Brimming with a victorious smile, she walked into my room and said these very positive words: "Ma’am, you are negative. No Corona!" I had been admitted to the hospital just a day before and she was the current nurse on duty. My obvious response was an ecstatic ear to ear smile, with a smug "I knew it!" attitude. Instantly, I called up my husband and we were already celebrating the news and planning my return.
In no time this news travelled far and wide in the family circle. Next to know were, my core group of life-wire friends who must get all updates of my life. To them, I disclosed the news in my typical style -- sprinkling humour with a pinch of suspense. What I could have said in one simple message, I decided to do in batches.
So here was my first message to the group: "Hi ladies, just got my result. And the result is..." These lines were broken and conveyed in three different messages. Gloating at the thought of the suspense making them curious and entertained -- just before I could type "negative", something unexpected happened! My doctor entered the room with a rather sombre expression on his face. "I have to share something. You have tested positive for Covid-19," he said and left the room even before I could react to the news.
I looked around and all the other attendants who were brazenly roaming about had vanished in no time. All by myself, I sobbed in disbelief, sitting alone on the bed. Next instinct was to dial my husband and cry out to him. I was informed that the error had occurred because the nurse thought (much like me) that I looked healthy and could not have contracted the virus, missed reading the word "detected" in the report. After a quick thought I decided it was time to accept the situation and gear up for the days ahead.
Soon PPE-clad staff came inside the room, packed my belongings (I had nothing except the clothes I came in a day before) and wheeled me all the way down from the Covid-19-suspect floor (third floor) -- down into what looked like the most secluded part of the hospital.
I was now in the basement where an entire general ward named Nightingale Ward, comprising three large halls, accommodates a 40-bedded ward that has been converted into a makeshift Covid-19 ward. In pre-Covid-19 days, this was the general ward. I noticed there were multiple beds separated by white screens with little or no privacy at all.
Amidst incessant coughs and heavy breathing, a staffer wheeled me all the way to my bed. I could hear my heart racing and wondered, "Would I not get worse if I breathe the same air as other heavily infected people?" With a very heavy heart I brought myself to lie down and took refuge in prayers to the Almighty. Like always the power of prayers worked its magic and uplifted my spirit. A new "never say die" attitude enveloped me with positivity. I had no space for anything negative left in my mind. It was my turn to accept the present and move on. It was my time to buckle up and put my best foot forward.
Now, did I feel any symptoms? The only symptoms I could zero down were fatigue and a feverish feeling. My appetite was intact -- in fact, I rarely lost my appetite. And now my only weapons to shield me throughout this journey were going to be my attitude and appetite. I must have them perform, I promised myself. How on earth did I catch the virus? There was no way I could track the source. I had been as careful as I could. Always shielding my face with my mask and a glove each time I picked grocery items. But then, it could be from anywhere, for, I had been at the forefront right from the start.Even when the intense lockdown started, I was the one who stuck my neck out to walk the dog. I was the one to go and fetch fruits and vegetables for the house. I refrained from unnecessary socialising, but still I got caught.
It all began one evening as sudden fatigue overtook me and lingered for a week. I rested when I could and tried to do my daily routine of sitting and writing and helping around the house. Finally, on the seventh day, I had a full-blown fever (100.5) followed by a terrible body ache refusing to go. The next day, after I settled my five-plus son for his online class, and scooted to the doctor with my husband, I didn't have the faintest of doubt that I won't be returning to the house in a few hours.
Before I decided on the hospital, I scanned my mind to remember if I knew anyone in that particular hospital. I called up a senior authority and took the name of a duty doctor in the emergency. Now, that’s something I am truly weary about in our notorious health industry. Would I be fleeced or would I get the correct treatment? For fear of all that, I made sure that I went with reference so they know that I know. My blood count was on the borderline and it was mandatory that I did the dreaded test for Covid-19. We felt it was sensible to get admitted to the hospital sooner than later just in case my health worsens!
So, there I was in the Covid-19 ward being constantly administered by the staff. By this time, my concerned friends already got in touch with the top management of the hospital to ensure that I am taken care of in the most ethical manner. This request was made not to seek undue attention, but to ensure that I was administered the right medication and care I deserve as a patient. And if you are raising your eyebrows wondering if these references were a must, let me tell you they were! Why? Unfortunately, we have lost faith in our private or otherwise healthcare system and all we needed was such reassurance.
This hospital first treated Covid-19 patients back in the first week of May and that time it was all so new for the hospital as well as its staff. On the ICU floor, doctors had dedicated a space for Covid-19 patients and the treatment was based on experiments with no experience. Many Covid-19 patients were kept in ICUs.
Cut to today, many hospitals, including Fortis Research Memorial Institute, have come a long way and exhibit a remarkable level of confidence in their treatment protocols.
I soon learnt how this new drug -- FabiFlu -- came about for patients like me. So, India-based Glenmark Pharmaceuticals has secured regulatory approval for the manufacturing and marketing of antiviral drug Favipiravir under the brand name FabiFlu to treat mild to moderate Covid-19. The approval, granted under an accelerated process, marks the first authorisation for oral Favipiravir in India for this indication.
Since 2014, Favipiravir holds approval in Japan to treat new or re-emerging influenza virus infections. The hospital started using this since July and the success rate has been encouraging.
Manned by a very cheerful nurse, the Covid-19 ward would have paled into a gloomy ward had it not been for the staff who are trained not just to handle patients but to keep them in good humour. It made all the difference to patients like me.
To my satisfaction, our ward was sanitised twice to thrice a day, our sheets were changed daily, and the food that came straight from the kitchen was all healthy and nutritious.
Well, under these circumstances there were also some unhappy patients in the ward. Just next to my bed, a lady in her 60s, who was admitted with her son and husband, never missed a chance to take a dig at the staff, the food and just whatever she could come up with. Thankfully, the hospital staff are used to patients like her as well.
I used to look forward to seeing Sonali, a young nurse from Himachal Pradesh who always used to lighten up the ward with her bright smile every time she walked in. A bright and efficient staffer, her swiftness and presence was always like an extra watt in the bulb.
In fact, as I learnt to observe, I thought each one of them brought such joy and cheer to the ward. Their involvement with the patient and the eagerness to serve made me see light in the tunnel, and that’s when I got up and started picking one hero a day and interviewed them. In the process, I noticed my own pain and physical discomfort slowly disappearing.
It was like a comfort of being surrounded and protected by warriors who are risking their own safety to look after us. The ward boy, I noticed, wore his PPE suit like a badge of honour and took much delight in mopping the floor and cleaning our tables, and wasted no time in emptying our bins. Once they get into their suits, for a stretch of six hours, they cannot eat, drink or relieve themselves. And what's surprising is that they remain cheerful to us. At all times.While there is a doctor on duty, our cases are handled by more senior doctors who monitor files and reports precisely from a distance.
I was more than sure that I was in good health. Slowly, I got into the groove of things. And never left my humour. While regularly monitoring our health they take us for a scan or two. This is a drill that requires them to send a code word that a Covid-19 patient in using the lift so that the path is cleared. On day three, when I was wheeled out for a chest scan, it was a breeze through long corridors and three lifts up. Towards the scan centre a crowd gathered, but soon disintegrated and ran helter skelter when I announced "Covid-19 patient...please make way." That made me realise how terrorised people are of Covid-19 patients. And the stigma that comes with it!
Back in the ward, these warriors have no hesitation in doing anything for us. Our bathrooms are spic and span. Our food is always served piping hot and, most importantly, with a smile.
In the ward my thoughts often took me home, where lives my brave little boy who is my sole cheerleader. I have missed him. He, with great innocence and pride, took it upon himself to break this news at his online class with, "Ma’am! ma’am! My mother has coronavirus." The announcement may have shocked some parents or teachers, but soon got me inundated with such lovely feel-good messages from the mothers' community!
So, on day four, I was spirited despite being so tired. Even though I was said to be mildly affected, when the virus gets inside you, you know that there is an effort you need to put in, even to smile. I managed to keep my spirits intact. As I lay on the bed, I tried to be and feel as normal as I could. I bathed and changed every single day. I did my exercises in the corridor leading to the rows of toilets. Then I returned to the room and said my prayers. I made sure to never miss a single meal and relished it as if it was the best meal I've ever had! I stretched myself tossing and turning and so many times and still couldn't decide which position would work for me. One day, as I lay down and chewed on an apple, I realised I had not done it in years. Lying down leisurely and chewing an apple.
That’s when I valued this time of forced rest and some soul searching. And the interaction with the staff and their infectious joy in everything they did for us. One of the staff, Shishupal, each time he came to take my blood sample, would leave me with this line: "Be positive to be negative." It stays with me. Had I been complaining, despairing and mourning, I would have failed to notice these blessings. I doubt if I would ever get better.
Finally, on the eight day, I tested negative. All because I decided to embrace positivity all through the journey.
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