It really felt like someone sneaking up on you stealthily and ruthlessly taking over your mind and body. While I do not remember the exact date, I believe it was around the 26th of March 2021. I had already seen my parents in a state of complete capitulation just a few days prior. My mother, who at the age of 64 could put the Energizer bunny to shame could barely move a limb, and my father seemed more distraught than the times he has been told that we’d be having pizza for dinner as opposed to ‘regular food’. And before we knew it, all eleven family members at home were hit by the ailment as if we were a length of rope doused in kerosene and duly lighted. The oldest was my grandmother, who unfortunately lost the battle to covid and the youngest was my niece who was just 10 days old. In between were my uncle, my aunt, my two cousins, my wife, my 5-year-old daughter and yours truly. While all of us were out of commission for a week or more, some of us decided to be adventurous and go for a staycation at various hospitals in the city, forcibly so.
The build up
The second wave of covid was similar to peak vacation season in the country where one would be hard pressed to obtain hotel bookings of choice. Everyone seemed to be vying for a hospital bed. While my parents were completely gripped by the ailment, they were stable, as were my wife, daughter and other family members. I, on the other hand was slipping into a less favorable position. My head seemed leaden and throbbed constantly. I was overcome with weakness like I had never felt before and pulling myself out of bed just to walk a few steps seemed like a task that should be considered in the same category as the nine labors of Hercules. My body burned with fever and I felt lethargic. Fortunately, I could still smell and taste my food, that is if I could get to it and feed myself. A few days into this melancholic scenario, I started to experience a throbbing pain under the left part of my chest. My parents and consulting physician deemed it as a natural occurrence amongst covid patients and advised me to sleep it off. I spent about ten days writhing in pain of varying categories and then my oxygen levels began to drop well below a comfortable threshold. If I remember correctly my SPO2 reading was between 86 and 89 at the time and my wife wasn’t doing much better with her oxygen levels either. Now everyone went into a frenzy making calls to the doctor, trying to organize for an oxygen concentrator, even considering admission at a hospital upon the doctor’s advice. Getting a hospital bed, let alone four or five was a different beast in itself. My poor parents and wife, while involved in the heat of battle with covid themselves were trying to get me a hospital bed. My wife’s energy and oxygen were waning every minute but she continued to make phone calls relentlessly in her desperate effort to obtain a hospital bed for me. It only took several hours of phone calls over two days while facing constant rejection, disappointment and ever-increasing anxiety and fear till they managed to acquire one for me at a very earthly hour of 1 am. Little did I know that this process would be repeated a few times in my household once I left for my allocated hospital. As I got dressed to leave in the middle of the night and packed my belongings, which comprised all of my phone and charger, I didn’t know that I would be away for a lot longer than anticipated and that a lot would be different upon my return.
The calm before the storm
At that time of the night, the 4-km drive to the hospital took a mere ten minutes, which during earthly hours could take anywhere between an hour and three days in Mumbai. My poor parents had to drive me despite not having recovered from covid themselves, and were still in a state of discomfort. As covid patients, we had to enter the hospital from one of its side entrances and as soon as I walked into the corridor I was made to sit down right in the alleyway and was held captive for about forty-five minutes, while they tested me for at least three dozen potential ailments. I could barely sit or keep my eyes open due to the weakness but the hospital staff attending to me insisted on playing twenty questions. And it was not like the topics were interesting.
By the time I was checked into my room after saying goodbye to my folks, I was exhausted but sleep was not on my mind yet. I wanted to take my surroundings in, which consisted of a wall and cabinet on the right side of my bed, a television set on the wall in front and as I try to recall, I have no distinct memory of the terrain on the left side of my bed. The entrance to my room opened into a small passage that housed the bathroom on the left, which was off limits for me as I was deemed very weak by the doctor to hop about the room. This was a fair assessment because I had certainly felt my energy wane over the previous ten days, and it was the lowest I had ever experienced in my life. Apart from the side table and television set, I had a portable toilet (let’s call it a porta potty) next to my bed on the left and it doesn’t make for great company. Neither does it evoke any pleasant feelings. When I look at a piece of chocolate cake, I want to pounce on it and devour it. When I looked at the pot however, I did not feel like “Yay, let’s do potty”. On the contrary, it just served as a constant reminder of my stinking presence. And just getting off my bed to use it and jumping back onto the bed was another one of those herculean tasks. The process of putting food in my mouth was hard and getting it out of my body was harder.
The next three days seemed like a haze. All I remember doing is eating in small quantities, trying to poop, responding to inquiries from family and friends on instant messaging, and in the evenings watching a bit of the IPL. I felt I had the energy to do none of it. In fact, just lying in the bed seemed onerous. And in between, just to ensure that I had no energy left whatsoever, the hospital food services in-charge would pick my brains on what I would like to eat for each meal and then most of the time send me what she wanted to, anyway. I sensed something was truly off with me while I watched the IPL. Now, cricket is a sport I have followed ardently (and played) over the previous three decades and I understand the finer nuances of the game well. Fundamentals like the sound of the ball hitting the bat, the direction the ball travelled in, the distance it covered, seemed completely out of place. This is something anyone that follows the sport would be able to tell. First, I thought the television set was acting up and deserved a place next to my porta potty. But I slowly realized that my senses were the culprit and they all seemed to be dimming simultaneously. I decided to keep up with this for two days, spending most of my time lying in bed, considering I was feeling even weaker. Watching television which required no movement at all was slowly becoming burdensome. The inquiries and good wishes from friends and family continued to pour in overwhelmingly and I was tempted to send a mass message to all of them with the three magic words – ‘Please fuck off’. Not because I don’t love and care for them and appreciate their love and concern for me. But because I was so frustrated and ensnared by my weakness and pain that I just wanted to be left alone to lay motionless in my bed. I was admitted in the wee hours of April 7 and while I followed this routine over the next three days, I have no memory of what happened on the morning of the 11th. My best guess is a Thanos snap.
The shit hits the fan
As we begin this section, I’d like to state that the porta potty in my room did not explode contrary to what the heading might suggest.
I learnt of the following only after they had occurred and passed. But the enigma of it all still prevails in my mind. I have no idea how I got into this state in the first place and before I knew it, a fortnight had passed.
First a macabre recap of events. At some point on April 11, just before noon, I collapsed owing to a variety of events occurring inside me eventually leading to multiple organ failure. Or someone was performing some illegal experiments on me that I was totally unaware of. My heart, lungs and kidneys were severely impacted and I suspect the coronavirus and the antibodies inside me had escalated their war to a nuclear level. Later, I realized that my skin too had suffered severe repercussions of this battle. I’m not sure why this was not reported in my file considering it is the largest organ on my person and I’m quite certain yours too. My oxygen level teetering in the mid to high eighties despite receiving support from an external device, plunged to a very unimpressive mid fifty figure in a span of minutes or possibly a few hours (I may never know). The readings of my vitals were second only to my marks during the final term of my first year in junior college. My attitude during those two years of my education were callous and embarrassing. I had become critical and was at the doorstep of the afterlife. In fact, I had one foot across and barely had a toe of the other on this side. This reminds me of my time batting with a foot on either side of the crease wondering if the next ball would get me out. Such negative thinking, I say. The second in command at the Covid ICU called my father and said I had turned into a Smurf. Well, his exact words were that I had turned blue. I won’t get into the events that occurred on that day but let’s just say I’ve seen better days.
I was in a medically induced coma for two weeks and while the body is in complete limbo, the mind can get very adventurous in a such a situation. I had the strangest of visions, some of which I remember vividly and some that are very foggy. The more I think about these visions, the more I feel that some of them were actually my experience of the afterlife, considering In was given a minimal chance of survival at the time. I remember being part of a procession that involved some sort of voodoo dancing and tribal exorcism along a meandering mud path surrounded by muddy hillocks no more than two storeys high. A central line was suspended a few feet in the air over this path and there were several pods (modak shaped) attached to it. The pods seemed to be made of some material that resembled a combination of Plaster of Paris and jute, and were translucent. I was inside one of these pods and the rest of the pods contained other unfortunate souls. Bare chested men with intimidating face and body paint danced and chanted along the length of the procession. If this wasn’t menacing, a few saree-clad women with big eyes and excessive makeup, enough to scare the bejesus out of Navy SEALs were also part of the gathering. In fact, they seemed to be priestesses and served as very important participants of the parade. They chanted some incantations as my pod passed and I watched on in apprehension trying to figure out where I was, how I got there and just what exactly was going on. And then the chain of pods went into motion like a really slow moving, yet petrifying roller coaster and the sole aim was not to give you a thrill ride but torture you as much as they possibly could. The pods lurched forward, downward, upward and repeated this cycle, giving me a glimpse of some really large and threatening insect like creatures. I gasped for air and clawed at the interiors of the pod trying to fight my way out but to no avail. It was a frantic effort on my part before I ran out of energy, succumbed to horror and dejection, and started the process again with a burst of energy. The procession seemed to mimic my persistence as it seemed to run on a never-ending loop. This definitely seemed like some sort of cleansing process before you were granted entry to the other world. I had no semblance of time but at least now I know what ‘forever’ might actually mean. Another vision I had was of me with my family but again I was bound in a pod, while my family seemed to be in a celebratory mood. They laughed, clinked glasses and made merry, while I was in an enclosure that barely allowed me to breathe. Occasionally one of them would come and ruffle my hair like I was a dog that wasn’t allowed to participate in the event and had to just observe while I was tied to my post. This experience again was horrifying and I couldn’t figure out if my family was oblivious to my situation or just didn’t care. These visions just seemed to play in a loop. I had other unpleasant visions too during this two-week period but I have experienced online schooling along with my daughter so let’s not fuss about these other experiences. I had experienced a nightmare within a nightmare within a nightmare, the makings of Inception meets Halloween. At some point I was brought back by the Hulk snap and I can relate to how each of those people that were snuffed out in the movie Avengers: Infinity War, may have felt having reappeared after five years without having existed through that five-year time frame.
As I started to come around with a complete sense of obscurity, I flitted between consciousness, semi consciousness, and what I can best term as sleep. This may have occurred over a few minutes, a few hours or even a few days, and I sense the latter is more accurate. Once I found my bearings, I was completely clueless about my surroundings. I was in a room that I didn’t recognize and just outside I witnessed activity of near hysterical proportions amongst nurses and other hospital staff. I figured I was just waking up from a nightmare and some of its visuals still prevailed in front of me or I was given a very unimpressive role in a low budget movie production. Then my attention was drawn towards myself. I had various tubes coming out of my face and neck, both my hands were bandaged, I was practically immobile, and parts of my body hurt. The memory of being admitted at the hospital came flooding into my head and yet my current situation seemed far removed from that particular instance and from a very different time. The first thought that crossed my mind was that the porta potty had indeed exploded. When I say I had absolutely no idea where I was and why I was there I mean exactly that. It was the strangest of feelings I have ever experienced. It might have been after the 25th of April that I had regained complete consciousness and was in a state of semi awareness. However, I was still unsure of where I was and why I was there. I learnt that apart from being physically handicapped for the most part, I was also mute, and being able to breathe comfortably was a bit of a luxury. I learnt from the nurses that while I was unconscious or semi-conscious, their team had done their best to save me but I had fought them off bravely. The next phase was going to be some ride.
While my family, friends and well-wishers may have been partly relieved upon my partial revival, my discomfort and frustrations were only about to begin. I keep telling people that coronavirus may not have been able to kill me but boredom could very well have. Boredom might have been the general theme but I experienced a medley of emotions during that last fortnight at the hospital. Initially the gravity of the situation was lost on me as I was in the process of trying to figure out my condition through diminished senses. But in a day or two I learnt that things had spiralled out of control rather briskly in my hospital room a fortnight earlier, and I was now a resident of the Covid ICU. I imagine a garment factory couldn’t be any more cacophonous than that place. I overheard conversations between doctors and nurses, which told me that some of my parameters were unflattering and I was still very much in a position to meet my maker. My time in the ICU gave me a glimpse into the lives of several Mumbaikars, who live in pigeonholes they are forced to call home. They have single room accommodations, the size of a closet, and communal bathrooms shared by a few dozen. My room did have a bathroom which was out of bounds for me as was anything beyond the railings of my hospital bed. My bed was my living accommodation and bathroom. Talk about bed-n-breakfast-n-poop. I had room service around the clock and for a few pints of blood and the joy of pricking me with needles several times a day, the nurses fed my body with nutrition through the tubes attached to my face. I was told that this will help me get better and allow me to go home. Talk about the present-day endeavour of ‘Give me blood and I will give you independence’. Apparently, they took loads of money on top of this too.
I’ve felt the last decade vanish in the blink of an eye. I can’t imagine an hour today is as long as what it was two or three decades ago. The earth is certainly spinning faster in my opinion and we haven’t been given the official notice yet. I was more active in my youth than I am now and definitely had more fun. Therefore, according to Einstein’s theory of relativity, time should have slowed down now. How then has twiddling my thumbs over these past few years made the days go faster? I couldn’t twiddle my thumbs at the hospital since both my hands were wrapped in bandage and had rendered them as passive bystanders. I understood time at the hospital like I never have before. It was a crushing experience. The first time I gestured (I couldn’t speak at the time) to a nurse asking what time it was she asked me if I was hungry. I had pointed at my wrist, made a circle indicating the face of a watch and even lifted my wrist mimicking the action of someone checking the time. I realized then why the game is called ‘dumb charades’. And it wasn’t because I could not speak. However, when she did figure it out, she told me it was 10 am. A few hours passed and I asked her for the time again and she said it was 10:15 am, of the same day mind you. And then I got really worried. For her. I wanted to tell her that she needs to check herself into one of the rooms and get some oxygen into her body as well. However, based on my experience earlier that day, I figured that enacting this thought could keep me in the hospital for a very long time, without making any headway. I was alarmed at learning that it was indeed 10:15 am. Now I figured there was some conspiracy brewing. I felt this way about many things at the hospital but we won’t get into that. To feel the weight of every second of your life as it passed in slow motion was cumbersome. I was a prisoner in my own mind, trying to gauge the outcome of my situation.
I felt like a lifeless rag for the first ten days or so after I awoke from my beauty sleep. I had to be moved around, even from side to side, and onto my back on my own bed. My sponge time was at a very comfortable 3 am and it took three people to sponge me, change my clothes and bedsheets, dress my bed sores and reconnect all the devices to my being. I didn’t mind it as I barely slept on any given day, and this was the only time I felt a little clean. I didn’t appreciate them tossing me around the bed during this gimmick and I was in a good mind to challenge one of the helpers to a wrestling bout in a year’s time. Having overheard a few conversations between nurses and doctors, I knew that my condition was precarious. But how on earth were the bedsores not on top of that list? After a couple of days, only the bedsores made me feel like I was alive and how. A bedsore on one’s bottom can serve as a perpetual reminder of a very painful existence. No matter what position I sat or lay down in, it wouldn’t stop kissing the bed. Nutrition was another fun experience. I was fed through a tube that passed through my nose, and it was my only experience of finding my tummy full within two minutes of having begun the meal without having to move a muscle. Why then were we asked to eat slowly as children? I think parents have it all wrong. We shut the noses of our children and stuff food into their mouths. We should do the exact opposite. This would ensure that their bodies received nutrition without any protests.
I had very little semblance of time for almost my entire stay at the hospital but my daily routine looked something like the following. A sponge at 3 am, sometimes at 4 am depending upon the mood of the incumbents on the day, which was generally dictated by their previous night shenanigans and comprised mainly of arguments amongst themselves and frustrations from the day’s events. I was given heavy medication so there was no pooping or pissing for the first few days, which felt great compared to what came later. My dressings were changed as and when required. I was given a handful of pricks every day, which were a combination of injections and blood withdrawals. Liquids were poured down the tube attached to my nose thrice a day. I had visitors from the medical staff like I was a recently unearthed ancient relic on display. In fact, very early every morning, I was propped up on pillows in a half sitting, half sleeping position to pose for an Xray. I looked something like this.
I’m not even sure the portable contraption was an actual Xray. It might have been a sizeable camera that these folk were wheeling around the ward every morning to see which one of us clowns would make it to the cover page of their monthly magazine. I’ve got to get the June edition because I’m sure I had the winning number of votes by a landslide.
Some of the nice staff members would come over for a brief chat, ask me how I felt and offer words of kindness and encouragement. The rest of the time I was in a daze and moved in and out of momentary sleep. However, things became more dynamic after a few days when I was fully awake and had near complete awareness.
When I was told of what had transpired over the previous fortnight or so, I had no clue how it had come down to that. I was fairly active, had no major consumption vices, and had reasonably healthy organs. Perhaps I shouldn’t have stopped my daily dose of Chyavanprash. In fact, all people should just consume Chyavanprash as a force field against Coronavirus. Scientists may be getting close in their knowledge about the constitution and evolution of Coronavirus in just two years but four decades later no one knows what Chyavanprash contains. For a few days after gaining consciousness, for some reason I thought I was in Kerala. I couldn’t speak and therefore couldn’t ask and I’d learnt my lesson about dumb charades the hard way. I was too weak to hold a pen to write. How would I communicate? A doctor had a brain wave and offered me his phone asking me to type my query and somehow, after a dozen attempts, I managed to do so. He was amused and told me that I was in the same hospital I was admitted to and I had only been moved from my room to the Covid ICU. My chest swelled with confidence, knowing that in my own city, that too so close to home, I was king. This certainly helped me mentally and I would need it.
Now we had two types of nurses, the experienced one who brought enough empathy to the workplace and the young ones who were always under the pump and needed rescuing themselves. Even one statement of encouragement and affection got me through a whole day which could be very trying. However, I didn’t receive it very often as the experienced nurses were on duty with the more critical patients, and rightly so. I had passed the stage of extreme criticality, and boredom and helplessness, along with some misbehaving vitals were my primary banes at the time. I overheard gossip and exchanges between nurses and doctors regularly and they always spoke about a different parameter being off the charts. This was concerning because I was really worried about how long I would have to stay there. I just wanted to get out, whether it was in a body bag or on my feet. Eventually it was neither. I was wheeled out and it was amongst the most glorious and happy rides of my life. Coming back to the conversations, the one that topped the list was about how much hair I had lost. I looked at my shaved forearms and thought to myself that they better be talking about that. But in my heart, I knew that was not the case. This was a real disaster. Sure, some of my organs had taken a hit but you can’t see them in the mirror and neither can others. But the hair on your head is a completely different story. People can see it when it’s there and also see that it isn’t there. And we live today only to make sure others are pleased with our appearance, presence, obeisance, and the list goes on. Let’s see how many of you catch on to the sarcasm. All that glitters is gold, isn’t it? On a positive note, a bald head does glitter.
Slowly but surely, each of my endangered vitals began to improve and the only things that lingered were weakness, virtual immobility and a lot of frustration. As my health improved, the attention of the medical staff was diverted towards patients that were in a state similar to mine from a fortnight ago. Despite all the hustle and bustle around me I became very lonely and I felt like I was stuck in a time loop. The head of the Covid ICU decided that I was ready to consume food orally but that didn’t last too long. I had an immediate setback and I was back to being fed via the subway tubes that passed through my nose. In fact, I was barred from consuming water too and I had to spend three-day stints of going without any water at all, on three different occasions. I succumbed the first time but the determination of going home and putting my family and friends out of their misery helped me power through the next two. I felt like a man stuck in the desert and the most I could ask for is that the nurses dab my lips with wet cotton a couple of times a day. My lips had chapped to the extent that they looked like giant moth balls and a whole new mouth on top of my mouth. I could have auditioned for the role of the Joker in a Batman flick. And potentially even the role of Scarecrow without the need for a hooded mask. Without getting into too many details of my recovery period and all the drama, I began to show improvement, and food channels were opened to me again. Speaking of food, if you’d like anything edible, I recommend you look elsewhere. Most, if not all hospitals aren’t for you. Every morning when I wear my bathroom slippers, I say to myself, that probably tastes like the ‘uthapas’ I had last summer.
There is one action sequence that I’d like to write about. Something that is still a partial mystery to me. I’ll be brief. One night, while I was staring at the ceiling in my room, I heard a lot of commotion coming from the corridors outside. I heard screaming, crying, and the occasional thumping of human body against wood. The first thought that crossed my mind was ‘finally some entertainment’. I could barely move my head from side to side but I had a surge of energy pass through me and I tried to sit up, even stand. Unfortunately, that surge of energy was only mental and my body refused to comply. The hullabaloo continued and from the exchange of animated words, I figured that some people were really ill and an emergency surgery was to begin immediately. The next three or four days was a live version of the show, Crime Patrol. All sorts of characters were present at some point during this charade. I figured out that the first night a man, two women and a small child had shown up amidst the commotion. There were definitely more, but these four were inmates along with me. Both women claimed that the man was their husband, but from what I could gather, one was actually his mother. Makes no sense, right? Join the party. The poor child let out yells of anguish every now and again till she was put in another room. The man was apparently beating one of the women in the Covid ICU and was locked in another room and made every attempt to break down the door. Nurses screamed and some even broke down amidst the chaos over these few days. A day into the drama, one of the women had succumbed to death based on what I gathered from the whispers of the nurses. The doctors were trying to assuage the situation and also issued threats to the man. I also overheard that this guy was known to a don or a gang head with some clout. They were also residents of Oman and seemed to have come to Bombay only to create a ruckus at one of the hospitals, it seems. And they were allowed to order food in the ICU, can you believe it? Biryani, kebabs and the like appeared for every meal. How do I know? Well, as bad as my case of Covid may have been, I did not lose my sense of smell or taste. In an odourless environment the fragrance of that stuff came wafting to my nostrils. I was eating rubber for heaven’s sake. Surely, they could have parted with a piece of chicken tandoori. The cops came down one night and issued another threat. Senior personnel at the hospital were making calls to their powerful network to get this guy in order. A few nurses went down to the local police station to serve as witnesses to everything that transpired over those four days, which tells me that the death of the woman may not have been natural. But the wailing over those few days transported me to a prolonged death procession. As if things around me weren’t bad enough. At times the decibel levels increased to such an extent that I almost expected guns to come out and shots to be fired. I was in the firing line and had my water jug ready to be used as a helmet and my bed pan as a chest plate. Mark 1.0. I was Iron Man! This entire 4-day screenplay occurred in the room across from me but the entrance to that room was at an angle and I could only see the exterior of one of the walls of the room. Therefore, this was like a podcast with nurses filling me in on finer details during their internal gossip and outbursts. I still want to know what happened. A few days before I left, I even asked a nurse and she denied the whole thing. But I know I had heard the entire episode exactly as I’ve relayed above just by her countenance.
As if this was not enough, a senior resident doctor’s (I assume) daughter had scored 90% in something and everyone was thrilled. Just when that previous spectacle had ended, a new, albeit a shorter one began. There was a bit of whooping several times a day like all of us patients were already corpses and wouldn’t mind the pandemonium. Then to my surprise, they threw her a party right at the nurse’s station in the center of all the rooms. At one point, I saw a young boy tailed by a large balloon zip past my room. The party moved to the floor above the one I was on and that didn’t help. I could hear the loud bass through my window and eventually had to make a noise complaint. I have gone to college in the USA, discos and dance clubs were my sister’s adopted homes, and yet I have never had to issue a noise complaint. Who would have thought doing so at a hospital ICU would be my first? I’m not sure where the lady of the moment had scored 90%, but it better have been her cumulative percentage in her twelfth boards or at the entrance examination of a worthwhile college program, and not in fourth grade arithmetic.
During my last week at the hospital, food had regularized and I was offered four meals a day of which I managed to eat three at the most, that too partially. While I had to be fed initially, the nurses decided after the first two days that I was capable of feeding myself. I still struggled to hold a spoon but just like in every other scenario, my complaints were minimal to nonexistent. I put myself through whatever test I had to endure. I was at the hospital during the whirlwind portion of the Delta wave and I had sensed that my co patients were in dire straits. As mentioned earlier, it was only right that once my condition began to improve the nurses would tend to other critical patients. In the process, my food was forgotten on several occasions, at times just lying on a table at more than an arm’s length from me but I couldn’t get to it. I spent hours of some days hungry as my call bells went unanswered, dreaming of all the things I would eat when I got home. I have not thought about food as much as I did over the course of those few days ever in my life. And while I thought of pizzas and desserts previously, I thought of fruits and vegetables at the hospital. Talk about a cleansing process. And what’s more, when I did return home, I had lost 17 kilograms in five weeks. I had not managed even half the success in over five years. Well done to everyone involved.
However, something that was mortifying for me was the post processing portion of the food. I was still bed ridden and the bathroom was off limits. I had a urine bag attached to me and that goddamn thing would malfunction every now and again. I must have wet my bed more than half a dozen times and each time I had to be cleaned and sponged which ate into my time of staring at the ceiling. I believe I had to undergo some complex interventions to be brought back from the brink of death to where I was and the medical team seemed to have done a great job. But even three of four put together could not figure out how to correctly install the urine bag to avoid any mishaps even if their life depended on it. I was like that kid in the locality with the biggest water gun on Holi, spraying everyone and everything around him. This was embarrassing as an adult. I was stuck in the mind of a 40-year-old who had the bodily functions of a three-month-old. Pooping was even worse as I had to wait up to an hour at times just to have my call bell answered and for someone to bring me a bed pan. With my complete lack of strength at the time, this was very difficult. I found the experience of using one repulsive. On top of that I had to ensure that I was aiming correctly, without actually resting my bottoms on the pan to protect my very fresh bed sore. I had to hover over the pan and get into positions that defied gravity.
Now only if I had that jacket and those sunglasses on.
By the time early May came about, most of the tubes from my body had been removed and my vocal cords were back in action. I still looked like I had been rescued from under a collapsed building, and despite the coaxing from the doctors and nurses to speak with my family, I refused to do so. I didn’t want them to see me or sound like I did. Eventually I came around and got on a daily call with my parents, wife and daughter. They were brief but very energizing. When I saw them on the phone screen with shots of my home in the background, it seemed like all that had occurred in a different lifetime, and despite my resilience and will, I wondered if I would ever experience it again. True that my condition was improving but the way I felt I had still not negated the chance of not making it. In fact, I did have a couple of episodes where my breathing became difficult and I gasped for air like I was drowning. The medical team had to come to my aid to relieve me of this misery. However, I had come this far and I wasn’t going to go without a fight. Amidst all this there was a love story brewing between a helper and a nurse right across my hospital bed with me as a mute referee in the middle and at one point I definitely had the following expression on my face. ‘Corona pyaar hai’ I suppose.
During the last few days, the doctors decided I needed to exercise and gave me a few basic routines that I could do while lying in bed. They began to make me sit for an hour or so every evening and even walk a few paces, which seemed like running a half marathon. I had changed multiple rooms during my time at the ICU. The room I spent my early days in had a small window behind my bed so I had no view of the outside world. However, with about a week to go, I was shifted to another room which had a nice big wall to wall glass window on my left that gave me a view of several towers and black kites soaring well above them. My sitting regimen began in the previous room but it was this room that gave me a better view. It took two people to haul me off my bed and put me on a chair next to it. I would stare at the buildings in the distance and there was one particular building I used to look at. I had zeroed in on one home a few floors above my own in that building, but with the distance it was only slightly above eye level. I would begin the sitting process a little before sunset and slowly lights would come on in all the buildings as the setting got darker. As the lights came on in that home, I would sense a warmth inside me. The lights in that home gave me a sense of my own family that I was so eager to see again. Those lights are what I waited for each day. The lights in that home were a sign of life for me.
There was a lot of talk about letting me go home from late April but the decision or the day never came as my condition was unconvincing. And then the day came when my doctor told me that I would be discharged in two days. I was thrilled because I thought the only place I would go to from the ICU, would be a regular room for a few days before I actually got to go home. I worked even harder on my exercising and prepared myself the best I could to avoid any setbacks. I did not want to give anyone an opportunity to keep me there any longer.
I was changed into my home clothes late in the evening on May 12, 2021 and now I truly believed that this was it. I was finally going home. I was put on a wheelchair and wheeled through half the floor to get to the elevators. I saw many patients with tubes in them and barely alive. I figured this was what I looked like not too long ago. A sense of remorse passed through me and I prayed that every one of them gets to go home soon. I know a few didn’t make it, including several in my own family. To this day I feel guilty about surviving while so many people known to me and unknown to me didn’t have the same fortune as me. People say I’m silly about feeling this way but I do feel it and for good reason. My experience is only mine to bear just like everyone that cares for me had their own challenges and experiences while I was in the hospital. The best way for me to explain this is the following. Think of me as a solider that is fighting a common enemy with his comrades. I managed to survive the war but several faces that stood next to me in the heat of battle did not. It’s a very humbling feeling and one that makes me question why I deserved good fortune more than them.
All the complaints and challenges aside, I know I came home because of the caliber and passion of the medical staff, especially the nurses. I came home because of the prayers of my family, friends and well-wishers. I came home because I was lucky to have obtained a hospital bed in the first place. I came home because I literally put up a fight for my life.
When I was brought down into the hospital lobby, one of my closest friends was there along with my parents to receive me and drive me home. This is when I felt that I had returned to life as I knew it. The drive home and the entry into my apartment was a surreal experience. I had to fight hard to hold back tears when I saw my hospital party as well as my wife and daughter. As I lay down on my bed, the first thing I did was stare at my ceiling. This was familiar, this was comforting.
My bed sores continued to plague me for months after having returned home and normal activity was a brutal task. Pictures of my bed sores, especially on my bum were being taken and shared via messenger with various doctors. I’m sure they were forwarded onwards as well. My bum is now a celebrity and I have not seen a rupee in royalty yet.
Eight months on my body had not recovered completely and I did experience aches, pains, reduced motion of my limbs, and the occasional days of fatigue, but I know that with discipline, consistency and endurance, I will reach my optimum capacity. Now just over a year later, I have returned to normal functioning with the exception of my pre-covid endurance for intermediate to intense physical activity, some joint and bone related pain, and the lifelong scars to bare on my neck.
I consider myself fortunate not only to have survived but to have so many of you think of me and pray for me while I did my tight rope walk. From what I hear it was an overwhelming experience for you all and I’m sorry for putting you through it. And I applaud you all on your courage and generosity for wanting me back….;)