I roll down the car window for the person in the PPE suit to take my nasal and throat swabs. For months, we’ve seen images in the media of frontline workers in PPE suits, seeing one inches away from my face feels surreal. The nasal swab is piercing and my eyes well up. Test over, the Covid Warrior nods. I can’t tell if its a man or a woman but offer my thanks for the fearless role they play. I roll up the car window, little knowing that the Warrior is the last person I’ll see in 17 days.
‘Covid positive’, says the report, a verdict more piercing than the stinging nasal swab. Having self-isolated since the first signs of fever four days earlier, I read and re-read the report, hoping for a different result. Despite the unremitting use of masks, hand sanitizers and sprays, I’ve been blindsided by a shrewd and unsparing opponent. I slowly absorb the weight of the report and steel myself for the road ahead. I inform my family and senior colleagues, sorry for the anxiety it will cause them.
“Can I tell a friend?” asks my 15-year-old daughter on a video call later that evening. “Of course,” I say, adding that we will go about this in an open and informed manner. Discreetly but anxiously, she scans my face and asks why my eyes are puffy. I tell her that the fever is to blame for my swollen eyes, though in reality it was the thought of my physical separation from her that had driven me to tears earlier in the day. I can see her bravely holding up and my heart aches at not being able to hug her when she needs reassurance and comfort. We’re both hurting, both trying to put up a brave face.
New cases, deaths, recoveries – for those of us in a newsroom, these three Covid statistics are what we process daily. As I pick up the newspaper the next day, the statistics seem personal. I’ve become part of the story – a ‘new case’. For an avid news follower, I suddenly find it difficult to read the papers or watch the news. Stories of Covid deaths and images of patients struggling in hospital derail my sense of calm, stirring anxiety. I make the difficult decision not to follow the news for the next few days, sending myself deeper into isolation.
The wily virus manifests itself differently for different people. I have no cough or cold, only fever and body ache for the first few days. My temperature dips in the day, lulling me into believing that I’m on the mend. By the evening, I watch with trepidation as the digits on the thermometer rise – 100, 101, 101.5. The nights are long and uncertain – tossing and turning, feeling hot and cold. There’s a dull ache in my head and my legs hurt. I spend several nights sitting up – pressing my head with one hand, my legs with the other.
And then there’s the Oximeter – a must-have accessory for Covid cases. Several times a day, I check my oxygen levels, levels that can dip precipitously for those affected by Coronavirus. Many stressful moments are spent in isolation waiting for the Oximeter to deliver its verdict – mercifully, it doesn’t let me down.
Despite being in isolation, my family and friends make sure I’m not alone, making their presence felt in countless ways. My husband dutifully leaves my food and an endless supply of hot drinks outside my room. Since my daughter won’t be seeing either parent for weeks, my sister steps in to fill her parents’ shoes. Not just that, she runs my house remotely and updates the civic authorities and RWA about my Covid status . My sister-in-law who is a doctor takes charge of my recovery while our reassuring NDTV doctor calls several times a day to ask how I am. Supportive messages from friends, cousins and colleagues flood my inbox, while parents of friends ensure one doesn’t feel the loss of one’s own. Touchingly, former colleagues who I haven’t met in years send messages of support. I may be hermetically sealed off, but the world breaches my walls to reach me.
Day 7 is crucial. From here on, it’s wait and watch as I’m told you can either get better or take a turn for the worse. I try to stay calm, banking on books and Netflix, which my daughter has finally prevailed upon me to download. Yet, it’s an anxious wait, waking up each morning wondering if this is the day I’ll finally flatten the curve. A colleague has been in the Covid ICU and is in need of plasma therapy – a stark reminder of the turn Covid can take.
Daily video calls with my daughter are a precious time of day. It’s been a tough few months for her – Covid sent her into post-board exam lockdown, robbing them of downtime with friends, physical classrooms and summer vacations. Now, not just are friends, teachers and classes online, so are her quarantined parents. She understands it’s a battle the world is up against and doesn’t complain.
By Day 9 , the fever and body ache subside. What follows is an intermittent shortness of breath. As an asthmatic prone to seasonal asthma, I hope it’s just that. At the back of my mind, I know the havoc Covid can play with the respiratory system. As any asthmatic would know, not being able to breathe easy is distressing. I push away thoughts of ventilators and oxygen masks and rely on steam inhalation, breathing exercises, asthama medication and my inhaler to help me breathe easy. My sister in the U.S. suggests I shut my room window, just in case it’s letting in some allergens. A week later, I can breathe easy again.
Quarantine over, I step out into the disorienting sunshine of a Delhi summer. I surprise my daughter who wasn’t expecting me. The anxiety I saw on her face over video calls makes way for a Kodak moment. There’s nothing more I can wish for.
I may have recovered from Covid but there is no room for celebration. I’m deeply grateful for having seen the light at the end of the tunnel. My heart goes out to those who went down fighting and to families who won’t see loved ones again. I’m filled with gratitude for frontline workers, bravely fighting an invisible enemy, staking all that they have for a cause larger than themselves. In these uncertain times one thing’s for sure – God appears in many avatars, PPE suits is one of them.
(Gauri Datta Gupta is Executive Editor, Assignment with NDTV 24×7)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.