I tested positive for COVID-19 on 12th May 2020, and here’s my “COVID story”. I’d held off sharing this for a while but as India experienced its highest single-day spike, I figured sharing this couldn’t hurt so here goes.
I’ll start with the first and most obvious question I get asked, “What were your symptoms?”. So my symptoms ranged from a fever that fluctuated between 101-104 degrees for around 6 odd days, a harsh dry cough that would hurt my throat and basically sounded like a dog-bark to chronic fatigue. This was followed by a persistent headache and an upset stomach. By the third day, I experienced a loss of taste and smell along with chest pain when I’d try to breathe which eventually turned to mild breathlessness. Which is when I decided to get myself tested. I felt a little better the day I got tested so I was a hundred percent sure I would test negative but 2020 hasn’t been one of those years where people have gotten good news so I wasn’t surprised when the results came back positive. Once it sunk in, I was in tears and I immediately started to think of the worst-case scenarios. Don’t do what I did. If you have any of these symptoms for over a day or two, get tested immediately. Do not wait till you feel breathless or till you experience chest pains.
The second most obvious question I get asked is, “How on earth do you think you got it?!?”. Well, truth be told, I wish I knew! I don’t have the faintest idea of how I might have contracted the virus and I’ve spent sleepless nights trying to backtrack my steps pondering over vague possibilities. I was taken by surprise because I have been particularly careful during the lockdown, even more so than many people I know. I’d wear my mask and gloves, carry a sanitiser the two or three times I stepped out (in a private vehicle by the way) so I’d constantly keep sanitising. If I’d step down to throw the garbage I’d take the stairs and avoid the elevator. I had not been in touch with anybody with a travel history or anybody who had been near someone who had the virus (at least to the best of their knowledge). Hence, this has become my very own mystery of 2020. Having said that, I think this goes to prove that community transmission is very real. No matter how much the governments or authorities try to deny it; community transmission is happening especially in densely populated towns and cities. I think a lot of information out there is pretty incomprehensible. The questions asked by officials who called me up for contact tracing, or the 3 questions I had to answer on the Aarogya Setu app were extremely basic and pretty much inconclusive. One thing you could do to be better prepared is keep a list of hospitals around you that are conducting COVID-19 tests so you don’t have to scramble at the Nth moment. Have a list of people you can call for help like a doctor in the family or your local doctors to guide you through the right process. Pro-tip: Do yourself a favour and go through what your insurance policies are like if you don’t already know it and get one if you don’t have it already! Ultimately, prevention is better than cure so if you have the privilege of social distancing, I suggest you follow it because a lot of people in a country like ours are not that fortunate.
The third question I get asked is, “What was your treatment like?”. I was admitted to Reliance Hospital for 10 days on testing positive. One of the lesser-known symptoms of the virus is the thickening of blood, so every morning I’d be administered blood thinners in the form of injections on my lower abdomen. For those of you who do not like needles (myself included) this in itself can be hellish but you get over it. I was given HCQ tablets along with antibiotics, multivitamins, and cough syrups. My fever had completely gone by the sixth day and I had started doing breathing exercises paired with very light stretching so I’d not feel completely lethargic. My recovery has been possible with the courtesy of the team at Reliance Hospital. Special mention to my aunt who works there and made sure that life got a little easier for me there. She’d visit me every day and having a familiar face around was a blessing. My heart goes out to all the medical staff who are putting their lives at risk and working for 13/14 hours at a stretch with the whole PPE suit on and at a great personal expense; staying away from their own families for months on end now just to make sure we get the necessary care. I hope the world is kinder to essential workers and realises the sacrifice that goes into doing this job. This write up is a huge thank you to the medical staff at Reliance Hospital for taking such good care of me and making my recovery possible, I pretty much owe my life to them.
All of this sounds like a nightmare and being sick just makes you feel miserable in general, COVID or not. However, to be honest it isn’t that bad. Chances are that your body has dealt with worse. Hence, if you do (I hope people don’t) and if your luck is the slightest bit like mine and you do contract the virus then there is no need to panic which I did at first but once I got to the hospital and cleared my head out I figured that this is pretty much like regular flu. It is the fear of the unknown that tends to get to you. When I learned I had tested positive, I was immediately in tears. I was filled with dread at the thought of going to the hospital fearing that I may not return. Of course, while that fear is not irrational it is however highly influenced by the news that we are exposed to. Most news channels show the number of cases immediately followed by the number of deaths which I feel is kind of needed too so people take this seriously. The reality of this virus is harsh no doubt, but what is important to bear in mind is that like any other disease, early detection is the key to recovery. If you feel sick and have any of the symptoms mentioned earlier, get to the nearest hospital that is equipped for testing, call up a local doctor and they could direct you to the correct hospital. Chances are that you will sail through this if you get the required treatment in time and don’t have any major pre-existing health conditions.
While it is just the flu and the chances of recovery are high, it is foolish to underestimate the extent of damage COVID-19 is capable of causing. Trust me, this is not something you want to go through. It was as much a test of my mental strength as it was of my physical endurance. We’ve lived with COVID for 3-4 months now and I understand the need to want to step out, meet your friends and family, go out for walks, get back to work, etc. The least we can do is be careful, especially in critically hit cities like Mumbai and places where numbers are increasing steadily. To be honest, I still see so many people not taking this seriously, going down for walks without a mask, meeting friends for drinks, stepping out for absolutely trivial reasons and while you are within your right to do as you please, here’s some unsolicited advice based on personal experience that you can take or leave. None of this is worth the ordeal of contracting the virus as there’s no way of knowing if the person you’ve come in contact with has been around an asymptomatic carrier or not. You’ve just got to believe me when I say it is not worth the stress of being the reason your loved ones are put at risk. There wasn’t a single day where I didn’t pray and hope that my parents and my grandmother don’t show symptoms and I’m ever so grateful that they haven’t so far. Seeing them in tears when they dropped me off at the hospital was heartbreaking and the reason why I ask everyone to take this seriously is that nothing is worth such a harrowing experience. While we cannot let our lives come to a standstill and we need to go about our regular lives, the least we can do is not be ignorant! If you are stepping out in any case, at least wear a mask, especially if you live with your parents or grandparents or have children at home. You can honestly go a couple of more weeks without seeing your friends because it is not worth the emotional stress of being in a hospital for 10-14 days, away from your family and isolated from human contact. A lot of people in this country are not fortunate enough to have access to basic amenities so let’s be a little sensitive and not exploit our privilege. It is definitely an expense you can avoid because it is quite an expensive affair even without the ICU business if you don’t have a good insurance policy that is.
There is just one good thing that did come out of this experience though. Having the feared Coronavirus during this pandemic made me realise the importance of relationships and health. I realised that I had taken life for granted by living an extremely unhealthy lifestyle, working crazy hours, skipping outings with family and friends for work, botched up sleep patterns, and eating habits, etc. But when the sun goes down, none of it matters. When I was in that hospital bed, I wished I had taken better care of my health. I wished I had been nicer to my folks, I regretted every fight and crazy argument. I wished I had not skipped my best friend’s engagement, weddings, and birthdays because I had too much work. I wish I’d not canned on those night-outs with my friends because I was too lazy from a long day at work. I wished I had not spent festivals in my office rather than at home with my family. I wished I had done the things I wanted to without the fear of failure. I realised the importance of the kind of thoughts you put out in the universe. It really does matter. All the “seize the day” talks didn’t just seem like talks anymore. What doesn’t matter is working 10-15 hours a day during the week. It is not healthy and most employers do not realise the importance of a healthy work-life balance especially during the work-from-home phase. It is ridiculous that people are being asked to work over weekends even though most of their week is taken up by work. It is not healthy and more employers need to realise this especially since we are living with a pandemic for months!
I realised that despite believing for the longest time that I have absolutely trash luck, I’ve been proved extremely wrong and how! I, in fact, I have some seriously incredible luck in the family and friends department. My parents left no stone unturned to make sure I’d come back home safe. Seeing their faces on video calls every day kept me going. I’m so grateful for my friends and my partner! They’ve been adorable through this hellish experience. From being on video calls with me till I fall asleep to calling and texting me every single day to check up on me, telling me to stay strong and positive through the recovery; they’ve been my pillars. They’ve sent me hilarious memes to uplift my spirits or videos of their puppies because puppies solve everything. They’ve played online games with me so I’d be entertained. Their families have prayed for me and checked up on me. I could try and still not be able to express how thankful I am for my family, friends, and partner for being the absolute best people this world will have known. I would rather step on a bunch of Lego than miss an opportunity to be with them again. Having Coronavirus has been a harrowing experience but it also made me realize how loved I am, as I saw calls and messages pouring in from cousins and relatives across the world. Families can be crazy but they will undoubtedly be there for you when you need them. I have also been extremely lucky about the privilege I enjoy which is something that I never acknowledged. Please know that there are so many people whom we can help through this who do not enjoy the same luxury. Stand up for those that have nobody to rely on.
I was discharged after 10 days and was welcomed back into my building with claps and words of encouragement from the residents. It is amazing how these gestures of positivity and love can brighten up the most gloomy experiences. As I’ve almost reached the end of my 18 days home-quarantine, what I think I miss the most is tight, warm hugs! I feel like it has been a lifetime since I hugged the people I love because I’ve been in isolation and quarantine for so long. I’ve come to realize how truly therapeutic hugs can be. Through my quarantine though, I’ve started doing things that I wouldn’t do before like developing new skills, online classes, meditation, baking, etc. I’ve started dancing again after years! All of it is still within the confines of a room so I do still crave some sense of normalcy, whatever counts for normal now. But alas, as we learn to live and cope with Coronavirus, all we can do is be safe, take care of each other, take each day as it comes until the day we can hug our loved ones a little tighter, laugh a little louder and dance a little harder. Thank you for coming to my very lengthy Ted Talk.
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