By Mayank Goswami
Let me introduce myself. I am the luckiest Covid-19 survivor. Whether I was a warrior or not, that is for the reader to decide. I sincerely believe that this story you’re about to read and my personal learnings from it might give you a glimmer of hope in these tough times. Because hope is infectious, and hope is pure, and hope is essential to being human, and genuine hope proliferates faster than any virus known to mankind.
Also Read: COVID-19 vaccine registration for 18 plus to begin today on CoWin portal
I wouldn’t taint the experience by calling it purely traumatic, though at times I must admit it felt like one of the most harrowing phases a person can go through in their lives. There were milestones along the way that changed my perspective on things I took for granted till now.
The basic ingredients of this story are Covid-19, reluctance, tests, treatments, desire to live and a determined doctor who will not allow your body to give up.
Also read: Priyanka Chopra reaches out to Joe Biden to help India with COVID vaccines
I would like to emphasize on the most crucial timelines of this journey, followed by elaboration, when needed.
ACCEPT. Anyone can get infected despite every effort of staying safe.
On the evening of April 4th, 2021, I had 3 things in my hands, an infrared thermometer, oximeter and fever that wouldn't let me stay cool. People around me said, 'could be flu, naa it can't be Covid'. In the next 5 minutes, I accepted that Covid is real and has knocked us all down. I, my wife, my nephew and my brothers-in-law, everyone started having the symptoms of fever, body ache and loss of appetite. We didn't wait, we decided to get tested next morning (earliest available) and isolated ourselves. We didn't want to take a chance, and we couldn't possibly have because we have 3-4 elderly (in age bracket of 60 to 90s) people with comorbidities and children (1.5 years and on 6 years old) living in the same house.
On 5th April, I convinced (trust me it was a hard task) everyone in the family with remote possibility of infection to reach the Govt testing center (Madhav Chikitsalaya, Ujjain, Fever OPD) to get our RT-PCR test done so we have a better convincing model in family to get people isolated and be masked, the two key aspects which were completely out of our minds till it struck us, reminding us that it wasn't 'made-up propoganda' but it's for real.
Also read: 'At least 17 countries' have Indian COVID-19 strain, says WHO
Luckily, for us (despite all criticism) government machinery also responded well.
Go for test. Test is not a Taboo
Out of the 4 samples we had given, two turned out be positive and two were negative, which was surprising, considering all four of us lived in close proximity for several days. A negative report didn’t make much sense, so we took it with a grain of salt & proceeded with caution. We self-declared each of us as a Covid-19 patient and decided to go for CT Scan of chests. In hindsight, this was one of the best decisions we made at the time.
Just after the first two positive reports, my home was declared a mini-containment zone the same day and we were provided with the standard stay-home medication to start with, they kept enquiring about our health on regular basis (As a standard procedure it's fine but this doesn't seem to work when things go bad, real bad.)
Also read: India's COVID-19 death toll passes 200,000
Stay Isolated, Stay informed
All four of us stayed in isolation even when the CT scan reports were awaited. The reports were eye-opener. All four of us were Covid positive, but with mild infection, till that time. We started the medication without any delay, as suggested by Arogyasetu app and our family doctor to treat mild covid in home isolation.
Treatment seemed to be effective and started working initially on most of the people. And in all this while, we strictly followed the isolation protocol. By evening of 6th April we were 8 individual (4 infected) living under the same roof as very distinct unit. Since our home was now the containment zone, our names were shining on doors as Covid patient and we were asked by officials with folded hands to follow protocols and we whole-heartedly agreed, as until then we knew that mild symptomatic Covid-19 patient can be treated at home and there was nothing to worry, “2 gaj doori, mask hai zaroori", we lived by it.
Vitals - Understand the basics, monitor the vitals, shun rumours and act on time
On the morning of 7th April, I started feeling like I was burning, I tried to have fresh coconut water but vomited within seconds; even after the prescribed medications, my fever on infrared thermometer was showing as “High”, since it has stopped displaying any number I safely assumed the fever is beyond 103F and growing and paracetamols have given up. This is the time I took my oximeter with great respect and started monitoring the oxygen level, I checked it for everyone in the family and for most of them fortunately it was stable at 95 or above except me. For me it was dipping to 85-86. It was an alarm but it wasn’t the time to panic, I asked myself to hang in there and think. I asked my family members to continue with the medicines and sleep in proning position (Prone position is a body position in which the person lies flat with the chest down and the back up.), if possible (I learnt on internet just 5 mins back), to keep an eye on oxygen levels and report if anything goes sharply below 90. Meanwhile, I started looking for options to get hospitalized as I could start feeling decay happening inside me and I needed to have proper medical help. Also, had to ensure that financial support of family remain intact, just in case we would need additional beds for all, hospitalisation, Oxygen. I had to prepare for any possible situation. Luckily, the well-planned and timely isolation worked well in this case and this situation didn’t arrive, at least for my family members.
Also read: COVID vaccine drive open for 18+ but CoWin app just won't open. Ask Twitter
Don't panic but look for hospitalization when necessary
Here comes the horror; I started hearing that there were no beds available in good hospitals and wherever they were, the charges had already sky rocketed to meet supply and demand curves. Ujjain City hospitals went out of consideration in first few nervous minutes, and I had decided that I have to live, not struggle. I tried checking other options and I talked to Dr Vivek Rajoriya (MD) who is a Doctor in National Hospital Bhopal serving at dedicated Covid hospital for the last one year. I called him (I was lucky to reach a busy doctor’s phone, probably it was part of the universe’s plan to keep me alive) and explained my situations and vitals. He immediately asked me to reach Bhopal, as there were "few bed available" and are being filled based on the cases in OPD and emergency and if I am able to reach on time, I can get bed in emergency considering the alarming vitals. Here starts the journey that felt longest ever - 3 hours 27 mins - (193 kilometres to precise), I took a taxi (dropping an idea of self-drive was a wise decision). Dr Vivek asked me to take some medication, which will keep me awake and breathing until I reach there. I also explained the driver about the situation and promised him of full sanitization of his taxi once I reach Bhopal with triple masks on, now every km on the journey was competing with my O2 levels. Since I had become aware of this part of importance of oxygen demand and supply for lungs to survive, I decided to keep breathing, no matter what. I realised if I can concentrate on something off-Covid then it may take away the anxiety part to some extent and attention from dipping O2 level, I started reading my newly purchased book (A Sanghi - who never went to shakha by Rahul Roushan), though reading was difficult in a moving car so I started jumping on random pages to read interesting contents while ensuring to stay there, stay alive… the struggle went on for 3 hrs 30 mins and I reached National Hospital, Bhopal, keeping my breath in order but highly elevated, I went straight to OPD, Dr Vivek verified my vitals and in few minutes, I was in CCU reading the same book and waiting for treatment to start which I have no idea about.
Also read: 'Indian strain' vs Indian vaccines: Covishield, Covaxin effective, says study
Don’t lose hope
From this point on when I was among the best doctors, nursing staff and the machines, beeping of which sounded like chimes to my ears and every beep have hope to my running heart beats. I started feeling better. Though vitals were concerning, but my willingness to live had decided to take up this fight one-on-one. With the sun setting on 7th April 2021, being fully aware of the might and conviction of a determined doctor, I started to drift in a relaxed sleep mode. I felt I was in good care.
Trust the Doctor and his treatment
Now, I was only nodding my head in yes to whatever doctor Vivek said. The doctor gave me enough information to satisfy my curiosity calls but not all. The details were now being shared with my wife Neha (A tough woman, suffering from Covid-19 same time with around 15 % lung involvement at home) and my younger brother, Saket, who was replacing me in medical treatment decision making flow charts for family.
I was told by doctor to co-operate and breath, breath and breath as much as much possible and I had no other choices, so I did what I was told. The very ambience of the Covid ward was making me lose my sleep and hence was given mild sedatives to ensure the oxygen flow is good in lungs, back of the mind I had a thought “Saanse chalti rahni chahiye (breathing must go on)”.
Also read: What is COVID-19 vaccine efficacy and why is it important?
My brother even gave me example of Indian soldiers fighting in Galwan Valley and Siachen with minimum oxygen, having firearms in hands and it gave me another perspective and conviction that everything is possible.
While talking about this incident, let me take the liberty of putting a whatsapp conversation between Doctor Vivek, Neha (my wife) and My brother to highlight the gravity of the situation at the time.
Here is the snippet of chat between my wife and Doctor Vivek (I took prior permission to put it here to underline the severity and context of Covid-19 ability to do the severe damage it may cause )
Doctor:- He is on NIV support (non invasive ventilation) prone, His il-6 test was high and rising, Injection tocilizumab given today to control the Cytokine storm, the immune system of body has started killing body tissues and in this reading 50 is the oxygen demand, It should come down to 30.
Neha- What is il-6 test?
Doctor - (Not preferring to get into the nitty gritty of the test) Injection ke effect se kam ho gaya (Has reduced due to the injection), Atleast O2 demand nahi bad rahi hai (at least Oxygen demand is not going up), Nebulize kar rahe hai, steam k liye oxygen hatana padta hai. Abhi situation to same hai, Mask nikalte hai to khaasi (coughing) aati hai kafi jyada. O2 demand 50 percentage hai, Bahut khaas rahe the, thoda mild sedation de kar mask lagaya hai.
Doctor : Ye khaasi fefde chipakne (sticking together) ki hoti hai...Difficult to manage, Aaj breathlessness kafi ho rahi thi unko, CT k liye thoda breath hold karna padta hai wo kar nahi pate, It's not that, It's classical of corona lung damage, We try to open up lungs with pressure and want to use it for maximum time, Jitna jyada lagayenge utna lungs damage improve karta hai aur khaasi dheere dheere kam ho jati hai.
Doctor : This mode is known as non invasive ventilation. Mask ke pressure se oxygen dete hai to open up closed and damaged airways (sic), Patient agar accha response karte hai to gradually 10-15 days me normal pressure par aa jate hai, Abhi bahut dar hai. Jaise hi mask hatate hai kaafi breathlessness hoti hai, Let's keep fingers crossed.
And then there was a further discussion what if "tocilizumab [Tocilizumab, also known as atlizumab, is an immunosuppressive drug, mainly for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis, a severe form of arthritis in children. It is a humanized monoclonal antibody against the interleukin-6 receptor ]" doesnt work and blood clots will start happening then it will lead to Thrombolysis [Thrombolysis, also called fibrinolytic therapy, is the breakdown of blood clots formed in blood vessels, using medication. It is used in ST elevation myocardial infarction, stroke, and in cases of severe venous thromboembolism ] may be required. But, my positivity did work and the treatment went on right path, there may have been a few blood clots but Thrombolysis was not required as best known to us at that stage. The hospital, however, was ready for further medication for thrombolysis if needed to be used.
Also read: On COVID vaccines pricing, SC's 3 questions to Centre, then a reminder
Few things that I did, helped
In all of this a few things I did repeatedly: -
I was listening to my doctor 100%, with full faith and with full trust on his abilities and intent.
I was trying to reach my near and dear ones, even with the ventilator mask on (though I was cautioned against doing it frequently) to remind myself and reassure them that they should not lose hope and that I should be able to smile even in this situation.
I kept reminding myself, I have a wife and a beautiful daughter and for them I need to live and age well.
I was talking to friends on WhatsApp, not crying/spreading negativity but keeping them informed, so I don’t feel the loneliness of classic case of Covid patients.
I also read a lot of poetry and gazals and shared them on SM (social media) from ICU, some were cryptic and some were just for entertainment and people reactions to my posts kept giving me hope that I am behaving normal. Believe me, you need that reassurance that you are normal!
I didn’t treat Covid-19 as a strong opponents against my will power, even when I came to know the infection has 80% lung involvement, I reminded myself that I have never scored below distinction in my career, not even in CT scan test!
Believe, that you are going to stay alive, ready to breath even when nothing works in favour.
I stayed in hospital with several forms of ventilators and oxygen support , and on lots of medications and injections for 15 days, but not a single day I looked at myself as a dying Man. I really wanted to come out of this alive and wanted to tell the world that I conquered and this positive thought gave me a lot of strength to hang in there!
And in my case, leave your destiny in the hands of Bajrang-Bali (you can choose yours)
Apart from all the medication and my superman doctor, 1 more thing I did, to ensure that positivity stays even when my brain gets trapped in Covid’s negativity, I played “Hanuman Chalisa sung by Shekhar” in loop, for hours, it gave me a feeling that Bajarangbali was sitting next to me and giving all the strength (you are free to choose the God of your choice. All prayers are heard by one supreme power)
Finally, a few thoughts now that I am out of hospital-
Be Positive, you have no other option.
Keep Breathing, you just need to keep breathing, rest of the things the qualified doctors will take care of
Recall good times with family and friends
You can see them physically, staying in touch virtually shouldn't be a problem
Broadcast your positivity, it will echo.
Never tell yourself that you are going to lose, “Losing it, is not even a choice”, stay there, laugh, fight, keep reminding yourself the heroic welcome you will receive !
Full Covid-19 coverage here