An inside look into their fears, hospitalisation experience, and subsequent recovery.
By Jasnam Sachathep
This third wave, COVID entered my home – my family. Until then, the virus had always been the bogeyman at the corner of our eyes, barely understood but oh so feared, until it became our reality. But let me start from the beginning.
After months of not meeting any extended family for fear of catching the virus, we finally went to my uncle’s house for tea. It was an innocent gathering that soon turned into a long month of worry and angst. It was wonderful to meet up with family and exchange conversation and laughter, catching up after so much lost time. However, just two days after that, we got the call that COVID had made its way into my cousin sister’s, Harprem’s, house. Her husband, two daughters and eventually she herself tested positive. We had just met so the panic and fear hit us hard, as now we had to get ourselves tested. I have two small kids – my elder one aged 2 and a half, and my little one barely 5 months. I didn’t know who to worry about first, but fear was all around.
My phone was ringing off the hook, we were frantic with panic, and we locked ourselves in our house so that we could self-isolate. Meals were eaten in our room, masks were worn everywhere. Our home, the one place that was supposed to be a safe haven, was suddenly a war zone. We had to tell my husband’s sister and his brother, whom we lived with, to keep their distance from us for fear of potential exposure.
My brother, my husband, and I immediately looked for places that could accommodate us for testing. We booked a time at a lab nearby and couldn’t do anything but wait and hope, with the wait time passing too slowly. I had a million questions running through my mind: what if I was COVID-positive? Would I have to test my kids? Would we be separated? Would I be able to stay home instead of be taken away to the hospital?
Simultaneously, news broke out that one of the staff in my Dad’s office had tested positive. The fear had now multiplied. My dad had to get himself tested, too. He was self-monitoring at home and seemed to be doing just fine with no external symptoms, except for one night of very severe shivers and high fever.
“On the evening of Friday, June 25th I got the message that I had been dreading for the last two days,” my dad relates, when I asked him for his perspective. “The most devastating words showed up on my screen – you have been tested positive. I had not been vaccinated at that point, and didn’t know what this meant for me. That one confirmation that I had been fearing jolted me into action, and I immediately called the insurance company to try to source the first available hospital bed that could accommodate me, due to the scarcity at the time.”
“After 3-4 hours of anxiously waiting, the insurance broker finally called to tell me he had found me a bed at the World Medical Hospital in Nonthaburi – one I’d never heard of till then. I immediately started gathering my essentials for the next 14 days of my hospital stay. Imagine taking out your luggage not to pack for a holiday, but for a self-isolated stay with so much unknown. The hospital ambulance (without sirens) finally arrived at 10.30pm to pick me up. Inside, there was only the driver, who was fully-suited in his PPE gear, and I sat behind him, with no communication whatsoever throughout the 45-minute journey. During that ride, the emotions and reality of it all finally hit me like a tidal wave. It was something I never expected in my entire life. Upon arriving at the hospital, I was escorted by nurses in full PPE to my room. Suddenly it hit me that I was the infection. I was the person that nobody wanted to be exposed to. I placed my bag at one corner of the room and took a look around at the four walls that would now be my new home for the next two weeks,” was my dad’s recollection of that first harrowing night.
My mother had been out of town since the beginning of June to visit my sister in New York as she just had a baby. I was suddenly in charge of it all. My younger brother, exposed to my father, had been sharing meals and the common space with him all this time. Dread hung over our heads that he, too, would surely be positive. Luckily, we were spared. My brother, myself, and my husband all tested negative but that didn’t mean we were safe yet. According to the wait period, we wouldn’t be in the clear until 14 days since our exposure. For now, we had to stay home, stay away, and keep up our spirits for the sake of my father.
When asked, my Dad gave this account of the rest of his time in hospital:
“I woke up early the next day to discover that I had run a very high fever throughout the night. That was the start of a flurry of medication and continuous blood tests that would become a part of my life there. My daily routine of evening walks in the open, and office work that used to once consume me, no longer mattered.
The only interaction I had throughout my stay was with the fully-suited nurses who would visit me twice a day to check on my vital signs. The daily calls from my doctor, whom I had never met, was the thing I looked forward to every day with the hopes of hearing positive news regarding my recovery. The call would come through at around 11.30am and would last for 5-7 minutes depending on the number of questions I asked and answers received.
Family phone calls were the highlight of each day for me. Regardless of how high my emotions were running or the fear that was engulfing me, I constantly tried to be the smiling face on the screen. I didn’t want to emotionally burden my family in any way during this time. The doctor’s update every day had to be reported back to my family through me as the only point of communication. Unfortunately, the infection went to my lungs, which I assume could be the result of not having been vaccinated. When the doctor told me this, I went into a state of worry but not exactly despair. I was administered strong steroids, plus heavy doses of COVID meds that were supposed to help clear the infection. Chest X-rays had to be taken on a near-daily basis in order to see day-by-day improvement.
“The normalcy of being able to tuck myself into bed, sleep away the night, and awaken to a new day no longer existed. My nights suddenly became a source of worry and tension about the fact that the medicines administered were now playing tricks on my mind and body. The first five days seemed to pass in a blur, but after that it started sinking in. The countdown began for when I could hopefully go home. Not having any human interaction was truly hard, and the loneliness started engulfing me. You can tell yourself that you have to live with it, it’s a matter of only 14 days. You can try to watch all the movies you never had time for, you can read all the articles or novels on your list and tell yourself that time to yourself is what you’ve always wanted. But is it really true?
“Our inherent nature as human beings is to seek out other people, to get reassurance from those we love around us, be it your spouse, your children, or even your maids. So when that basic need gets taken away from you, we fall into a void, compounded by the sad reality of how COVID has suddenly transformed your life and theirs.”
Thankfully, the 14 days came to an end and my father got the green light to go home. It was not the end of his recovery period as he still had to do a 14-day home quarantine followed by another chest X-ray which thankfully turned out to be clear. Never had I experienced so much stress and worry in my life.
And in the end, my Dad found a silver lining in his gruelling experience: “The phone calls from family, friends, acquaintances and associates throughout those two weeks were a constant reminder of how we forget to appreciate the love and kindness from the people around us. The concern of my daily wellbeing was suddenly of paramount importance – something that I used to take for granted until now. I honestly don’t think I would have been so mentally composed if I didn’t get the full support either by daily phone calls or WhatsApp messages. People whom I had lost touch with, or hadn’t spoken to for so long, were calling me, concerned and checking in on how I was doing. I was truly and sincerely touched.”
I asked the rest of my family members to weigh in on their individual experiences during this time:
“I was confident that I would also get COVID. I was prepared to have to leave, and was preparing my mind for the 14 days of imprisonment that would accompany it. However, when the results came out negative, I was dumbfounded, so much so that I almost wanted to take the test again just to be absolutely sure.” (Ravidas, brother, 28)
“As an epidemiologist who works on COVID-19 surveillance, I was all too familiar with the stats, the research surrounding this pandemic. The moment my dad was diagnosed, however, shook me and everything I knew or thought I knew I now questioned. At that moment, I could simply pray. I prayed that all the possible consequences I knew about would not happen. I prayed my father would be spared from the serious implications of this disease. And I realised that whatever we know, however far science has brought us thus far, ultimately the course of this disease and its trajectory varies so much that you are simply powerless when it hits home.” (Karampreet, sister, 35)
“I’d already left for New York when what I had dreaded, happened. My husband was diagnosed with COVID – what do we do? How do we handle it? Do I fly back? My daughter also needed me – her baby was just born. I was torn and couldn’t sleep or function for the first five days. I was scattered, worried and anxious. Although I knew his health was being monitored at the hospital, not being in the country frightened me. God is great, however, and thankfully after eight days, improvement happened. It was a terrifying experience for us.” (Anit, mother, 59)
“After the initial shock of finding out that I was positive for COVID, I decided not to count down the 14 remaining days, until I would hopefully be cleared; that would have driven my mind crazy. I was only looking at doing whatever was in front of me, whatever that happened to be. It was Grace that carried us through.” (Sukhbir, cousin brother-in-law, 41)
“Covid’s not that bad if you don’t get it too strongly.” (Rahima, niece, 9)
“At first it didn’t feel so good because I was scared that I would get a bad reputation because I had COVID. But then it started to get better because when we moved to the hospital, people weren’t so scared of us and we started to get used to it. In all, it was not a bad experience.” (Mehma, niece 11)
“When I told our children that their test results came out positive, they were terrified. I realised we and the media had scared them into thinking that they would die. For the past year and a half, they were constantly hearing “put your mask on,” “don’t touch anything,” “wash your hands,” “sanitise,” and through all of this, I realised that their real fear was death.” (Harprem, cousin sister, 38)