The moment my brother developed symptoms of the coronavirus, I knew I would have to suffer too. I knew I was also getting it. Because in this whole world I am the only person who would brave this cruel germ to take care of my mentally disabled brother.
He had high fever, 103 degrees. And a slight discomfort in the chest. But no other symptoms like the dry coughs so emblematic of the disease. I took him to BIRDEM and had him put in a cabin. I also stayed with him because he could not take care of himself.
You see, my brother is a mentally challenged person. I have to take care of him. For the simplest things too.
So here I was in the same cabin with my brother. As a precaution I tried to be in PPE for a while. But in this heat and everything, I soon found out it was not possible to constantly keep on this protective gear. So I just had to take it off.
From that moment I had knowingly embraced this pandemic with open arms. But I never thought it would turn out this bad. So bad that I will have a close encounter with death. I thought I would just have some flu-like symptoms and get over it.
I actually had no choice. There were no nurses or attendants to take care of my brother. The nurses would peep in at certain times and remind me to give him the medicines. They would not even step inside the door.
The doctors would come once a day. They would be in PPEs, check on my brother and leave.
But a coronavirus patient needs a lot of support. They cannot walk to the toilet on their own. They simply don't have the strength. They have to be given the medicines. They don't have the awareness to take the pills themselves.
So I voluntarily chose to sacrifice myself.
On the fifth day of his admission, my brother's oxygen saturation became critically low. And it dropped real fast. Suddenly. He developed a severe breathing problem. His oxygen saturation level dropped to 85%.
But BIRDEM has no ICUs for Covid patients. I was frantically looking for an ICU. Finally, I found one at Green Life Hospital and shifted him there.
At that point of time, I was still alright. I had no symptoms or anything.
After he was taken inside the ICU, a nurse handed me eight Remdisivir tablets and asked me to give them to my brother. I was horrified. Because he was already on high flow oxygen with masks on his face. He was lying limp. How could I make the tablets go down his throat? He being a metally challenged person made the task even harder.
But I had no choice. So I ground a tablet to powder, mixed it in water and gave him a drink. My brother took a sip and started screaming. He refused to take it because of the bitter taste.
And then his oxygen level dropped to 82.
The doctor on duty said my brother needs to be put on life support immediately. I was terrified. I was confused. I was beyond any state of thinking clearly. I did not know what to do.
The doctor said if he is not immediately put on life support, he might not come back. His survival chance was dropping by the minute.
I was shaking all over. I was crying. What should I do now? Is he going to die? Will he come back? Will he die in my hands? Am I signing his death warrant? I had no choice. So I signed the papers and broke down in tears as he was put on life support.
I sat out that night outside the ICU. The next morning I booked a cabin because I have to be with my brother round the clock. It was then my husband called and said I might as well get tested because I shall get the virus anyway.
I went to have my samples collected and came down to the ICU unit. My heart was racing and it started pounding hard as I looked down at my brother's face. Inside the intubation tent, he looked unreal. He looked completely devastated. And he was not asleep as any other patient on life support. His eyes were wide open.That was a shock to me.
My brother has been on high-potency medicine for the last 30 years because of his neurological disorder. But the doctors at the ICU did not know that. So they had not given him the correct dose of medicine to put him to sleep.
He had all the pipes going through his mouth and nose. He could not close his mouth. His lips were chapped. Can you guess what kind of pain he was going through?
I told the doctors about his condition and asked them to administer other medicines. All this while my brother was staring at me. His eyes following me.
Two days later, my report came back. I was positive. I got admitted under a doctor there. They X-rayed me and a light shade was visible in my right lung and my treatment started.
By then I had developed a severe cough and my throat felt choked. I could not talk. I was sweating. But my fever was never too high. It hovered around 100 to 101 degrees.
I was given a long list of medicines. But I was still almost okay. I could walk around. I had no problem eating. I could take a shower. Every morning I would go down to the ICU and check on my brother.
But slowly I started to get worse. I became weak. My legs turned heavy as lead. My ears started ringing as I stood up to go to the bathroom. I felt dizzy.
The nurses would come and tell me to buy medicines. They didn't have all the medicines that I needed for coronavirus treatment. So I would go down to the pharmacy. But my legs would refuse to carry me. I was in a daze. I felt like I was hypnotised. I felt like a zombie.
My head had become blank. I lost the ability to think. I could not even remember anything. I kept forgetting the simplest things like taking my medicine or calling my husband, or taking back the changes from the medicine store.
As I plodded along the corridors I felt like something was dragging me down. As if I was in leg cuffs. As if I was carrying iron balls chained to my legs like a mediaeval prisoner.
For the first two or three days, I had no breathing problem. But on the fourth morning, I woke up to a great discomfort. I felt I was suffocating. There was no air in the room. It was as if I was sucking air in through a drinking straw. So little really entered my lungs.
I was gasping for air. I screamed to invisible persons, pleading them to open the window and the door so that I could breathe again. But it did not help. By some horrific induction, all the air from the room had been sucked away as it happens when a lot of bombs drop around you. It happened in Dresden during the Second World War when the allied forces had dropped loads of bombs at one go on that beautiful city and the explosions and the firestorm had sucked away all the air towards the citywide conflagration. People then gasped for air and died. They could not breathe just as I was now struggling for an ounce of air.
My oxygen level had gone down to 90. So the doctors put an oxygen mask over my face. I was still in my cabin. I developed heart palpitation. My husband called and advised me not to be alone in my room. I hired two attendants. One for the day and one for the night. They would wear PPEs and stay with me round the clock.
By now I had lost my ability to walk. I even could not go up to the toilet. I could not leave my bed. I felt like I was drowning in water. My heart was working in various rhythms. Very uneven. One beat was high and the other feeble. But all the time that pounding organ felt like trying to burst out of my ribcage. It is difficult to express how it felt.
Another two days went by. All this while I would scream for air. I did not want to breathe through that invisible straw. I asked them to keep the window and door open.
The nurses told me to lie on my chest. But that hardly helped me. How long can you hold that position?
Another two days passed and my oxygen saturation dipped even further. It was now 85%. I could hardly suck in the air. I started screaming harder.
I was scared. Because when I was attending my brother in ICU I saw two to three deaths every day. The undertakers from Markazul Islam would arrive in their pink PPEs. That scene started playing in my head. Will these pink guys come and take me away too? Wrapped in a body bag? Am I becoming a body bag? Another number added to the daily tally? Shall I be included in that abstract number in the corner of the newspaper page?
The doctors said the oxygen was not helping. I have to be shifted to the ICU. I could hear everything the doctors were saying. But I felt nothing. I tried to concentrate on what they were saying. But it seemed there was a hole in my brain through which the words were falling through. I felt no interest in anything. Even in my life and death. My body felt heavy and lethargic.
Eventually I was shifted to ICU and given high-flow oxygen. It continued for five days . Every day 15 litres of oxygen was being pumped into me.
I lay there the whole day, hearing the noises made by the patients around me. They mostly screamed. There was this old woman, a Bihari woman, who would not stop for a moment. She would cuss and howl. There were 20 patients in the room and I was the youngest. There was this police officer who was delirious and thought he was in his office. He would ask for his files, snap at his invisible staff who were too sloppy.
I thought of nobody. My husband, my children, nobody. It was just a blank state of my mind where nobody existed. Nobody called me. I talked to nobody.
The ICU is noisy. The patients are crying and moaning. The nurses are talking in high volume. And the constant beeps of the monitoring machines. Every second they were counting heart beats, oxygen saturation and other parameters. After sometime, the beeps hammered so hard on your brain that they got ingrained. You feel they are inside your system, streaming and floating. Your whole body would turn into a beeping rhythm.
I could not sleep. I kept my eyes open the whole day and night. Looking at nothing. Mostly. My head was blank. I could think of nothing. I just lay there and sometimes when I was bored I watched the men and women screaming.
And then every few hours, one patient would stop screaming. The hospital staff would come and screen off the bed. Later, the pink people would arrive from Markazul and take away the body.
I saw all this but hardly felt anything. I have never seen deaths as silent as this. Patients from this virus die so quietly. When the body is screened off, no doctor or nurse comes to check on them.
You were hearing this man screaming all the while. Then he stops. You think that he has fallen asleep. So you would also go to sleep. After a while you wake up and see the old man's bed screened on all sides. The first time I thought the guy must be doing his toilet. Then I saw these pink guys come and whisk his body away.
One day I heard the attendant saying, "Hey, this patient is bleeding from her nose. She is bleeding from her mouth. She is bleeding."
There was not a single doctor or nurse to check on the patient. She died. Very quietly. Death came for her silently.
There was this patient just opposite me. He was an old man in intubation. I don't know for how many days he had been there but he was here before I came in.
One morning, the sister suddenly said, "Oh-ho. He has gone flat."
Deaths were very lonely there. No relatives, no sons or daughters, wives or husbands came to receive the bodies. You just die alone.
One empty bed meant a new patient arrived. One is gone, the other comes.
During this time, I was given plasma twice. By this time both my lungs were infected.
About six days later, my situation improved and I was moved out from the ICU. I was still on oxygen. But I was much better. My breathing had eased. By now 15 days had passed. So I was now shifted to the cabin.
After about 15 days I returned home with my brother. He had also recovered from his critical stage. I still feel very weak. And I am yet to get back my full mental faculty. I am still a blank person. I cannot think of anything. Say, my brother tells me something. But it does not register in my mind. I keep asking "What did you say?" several times before I understand. And my body trembles from weakness. I feel so weak that if I sit down, I cannot get up. My blood pressure drops suddenly. And my sleep has disappeared. I was a sound sleeper. But now I spend my nights with a numb head and no sleep.
I feel drained out talking to you. I am already panting. I can feel my heart pounding high.
I feel that I got back a new life because Allah wants me to do something good. I am so lucky that Allah has brought me and my brother back from the clutches of death.
After I returned home, my husband told me my relatives, friends, and colleagues, everybody had prayed for me so that I would come back alive. And I have come back from the jaws of death.
I have not had my lungs X-rayed yet to get to know if I have had permanent damage to my lungs. I have read that it happens. But I don't feel like going to the hospital again. I am a dentist. I have to go out to work again. But right now I don't want to get exposed to the virus again. Not so soon.