1 June, 2021 – Srinagar, Kashmir

By Nurat Maqbool

When I first heard about COVID, I feared for my life. I thought – I have not done a single good deed, what will I show to God? Never did it cross my mind that I would lose my most valuable possession to this dreadful disease: my mother.

In January 2020, when Delhi was simmering with riots, I often thought — those people have no idea what is coming.  I had seen the images of deserted streets in China’s Wuhan and the fear on the faces of people there. One wondered if it was just a matter of time until Corona would knock at our doors.

Soon enough, we were under lockdown and spent our days confined to our homes, watching the Corona-positive numbers going up.  Occasionally we heard of people getting Corona and recovering, we rarely heard about anyone dying from the disease. That was the first wave in India.

This year, my mother and I came to Srinagar after spending eighteen months in Bangalore. We had been too scared to fly back home from there. But since now the Corona cases were almost negligible and the Indian Government had declared victory, we thought to fly back home to Kashmir.

Our travel was safe and after coming to Srinagar, my mother was confined to a room. No one was allowed in that room except my sister and me. Two months passed by.

Then, one night, my mother started coughing and the next day we found she was running a high fever. Our hearts shrank in our chests: could it be COVID? But how, we wondered? No one was positive in our house or our neighbourhood and no one was allowed in her room.  The next day, since her fever didn’t come down, we went to get her tested. There was a huge queue at TRC, the Tourist Reception Centre temporarily turned into a COVID testing centre. Somehow, we got admission and she was given a rapid test.  To our horror, it came back positive within minutes.

For the next two weeks, we monitored my mother’s situation and remained in touch with a doctor. Her first week went fine. Another week and her oxygen saturation started dipping. Somehow, we still managed at home. Days went by hunting for oxygen concentrators and cylinders. Only the week before, my social media had been flooded with pleas. Everybody was looking for oxygen cylinders. Now I was one of them: calling every relative or friend, asking for help. Most NGOs had run out of oxygen. One person managed to get us a concentrator. We were relieved. Concentrators were better, cylinders ran out of oxygen in no time.

After two weeks, one evening we could no longer manage her at home and we shifted my mother to the hospital. The scene at the hospital Emergency was heart-wrenching: every  minute, someone was admitted. Every patient was gasping for air. By the time my mother was admitted, it was two in the morning. By now, I also had a high fever and fatigue. Our first night at hospital went fine and, miraculously, I recovered.

In the hospital ward, every attendant was just talking about saturation. The next evening, one of the patients passed away.  The whole day his son had been calling him to check on him every hour, ‘Papa, Papa’.

My mother was shifted to another ward with high-flow oxygen. There was a portable ventilator there. One patient had been there in a coma for three months and had now contracted COVID.  Another was on chemotherapy and had contracted COVID. Their chances of surviving were slim. One young man was brought in and put on ventilator. He had small kids. He wanted to survive for them. He survived just a night. We saw one patient recover and one die the same day.  The rest were on their beds, waiting for their fate.

We were in that ward for three days. My mother was responding well to medicines. Her tests came back alright.  We hoped to leave the hospital sooner. Then one night again she ran high fever. The doctor changed her medicine saying it might be a secondary infection. An X-Ray was proposed. When it came, my sister said “it is all white.” Not a good sign.

The next morning, the doctors said it was hospital-acquired pneumonia and she had 90 percent lung collapse. She was on 90 litres of oxygen at that time and her saturation was in the 70s, then jumping to the 80s and then dipping back.

She may have some hours left, said the visiting doctor. If we put her on ventilator, that may prolong her leaving.

Has anybody recovered on a ventilator? We asked.

None, so far. Maybe she would be the first one.

We declined. We didn’t want to prolong her suffering.

Please don’t keep her in pain, just take her soon, I prayed. By evening she was gone.

If only we had not banged thalis but actually understood the gravity of the situation. If only the government had been well prepared. If only crores were spent on building hospitals and not the Mandir. If only we had a wise head of state, fewer lives would have been lost.

Only a month earlier, I lost my aunt and many relatives far and near. This is the second wave that has left India devastated, on a ventilator, gasping for air.