On 31st July 2020, a colleague at my office tested positive for the dreaded SARS-CoV-2 virus. He was already unwell for some days. The report created a flutter among habitants of my office building. The COVID Response team swung into action and immediately made a contact list, which included me, and advised all of us to self-quarantine ourselves at home and report for COVID-19 test the next day.
The next day, I and my entire team reported at the hospital for testing. It was an experience best avoided; I must say. The nasal swab didn’t seem to stop at my nasal cavity but felt like it reached up to the right hemisphere of my brain. I am not sure if, apart from the virus, they looked for “intelligence” in that sample. The experience was made better by the promptness, professionalism and empathy of the doctors that we are fortunate to have as colleagues.
On Sunday, the 2nd of August, we were planning how to go about for Rakhi, as it was difficult for family to come together this year because of the circumstances and also because my report was still awaited. On Rakhi, which was the next day, it became clear that this year I will have to tie the sacred threads around my wrist on my own, alone in a room. I bolted my room from inside, instructed all family members residing with me of the protocol to be followed for the next fortnight, as suggested to me by Dr. Ram Matoria, a brilliant public health expert. I informed my office; it was now my turn to have a “contact list” of my own.
A lot goes through your mind if you are tested positive for a dreaded disease/infection. I never thought I would know this, but thanks to this pandemic many people are experiencing it for the first and hopefully the last time. Worse, if you are asymptomatic, you keep thinking what if the result was a “false positive”? Much ado about nothing? Nevertheless, the doctors advised me to ignore the news reports and WhatsApp forwards about test accuracy and asked me to treat myself as a carrier of the virus, capable of infecting more feeble people around me. I adhered to their advice and hopefully, it has paid off.
In India, whenever a tragedy befalls a family, a swarm of relatives appears from nowhere and works hard towards alleviating your suffering and keeps you busy with resultant chores, so much so that you forget the pain. But in this case, as no one could visit our home, visits were replaced by phone calls and encouraging messages, which seemed to increase the anxiety, instead of relieving it. Nevertheless, I felt fortunate to have so many people care about me. I did make it a point to mention that I remained asymptomatic. Among the people who called, at least three cheered me up for being “asymptotic”. That is a beautiful example of cross-fertilization of ideas between mathematics and medicine, I thought to myself. Did they take cue from the latest Education Policy?
This was a week of learning. I added many new slang words in my vocabulary – SpO2, perfusion index, CT value, HRCT, and some more. It was also a week of being with oneself. My door opened only for picking the food kept outside. Though high-speed internet made it possible for me to celebrate my daughter’s birthday along with my family over a video chat.
This was also a week of reading. If I were to suggest one book which is a must read for everyone, it would be Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, suggested by my poet friend Imteyaz seven years ago, but never read by me until the COVID week. It is a beautifully written memoir of a holocaust survivor, with a simple yet powerful message, that human beings need hope to live. The ability to imagine a future of our choice is our biggest aid to survival against an abysmal existential question mark which hangs around our necks till we exist. Much ado about “something”. I’ve found hope and positivity to be immensely crucial in fighting COVID as well as any other hardship.
The other things that I found extremely helpful were the commonplace multivitamin tablets, Indian herbs (Giloy, ashwagandha, among others) and homemade kadha which I would recommend to everyone this year. I was taking the multivitamins and Giloy even before I tested positive. And I believe it helped keep my symptoms limited to two days of mild dry cough and temporary loss of smell. This could perhaps be the only year in which so far, I have not succumbed to common cold.
It was also a week of surprise. Surprise at the efficient COVID-19 management at the Hospital, the prompt update on Aarogya Setu app, the swift information flow to and action of local dispensary, and an extremely professional and courteous call from the national COVID-19 helpline number-1075. The apparatus set up by various government organizations to fight the pandemic is an efficient structure, with each node aware of what function it is supposed to perform. Information dissemination is real-time. It was an immense confidence booster and it is important that everyone knows that the Government of India has taken all steps necessary to take care of its citizens.
My brain’s right hemisphere tested negative today. I don’t know whether they found any trace of intelligence in there, but I know that this is a perfectly intelligent advice: step out of your homes in the unlock phase with utmost precaution. Even if you are healthy and have a strong immune system, someone in your family might not be so and you need to be careful for their sake. The spread of COVID-19 and caution by people seem to be inversely related. It’s in your hands to change that. While you go about your jobs, do so with care. At the same time, be confident, the government has your back.
My colleague at the office is recuperating at a steady pace now. I wish him speedy recovery.
The writer is a civil servant and a graduate from IIT, Delhi. The views expressed are personal.