Editor's Note: Gaurav Kadam, a journalist in Pune lost his father to coronavirus. He recounts the grief of the incident, the Kafkaesque hurdles to get basic facilities and how coronavirus has exposed the lacunae of our healthcare system and inefficacy of the lockdown.
For most of you coronavirus cases are a statistic, a number that appears on your TV screen or your mobile phones. For me it's grief, a tale of loss that will never turn around. Papa passed away two weeks ago of respiratory failure after testing positive for COVID-19. Mumma is devastated, barely eating or sleeping. I am not able to move around the house as everything reminds me of him. Tears start flowing through my eyes even if I intend to maintain restraint around my younger siblings. I thought that getting back to work immediately would help distract me but to no avail. I shiver while writing stories involving deaths due to the pandemic. The earlier me would look at the numbers and laugh it off.
Luckily, we have a huge family that takes care of each other. My friends have constantly been texting and calling, trying to bring a smile on my face, as it’s not possible to meet one another amid this never-seen-before catastrophe. Many suggested putting the traumatic experience on paper would be therapeutic and help me get rid of the pain. I know the pain is forever to stay but I am giving it a try. While putting it into words, I would like to mention that I hold no grudge against anybody. However, as a journalist, it is my duty to reveal the sheer lackadaisical nature of the hospitals and the operations in and around them.
I had fever for a few days and was taking medication from our family doctor. As the fever didn’t subside, he asked me to do the COVID test. The same evening, papa had trouble breathing, so the doctor suggested the same to him. I immediately dialled my best friend, who conducts the testing in a government-run setup, and asked her to reserve spots for us. The next morning we went for the tests and turned out to be positive for the infection. Mumma and my younger brother who were along with us also tested themselves. Mumma turned out to be positive, while my brother was negative. I couldn’t fathom how we, who never stepped outside the house and took every precaution in the book, could be infected.
Papa had comorbidities, hence, they asked us to admit him to a hospital. Mumma and I were to be home-quarantined. We decided to admit papa to a hospital near our home, however, it didn’t have a ventilator. They gave us an option of the biggest government-run hospital in the city. We thought it was only a matter of days and decided to go ahead with it. I admitted myself next to papa to take care of him.
Papa’s oxygen levels were dropping. He wasn’t able to breathe without the artificial air. He wasn’t eating and was looking extremely weak. The next morning, the doctors called me up and said that he needed an ICU bed. I nodded. One of them said, “You would have to look for a bed elsewhere as we don’t have it at the moment.” I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. I called a friend who worked in the same hospital. She also said the same.
I called many private hospitals. My brother visited a few. Nowhere could we find an ICU bed for papa. A friend suggested a small hospital near home and luckily it had a bed available. They demanded Rs 2 lakh upfront and Rs 25,000 per day. I went ahead with it. The hospital then called me back to inform that they don’t have a cardiac ambulance to move papa from one hospital to another. To my dismay, the government hospital also didn’t have one. A friend gave me the number of a private ambulance. The guy demanded Rs 2,500 for the transportation and I agreed. Fortunately, an ICU bed became available in the same hospital where we were admitted. They shifted papa to the ICU. A friend who worked in the ICU was constantly giving me his health updates. In a way our prayers were answered, he was getting the treatment.
Later that evening, I saw a patient die in the general ward. Someone told the nurses but it fell on deaf ears. He died at around 8 pm, however, the body was moved only at midnight. I wasn’t able to eat that night. I didn’t know the man but I was weeping. I was alone. I didn’t want to bother mumma or anyone else.
The next morning I woke up to a call from the ICU. Papa needed the plasma therapy. My brother and I called up every blood bank in the city. He even visited a few. However, we weren’t successful in our efforts. Meanwhile, my editor called me. I told him about it and he sent me a few contacts. It was when he put it up on Twitter the politicians noticed. I received a few calls and the plasma was made available. I was hopeful.
The hospital, however, made a huge blunder. They gave a wrong blood sample and because of which there was a delay of nearly four hours for the process. The plasma which could have been obtained at around 12:30 pm, arrived at 4:30 pm. Papa passed away soon after. He was only 47.
The last time I saw papa was when he was taken to the ICU. At the funeral, his body was completely wrapped. I couldn’t see the hands that held me. I couldn’t see his shoulders on which I climbed as a child. I couldn’t see the lips which kissed me. I was broken. I tried to maintain a brave face but cried inconsolably after mumma embraced me.
Friends and relatives keep asking me to be strong and take responsibility. I don’t know how to. The 24-year-old me has always been a child in the house. Everything fell into place according to my whims. How will I take responsibility? Am I even capable? These and infinite other questions keep me up at night.
Papa’s birthday is in a few days. It’s an unwritten rule in the house for me to plan the celebrations. What am I going to do now? Whose birthday am I going to celebrate? The grief cannot be put into words. It’s going to be for a lifetime. However, I am sure I’ll make papa proud. His blessings are always with me.