives could have been saved with earlier arrangements.
Now, I am left to reflect on the fact that my wife won’t get to see our children grow up. There are so many unfulfilled wishes. The brave fight she put up for 40 days makes me proud to have been her husband. But there’s also regret — that I couldn’t save her.
Written by husband who failed to keep his promise given during marriage to save her from all odds You can reach me at [email protected]
Featured image credit: Reuters