A detailed account of life as a coronavirus patient at a designated Covid hospital in Noida. From dealing with the anxiety to feeling grateful for the hospital staff struggling in PPE kits all day, here’s the story of my one week as a coronavirus positive case:
New Delhi, June 13:
I tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, in a contact tracing exercise, after a colleague caught the infection. This was early June.
Struck by a lightning bolt, I immediately isolated myself in a different room. I was mostly asymptomatic and had hardly expected the Covid test results to come positive. Within hours of the test results, household items were separated and the remaining living space was sanitised.
The dreaded news had reached my door, as now I was a ‘confirmed Covid case’, a statistic in the data I had been presenting on-air, up until a few days ago.
Soon, I received a phone call from the Chief Medical Office (CMO) of Gautam Buddha Nagar and was informed about the next steps. I sought to stay in home isolation, reiterating that my case did not appear critical and I only had mild symptoms.
However, a prompt categorical response came from the other side, “As per state guidelines, each positive case, irrespective of symptoms, need to be admitted to a hospital and isolated from open housing societies.”
I was offered an added tip to carry personal belongings, which turned out to be beneficial.
As a journalist, I am well aware of the condition of government hospitals. I attempted to contact private facilities simultaneously but did not locate any available beds. Thereby, bracing myself to head to one of the two government facilities available, I waited for further updates.
An ambulance was at my door within 30 minutes and dropped me to the Super Specialty Paediatric Hospital and Post Graduate Teaching Institute (SSPH PGTI), Noida. The hospital is under the jurisdiction of Uttar Pradesh government.
ROUTINE AS A COVID PATIENT
The next morning brought a routine. A loud door bang. Items on the trolley. Face covered. Pick food. 3 seconds of interaction. Repeat.
Doors were shut when the staff poured water. Another knock, the bottle would be picked. Beyond the confines of the closed room, a constant chatter of walking staffers reflected busy schedules and non-stop calls.
Each day started with water refreshments followed by the balanced breakfast of eggs, banana, oats and parantha-pickle. Between meals, time was spent sketching, reading, surfing the internet and taking rest.
The room had no television, so I had to track news updates on the phone. While I lay on my bed, distressing updates came from neighbouring Delhi. People were unable to get tested or admitted and death toll on a constant rise. I appreciated the coordination between Noida administration and hospitals. Numbers were rising but beds were available.
I would then drift to think if hospital quarantine is a better option to isolate? Could Noida be sitting on a ticking time bomb if a future plan is not drafted in time?
My thoughts were broken by a knock. The hospital staff expressed relief that I had not developed high temperature, thereby signifying lower risk of infection.
My mind kept fluctuating between relief of no fever and a realisation that a virus, having killed lakhs of people, is still lurking inside my body. The demon found a space through my low immunity, caught on pre-existing medical conditions. I had to ensure not to let it settle.
Over days in isolation, I noticed my body felt increasingly weakn and that largely remained the main symptom. With continued rest through the day and regular food-fluid intake, the bodyache eventually reduced.
PATIENT-STAFF CHATS ON WHATSAPP
A WhatsApp group was created for patients and staff to address grievances and avoid direct contact. Heightened activity kept us updated of the developments in other rooms.
Many patients were in conditions, especially children and senior citizens, who sought more medicines and water. Some were being administered heavy medications, including hydroxycholoroquine and one elderly had to be put on oxygen support. One young man had a daily query of when will he be discharged. The group was a window into the rooms of my neighbours, of contrasting conditions despite a similar situation.
As some wanted soaps and shampoos others posed medicinal clarifications. A hospital representative calmly responded to messages, connecting isolated patients to each other.
The lesson to remember in a government hospital, as I realised, is to maintain crystal clear interaction with the overworked staff. An employee was about to conduct an X-Ray on me, which was neither required nor scheduled on the list. He got the name and room incorrect and knocked for me. I immediately contacted the doctor on duty, who clarified that the X-Ray was meant for a patient next door.
Few days on, I started to ache for fresh air and wanted to leave, desperately.
The only time I was allowed to leave my room, was for a fresh Covid test, when nurses felt convinced of my improving health. I watched a staff member, wearing PPE suits in a room with no fan, drenched in sweat, taking swab tests.
I sat there for barely a minute and watched the worker in awe, wrapped in a suit that had no ventilation, first dig the swab through nasal tube and then another deep into the throat.
All I needed now to do was wait for the results. My third wait in three months.
While returning to the room, I observed hectic activity and was told that a staff member has collapsed in his PPE kit due to exhaustion. His colleagues were rushing him out while still attending to patients.
As patients complained of delayed services, a doctor informed on the group, “Our two staff members fainted in PPE kits because of suffocation on duty and are admitted. D is doing your services in spite of being on quarantine. We are trying level best. Please bear with us.”
My Covid test report finally said negative. The virus had left my body, flown away, for good after a week of its stay. A smile flashed on my face and I started to pack my bags and awaited discharge orders.
Staffers now looked calmer while interacting in person as the word spread about Isolation Ward-26 reporting negative.
I requested healthcare workers around if they were keen to speak on their hurdles. Though tired, some members eagerly spoke to me to discuss their problems and perseverance.
“We stay at the premises and only after our samples are negative, we get to meet our family. I have not met my family in weeks. We have a difficult job working in this situation and wearing PPEs. Even menstrual hygiene takes a backseat. I remind myself to stay mentally strong as I am deployed to take care of ailing patients,” said Sunita.
Meanwhile, another staffer dressed in white PPE was pushing water trolley to wards.
“We work for 14 days and then undergo quarantine. We face problems at work but the priority is to daily serve patients so they recover sooner,” said Naresh.
“I applaud my staff, they have worked tirelessly and maintained their calm. While our services are delayed at times, we have ensured patient health and complaints are never compromised,” said Dr. Renu, In-charge, Child PGI.
Without wasting more time, I packed my bags and walked towards the ambulance waiting at the gate. I was accompanied by two more recovered patients, a young man and an elderly woman.
All of us glad to be returning to our families, safe and negative of Covid, but fully aware that many healthcare workers are still waiting for a similar moment of relief. The pandemic is still raging.
While I waited at the fourth floor designated Covid space, the hospital staff took my details and showed me to a room. A quick scan of the room came with a sigh of relief and I put my bag down on the bed. Isolation Ward-26 was clean and basic. My worst expectation had been proven wrong.
Soon, however, claustrophobia started to seep in. The central air-conditioning was not functional, so I opened the window and looked out into the Noida skyline.
“We shall provide you with a table fan and the AC will not function. Please keep your door locked, you must not keep opening it,” came the curt instructions from a medical staff.
I started to feel thirsty and this was the initial hiccup. Water was delivered to me after two hours after repeated requests and I had assumed that water bottles would be provided, not realising that the staff will make minimal contact with positive patients.
Soon, a loud thud was heard on the door and a staff member came and stood at a distance. She poured warm water from a bucket into a bottle and told me to pick it up. The bottle was now my property, I was informed. I had the flimsy bottle replaced the next day. The hospital permitted household items to be brought in.
The first night was uncomfortable as it came with the realisation that I was a Covid positive patient.