Ten years ago, owing to inevitable circumstances, my wife and I migrated from the warm North Karnataka climate and settled in a relatively cooler Bengaluru. Ever since, the memories of thundering and lightening during monsoons have faded as we rarely experience such rains in Bengaluru.
In the month of July, a thunderbolt of another kind struck our home, the intensity of which was unexpected and destructive. It was the ‘Covid Thunderbolt’! We had seen and listened to heart breaking, shocking and unnerving news since its outbreak. One can imagine our plight when it struck us.
We were six of us living in three flats, in proximity with each other, in the Indiranagar and Jeevan Bima Nagar area. My wife and I aged 81 and 83 years respectively lived in the same building as my eldest daughter and son-in-law, in the warmth of their care and support. Despite age-related health issues, we managed to smile even through the difficult Covid times. I am diabetic and hypertensive while my wife suffered from severe arthritic knee pain, mild hypertension and bladder related problems. Some years ago, she had had ‘chikungunya’ and most recently a stroke which had physically weakened her.
Nagapanchami was days away. Ignoring my concern over how much she exerted herself, my wife busied herself in preparations. Later she had body ache which we thought was due to the physical exhaustion. It was followed by a very mild cold and cough the next day. Since she had no fever and had not come in contact with any sort of outside contamination, we least suspected her to be infected by Covid. We had also been strictly following all the Covid do’s and don’ts like sanitising our hands, milk packets and every little bit that came from outside. We had been drinking hot water and Kashaya through the day. In fact since the 8th of March my wife and I had not crossed the threshold of our home! Getting a Covid test done for my wife meant exposing her to unwanted risk. But in a couple of days, she developed a fever and on consulting her neurologist we decided to get the Covid test done for her. We arranged for a home sample collection and waited for the report to arrive. As my wife was unwell my younger daughter stayed with us.
It was the 27th of July, Shraavana Shukla Panchami. My wife had no appetite for lunch but after being cajoled she had a small bowl of semolina porridge. We let her sleep a while. Minutes later my daughter who checked on her mother sensed her discomfort and asked her if she was alright. My wife expressed that her breath seemed heavy. My daughter instantly realised it was an emergency and alerted me in the adjacent room and telephoned the others. My wife who had all along not been in favour of getting hospitalised continued to say that we wait for some time. However, she was rushed to the hospital. Within the next twenty minutes all except me had reached a nearby well-known hospital. In view of my age and other factors I was advised to stay home.
It was hard for me to come to terms with what was happening. My eyes welled up thinking of my wife who left home in an ordinary home wear gown despite her wardrobe brimming with the most beautiful and valuable sarees. Later I was to know that while they were on their way to the hospital my wife who leaned on my daughter’s shoulder looked up at her now and then. There was helplessness writ large in those eyes. They seemed to say, “now that I am destined to leave alone it’s of little significance who I am surrounded by” as in Lakshmana niryana.
The nurse in charge at the emergency ward came up to the car and on examining my wife’s oxygen level said that it was extremely low. We were told that all ICU beds with ventilator were full. They rushed to another well-known hospital five minutes’ drive away. The same thing repeated. All the beds were full. My family begged my wife be given emergency treatment. Parked right in front of the emergency ward my wife was sinking slowly. After pleading until my wife almost took her last breath, she was taken into the emergency room and administered an oxygen mask and perhaps an emergency medication. The pressure to shift her to another hospital was unbearable. Calls to innumerable hospitals went in vain. My elder daughter’s persistent efforts finally resulted in securing a bed with ventilator in a hospital on Kanakpura road. We were assured that an ambulance with ventilator would arrive shortly. In the meanwhile the much-awaited Covid test result of my wife arrived, and she had tested positive.
As promised, the ambulance arrived and my wife was shifted into it. She seemed to have recovered a bit and looked fully conscious though she could not talk because of the oxygen mask. The deception now seemed like a lamp that glows brightly just before burning out. None of us were allowed to accompany her in the ambulance. My family assured her that they would be following the ambulance in the car and that she must hold on bravely. That was the last anyone of us spoke to her. We are not sure she heard what was being said to her as she had not worn her hearing aid. To this day we do not know if she knew she was infected with Covid. It seemed she was already fading away in the Covid mask. Though she was being followed in the car, she had already been taken into the ICU by the time the family reached the hospital. We lost all contact with her except the information that was being shared with us by the attending doctors over phone calls.
The next day, that is on Tuesday she continued to remain on the ventilator though her blood pressure and oxygen had been brought to normal levels. The doctor under whose care she was, sought our permission to administer Remdesivir which was the next and crucial part of her treatment. We were told her blood pressure might drop in the process. But neither we nor the doctors had an option but to go ahead although it involved great risk. By late evening we were told the treatment had begun and they were hoping her to respond well. Her blood pressure had maintained its normal level. We were also told that my wife wished to know when she would be discharged and sent home. In spite of our repeated requests and attempts unfortunately we were not able to talk to her as she was continuously on ventilator. By night we were told they were considering using a feeding tube so as to not disrupt her oxygen supply. The doctor also informed us that her x-rays showed severe lung damage which could be due to reasons other than Covid. He said a second sample was sent for Covid test, but they would anyway go ahead with the treatment for Covid.
Due to my vulnerable state of mind and age, the information that trickled in from the hospital was conveyed to me very carefully. I felt less and less conscious of the sudden untoward happenings. On the same fateful night, well past midnight at 1.29 am the hospital called and informed that my wife had passed away of heart failure. The news had been kept from me because the last couple of days had been harrowing and I had just slipped into slumber. Dawn broke and so did the shocking news! I remembered having stumbled when I woke up to moist my dry throat with a sip of water. I could tell that that was exactly the moment my wife had passed away. The sad news reached our near and dear ones. Everyone around me wept bitterly. I was in a stupor and there was not a single tear in my eyes. I was struggling to come out of the depths of a pitch-dark hollow I had fallen into. Alas! Covid had claimed my wife. Having expressed deep sympathy towards people who succumbed to Covid night after night, I could not digest the truth that one of us had joined them. When nothing could make any difference anymore the second Covid test report too came in as positive.
I have led an active life engrossing myself in running the household and lately taking over most of the household chores to help my wife get the rest she needed. Reading and writing being my favourite indulgences, my philosophy in life has always been to achieve whatever I can in that front. All this while keeping my diabetes, B.P., electrolytes and thyroid in check. Suddenly my world had come crashing down. My wife had left behind a huge vacuum.
We rushed to the hospital expecting at least one final glance at my wife. When that too was denied to us, we were inconsolable. But the zip of the body bag was pulled open on the face side of my wife and we had a brief glance from afar. However we were allowed to follow the hearse van up to the crematorium where we had to identify the body before it was taken for electric cremation. There was no permission for any rites whatsoever. My soft-natured dear wife who was born into the blue blooded Huilgol Jahagirdar family, raised like a princess and looked after like a queen, who completed me in every sense, who was a woman of very few words fell silent for eternity. My daughters identified the body and completed all the formalities of cremation. The smoke that rose from the chimney soon after told us that her soul became one with the panchabhutas. The most important chapter of my life ended with losing what was most valuable to me.
All the while I had no symptoms of Covid. As advised the rest of us immediately got tested for Covid. It was a rapid test which meant the reports would arrive soon. Condolence messages and calls were pouring in. We tried hard to console one another. In the evening, the covid test reports came in. My daughters and sons-in-law had tested negative and I had tested positive.
That was it! I too needed to be hospitalised. We prepared ourselves for the next challenge. My emotions had all dried up and a certain blankness had enveloped me. My family was already concerned about my ripe age and sensitive health. Amidst the sorrow an additional responsibility of getting me into a hospital stared them in the face. Thinking of my wife I collected myself and tried to mentally prepare myself for what might lie ahead, like a warrior set to enter the battlefield.
My elder daughter and son in law’s persistent efforts for an entire day resulted in securing admission in a well-equipped hospital through the BBMP. The hospital ambulance picked me up and after much dilly-dallying I was formally admitted into the hospital. I was shocked at the state of affairs. Dirty and unkempt beds on the floor, equally dirty curtains separating those beds, indifferent service of the nursing staff etc. worried me. Efforts were on to get me into a private room. Until after midnight I had not been allotted one. Finally, I was led to a twin sharing room where my treatment began.
Amid all this my thoughts lingered around my wife’s last moments. Despite having a loving family, she passed away bereft of the touch and presence of her dear ones. I was miserable thinking of what must have been her last thoughts, what she wanted to say or whom did she want by her side. There is no way this mental agony will heal. It was already destined that her last words remain with her.
I was treated for Covid from Aug 1st to 9th. Even then I was totally asymptomatic. I had no cough, cold, breathing difficulty or low oxygen. Since I was a diabetes and hypertension patient the doctors and nurses at the Covid hospital took great care of me. My sugars used to be as high as 500 due to the steroids. Sometimes sugars fell to as low as 40. The professional expertise, decisiveness, administration of medication, timely care, empathetic approach etc. of the doctors at the Covid hospital are praiseworthy. Even when my sugars rose alarmingly, they gave me courage and hope.
At the time I was receiving treatment at the Covid hospital, we updated my diabetologist, Dr Chaithanya Murthy about all that we had, and were, going through. He was deeply saddened to know about my wife’s demise. His words regarding my health were very reassuring. He took complete responsibility of getting me back to good health, be it controlling my erratic sugars or other post Covid symptoms like fatigue and disturbed electrolytes.
After ten days of hospital stay, I was discharged along with instructions regarding medicines and other precautions that I needed to take. My heart blessed all the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff. The doctor under whose care I was concluded that I was fully cured of Covid and commended my strength of mind. I thanked them sincerely and returned home. I had won the Covid war!
During my hospital stay my previous diabetic medicines were all replaced by new ones, and some new medicines were added. I was prescribed medicines for a month after which I was told to follow the advice of my Diabetologist. For a month after returning home I was on inhaler puff and multivitamins. The sugars were still running extremely high. My Diabetologist Dr Chaithanya Murthy confirmed that it was because of steroids administered to me in the covid hospital. He prescribed appropriate insulin to get my sugars to gradually settle. He was in continuous touch with us in spite of being terribly busy responding immediately to our numerous messages and phone calls. Synonymous to his name he filled us with confidence and positivity. No words can convey the gratitude our family owes him. We highly regard his timely help and support.
As advised by the Covid hospital I had to quarantine myself for ten days after returning home. In the same house that my wife and I had shared a beautiful life, I had to live like a lone ghost. My daughters and sons in law, who cared for us like we were little kids, were equally agonised to see me in that situation. Only the infected and their families would know the kind of cruelty Covid inflicts! My family, near and dear ones appreciate the resolve and courage I showed. My daughters, sons in law and grandchildren are proud of me for being sensitive and understanding. I fold my hands humbly before God for blessing me with all that was needed for me to do so.
I was deeply troubled by loneliness during the days I spent in isolation. It is awfully hard on the heart though the mind is aware about the quarantine norms that need to be followed. This made me reflect upon those who live a lonely life throughout. While ten days seemed like ages, I could not imagine a whole lifetime some people might have to spend all their lives due to unavoidable reasons. Thinking of people who survived Covid but lost their companions to it, and the mood in their homes, made me woeful.
After ten days of quarantine I joined my family. Gradually my sugars settled. I had to test my sugar levels about eight times a day and intimate my doctor. Going forward Dr Chaithanya Murthy put me back on my regular insulin and medication. Once in a month, or earlier if necessary, I undergo blood tests.
Though the pangs of separation from my dear wife are devouring me from inside, I realise that my daughters, sons in law and grandchildren are craving to find their mother, mother-in-law and grandmother in me. I am aware that I have to look after myself for them. Above all my wife’s soul would also want the same from me. I tell myself a thousand times in a day – I must try to smile through the rest of my life and carry that gratification in my heart until my exit from this world. Only then would I be happy and make my loved ones happy. Self-motivation and encouragement from family have led me to get back to writing. I bring my wife’s image to mind and gather the strength needed to sail through the rest of my life.
I felt like sharing my Covid experience with all of you. Right behind the solace of having sustained the deadly Covid is the sorrow of losing of my wife to it. Life has to roll on. I feel blessed to have a loving family, near and dear ones to help me through.