Posted by Kasturi Sengupta, New Delhi
Like most of us, I had no clue the way COVID-19 pandemic would transform our lives in the next 18 months… and probably forever. The first sense I got was in the afternoon of 20th March 2020 when my company sent out staggered timings to limit the number of people in office.
On Monday, 23rd March, about 15 – 20 people were at work, including me. The silence was eerie. Soon, we were in full lockdown and working from home. Yes, it was a relief, not having to face the trauma of congested roads, but I soon realised the downside. In pre-lockdown times, work was limited within office hours and I could concentrate at home after that. In lockdown, there was no limit in office hours and expectation was to be available for work all the time. This was getting challenging as my husband was posted abroad and I had more responsibilities with elderly in-laws and a pre-teen child.
Of course, I was not the only one who was facing such challenges. My colleagues, relatives and friends had their own share of hardship like queuing up at 5:30 in the morning to get daily groceries as shops closed after 8:00 a.m. Some of them had ailing parents and it was tough for them to make a visit to their doctor regularly and get medicines. Amidst all, I saw nature changing and repairing itself during lockdown. Instead of continuous swishing of cars and honking of horns, barking of dogs and tweeting of birds became more frequent. The skies became clearer, and stargazing became the new hobby.
Around October 2020, the numbers started showing a dip. There was talk of vaccination and public morale was up. The festive season was also approaching, masks were coming down from noses to the chins. I also started going to office, initially once a week, with the frequency rising over the next few weeks. Some of us were trying to maintain social distancing and other COVID protocols but it was not always possible, as office space tends to be limited. Working with a mask for 8-10 hours a day in the absence of air-conditioning was suffocating, so I started to leave for home early. However, this meant carrying back some work and compromising on family time. I always sprayed my desk and chair with sanitiser before I sat. I also stopped paying attention to the birds and bees while juggling roles with the new normal.
Just when we thought that life was settling, I along with my in-laws got infected with COVID-19. This was at the beginning of the second wave. Thankfully, my daughter was spared. It was very tough being sick, taking care of myself and in-laws at the same time and remain in isolation from my daughter. She was separated from the entire household. I was doing various home chores with 101 degrees fever and at the same time getting medicines through shops, co-ordinating with the Doctor and administering medicines as per prescriptions. Sometimes, I completely ran out of energy and collapsed in my bed. I remain thankful to my parents and all my relatives who could not visit but pitched in with food and required supplies as best as they could. They were my lifeline then.
COVID-19 at the onset was not so severe but gradually it made me very weak. My fever went upto 105 degrees and stayed on for a week. Thankfully, I did not have any breathing distress and my oxygen level was always normal. It was not so for my father-in-law and mother-in-law who required to be on the oxygen concentrator machine frequently (thankfully it was purchased much before the second wave for my mother-in-law). My husband flew back to Delhi after 10 days of our infection. He looked after everything, from coordinating with our doctor, arranging nurses for my in-laws, medicines, supplies. With all his support, we gradually became COVID negative.
Things were not so bright on my parent’s side. My Baba (father) could not be vaccinated due to an underlying allergy problem. However, he took all possible precautions. Ma came down with fever a week after she took her first dose of the vaccine in mid-April. We suspected she had contracted the virus as she had some symptoms. Since online test booking was extremely difficult, they went to a couple of hospitals. After waiting in long queues for two hours, they came back exhausted and unsuccessful. Later, they were able to book RT-PCR at home. Both Baba and Bhai (my brother) tested positive. It was a tough time for the family managing everything with my brother also unwell. My husband and I pitched in with food and medicines to the extent we could. One of the most painful outcome of COVID–19 infection is that it doesn’t allow even the closest family members to physically support each other.
Baba and Bhai’s treatment started with online consultations. One evening, Baba complained of severe breathing difficulty and chest pain. His SpO2 had come down to 80. It was night curfew, nothing was available. Finally, one oxygen can was managed from the society RWA, which would last only for two hours. We were stressed and had no idea how to help. I spoke to my office, and they very kindly arranged an oxygen concentration machine and delivered it to my parent’s house in a short span of two hours. I could manage to save Baba that day, but tougher times were ahead. Soon, my office had to provide the concentration machine to another employee’s home. I was trying every channel, every contact for a supplier, but there was a huge demand, and no supply. An old schoolfriend got me in touch with someone who sold concentration machines all the way from Mumbai at a premium price. I immediately booked one for Baba.
A week after using the new machine, I got a call from my Ma that Baba was having difficulty breathing and his oxygen levels were dipping further. His doctor advised non-invasive ventilation which meant hospitalisation in COVID ICU. COVID patients could still be admitted but a COVID ICU bed was not available anywhere. Even suppliers of ICU beds at home were not picking up their phones. Finally, through close contacts, Baba was taken to a reputed hospital nearby, and kept in emergency.
By evening Baba was fighting for his breath. We came to know when Ma called him on his mobile, and all he could do was speak incoherently on the phone. With great effort my brother could speak to the doctor on duty and Baba was put on oxygen support. Bhai and Ma came back home then. The next morning, when Ma and Bhai reached the hospital, they were told Baba was no more. He had been taken to Medical ICU but could not be revived.
I had been going through a strange premonition on the day Baba was admitted in the hospital and until his demise. Maybe there was a connection, I do not know and will never know.
After Baba left us, our hearts broke into a thousand pieces. We could not even give him a proper hug before saying our final goodbyes. Since my parent’s society had become a containment zone, I couldn’t even go and comfort my weeping mother. We could only talk over the phone and most of the times I did not know what to say to comfort her. I was going through a mental breakdown myself, unable to sleep.
Two weeks after Baba’s demise, I met with an accident. My mind was restless, and I slipped and fell while walking with a glass bowl in my hand. There was a deep cut on my palm and I was rushed to the hospital and had to undergo a surgery. Post-surgery, I asked my husband to go home and rest as he had taken in a lot of stress all this while. As I lay in bed, unable to sleep, I kept reflecting. I missed Baba terribly. Had he been alive, he wouldn’t have cared about lockdown or curfew. He would’ve driven himself to come and see me.
It’s a little over four months since Baba left us. When I close my eyes, I can still hear my brother’s voice in my head, calling from the hospital, “Tora shiggir chole aye, era bolche, Baba chole geche” [Come over very quickly, they are saying Baba is no more] …
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A tight hug to you Kasturi …. the last good bye is still due and many more hugs to our loved ones who left us just like a passing meteorite.
Thank you so much for your kind words and tight hugs.