Stories from the pandemic: How Covid-19 affected lives of a cross-section of people


A 32-year-old who recovered from Covid-19 in Bihar. A preacher in Manipur who is thankful that all his contacts have tested negative. A doctor in Kerala who is keeping himself updated on the latest developments. A retired teacher flying from the US on a Vande Bharat flight. All of them have been directly or indirectly affected by the pandemic. Here are their stories:

Deepak Kumar, 32, operation executive with a private firm, Patna

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It is just seasonal cough and cold, Deepak Kumar was told by his doctor. But soon he landed up at the Nalanda Medical College & Hospital in Patna along with his parents. All three tested positive for Covid-19. “The sight of the ward, which used to be a deaddiction unit, made us feel sicker. The toilet had no door. There were no bed sheets or ceiling fans and the mattresses were torn. We were given disposable masks every third or fourth day. Not even a nurse passed by to ask about our well-being on the first day,” he recalls.

With no dinner served the first night, they went to bed eating Parle-G biscuits, says Kumar. The next morning they were shifted to the skin ward, which at least had bed sheets and a ceiling fan and a common washroom with a door. “Since the sweeper refused to clean it, we did it ourselves. Water, if demanded today, was given the next day.” In seven days, his father and mother were discharged.

Kumar says there was no sanitiser in the hospital. “As for medicines, I was given azithromycin 500 mg, paracetamol, two tablets of Vitamin C and D, all wrapped in a paper and thrown at me for the first four days. Fifth day onward, I was given only Vitamin C and D tablets. Two days later, two tablets of hydroxychloroquine were given for four-five days.” In 14 days, he too was discharged.

“The ambulance dropped me a kilometre from my house,” he says. “More than Covid, I feel I have survived the filthy ward of Bihar.”

Maulana Haji Abdur Rehman, 53,Religious preacher, Thoubal, Manipur

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Haji Abdur Rehman was happy to be back with his wife and children in Manipur’s Thoubal town. He had returned from Nizamuddin Markaz, Delhi, on March 11. A week later, Rehman, his wife and 10 kids were at the Covid-19 ward of RNC Hospital in Imphal, after he was traced and tested.

“There are no outcry around Covid-19 when I went to attend the congregation in early March,” recalls Rehman. Three days after his return from Delhi, Rehman had cough, sore throat, fever, weakness and high blood sugar. “I am diabetic and had tuberculosis in 2016; so I thought maybe the TB was back. My doctor thought the symptoms could be due to diabetes and gave medicines accordingly, which did not help much.” Soon he was taken to the government hospital by health department officials.

“The first two days I was given Vitamin B and C tablets. On Day 3, I had to take some pills twice a day. I was told these were to treat Covid-19.” He suspects these were hydroxychloroquine. “My room was clean. Meals were simple and we got an egg with breakfast. I started feeling better from the sixth day. Doctors came to see me every few hours. A nurse was always stationed outside my room, should I need anything. What more could a sick person want?” asks Rehman.

After testing negative thrice, he was discharged after 15 days. “I am happy that none of my 100-odd contacts, including my children, tested positive.” Will he resume his work after the lockdown? “It is up to my religious leaders in Manipur and Nizamuddin. I simply follow their advice.”

Sushila Kataria, 43, Director of Internal Medicine, Medanta, Gurgaon, Haryana

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Sushila Kataria, director of internal medicine at Medanta, Gurgaon, and head of a group of doctors treating Covid patients at Medeor Hospital, Manesar, must have seen at least 80 Covid patients between the two hospitals by now.

“Every morning we devise a strategy for each patient: on who needs which medicines and what tests.” Medicines include paracetamol, Vitamin B, C, D and zinc tablets, hydroxychloroquine, tocilizumab and sometimes azithromycin. Kada (a concoction of herbs and spices) was given only to those who were participating in ayurvedic trials.

“We closely analyse patients who need neurological support or have comorbidity. If there is any deterioration, immediate decisions are taken,” she says.

But things were different on March 3 when she started treating her first Covid patient from Italy at Medanta. “We only had early results of clinical trials from China and Italy. I spoke to doctors in Italy to find out their line of treatment but the situation there was worse. There is no standard treatment for Covid patients and since we are part of clinical trials, we have to follow certain protocols. With the Italian patient, we also set up an ICU in the ward itself. A 24-hour camera was put above him so I could monitor him even from home.”

She carries her share of anxieties home. “I try and keep to my room. My children — aged 13 and 16 — understand the situation.” For someone who has treated 80 patients over 75 days, she knows that this virus is here to stay. “One day I will get the virus. So why not perform my duty well first?”

Haimanty Dattagupta, 81,Retired teacher evacuated by Vande Bharat Mission

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The huge San Francisco International Airport was eerily empty and silent when I reached on May 13 to check in for the special flight evacuating stranded Indians. The only hub of activity was the Air India check-in counter.

I was visiting my daughter in the US and the disruption of flights had been a source of concern. My regular prescription medicine was dwindling. I was also worried about my visitor visa becoming invalid. It was a big relief when the consulate general of San Francisco said I had been selected for evacuation. The checkin at SFO airport took several hours but officials ensured that medical check-up and other processes were carried out efficiently. Social distancing was maintained and all the officials and passengers wore masks and gloves. Our temperature was checked and doctors asked us about our health condition.

In the plane we were given bags with dry food packets, water bottle and a plastic face cover. I was in the business class; a screen separated my fellow passenger and me. The crew were all in protective gear and the usual services were not offered. Passengers using washrooms were told not to queue up on the aisle.

At Delhi, disembarkation took almost an hour, as passengers had to move slowly, maintaining distance. We had to use plastic face covers over masks. The process of health check, immigration and boarding the buses for hotels where we had to be quarantined for 14 days took over four hours. At the hotel, I cannot leave my room. The staff leave the food outside my room in disposable containers. I’m reading, making video calls and keeping abreast of news on my tablet.

(Haimanty is the mother of ET Magazine reporter Ishani Duttagupta. This account is as told to Ishani)


Rohit Dutta, 45, businessman, New Delhi

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Rohit Dutta is “very busy” these days. He is playing snake and ladder with his daughter. “Covid-19 has changed my perspective. Family time is indispensable for me now.”

When he developed sore throat and fever after returning from Italy in February, his doctor dismissed it as flu. When there was no relief, he got himself admitted to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Delhi. There were two others with him. “When their tests came negative, I too packed my stuff. But the doctor said I will be shifted to Safdarjung hospital.

“At Safdarjung, three doctors in PPE kits broke the news that I was positive and counselled me at the same time. All of my 50-odd contacts were traced; they tested negative.” Meanwhile, his cough got worse and by the third day, he had a coughing fit when he spoke. “But switching my phone off was out of the question as it was the only connection with my family.”

He says, “Since those were early days, there were no clear protocols for treatment. Doctors weren’t very sure of what to administer though they were very attentive and responsive. I was given only antiflu tablets. Diet was simple and milk was given once a day.”

As he goes back for a game of Ludo with his two kids, he says, “At the hospital, I could only see my children on video calls. When I got back home, I was on quarantine. I still could not hug them. I wondered which was worse — staying at the hospital or at home without being able to embrace my children?”

Umesh Shah, 70, former businessman, Ahmedabad, Gujarat

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Umesh Shah, 70, first had stomach pain. The next day, fever set in. Shah had rarely stepped out of his home except to get milk from a shop next-door every evening. “I got myself tested for Covid-19 at a private lab in Ahmedabad. I was positive.” Acting proactively and fearing for the safety of his wife, he called the Civil Hospital who sent an ambulance in no time. He was hospitalised and his wife quarantined.

“I was given oxygen from the first day of my hospitalisation as I had trouble breathing. I was shifted to the ICU on Day 3. My medicines were routine: Vitamin C, folic acid and Vitamin B complex tablets. Some fluids were also injected on a daily basis. I was definitely not given hydroxychloroquine,” he says.

In the morning, he was given kada — a concoction of herbs and spices — followed by chai-biscuit, and breakfast with egg. A simple lunch was followed by tea and biscuits again around 4 pm. “Dinner was always served with warm milk.”

Shah says doctors came round the clock to enquire about his health. “For X-ray and ECG, machines were brought to the ward itself.” Not being charged a single penny for his 23-day stay was another relief for Shah, a former businessman. “Had I gone at other times, I’m sure I would have been charged `3-4 lakh.”

Shah says that in his more than threeweek stay, he saw or heard of 15 Covid-19 deaths in that hospital. “Sometimes I would feel down and out. But soon I would think of my wife and wanted to live and be back home with her.”

At home, Shah still tries to figure out how he contracted the virus but he hasn’t got any clear answers. “I think I was just destined to test positive for Covid-19 and get cured positively.”

Sharath Thomas Roy, 33, Doctor at Pathanamthitta General Hospital, Kerala

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We began treating Covid-19 patients at our hospital in Pathanamthitta from March 6. Based on what we read in various medical journals, discussions with colleagues here and abroad and rough guidelines from the Kerala government, we treated them mainly with three drugs: Fluvir, an antiviral drug used for flu; azithromycin, which is an antibiotic; and hydroxychloroquine.

We noticed that while patients below 40 years had mild symptoms, those above 40 years had fever, cough and breathlessness in the initial stages. Once we put them on the three-drug regimen, they began responding slowly, after three days or so.

Since we were dealing with a new virus, we kept ourselves updated through various webinars. I have attended more webinars in the past two months than in my two years of MD.

We are a team of three doctors and have treated 19 patients so far. The biggest challenge has been keeping their spirits up. Right now, we have five patients, and one of them was admitted when she was pregnant. She delivered her baby but she is struggling with postpartum depression and guilt that she cannot breast-feed. Changing the patient’s mood is tough — imagine being stuck alone in a room for over 20 days, with the only person you meet being someone in a PPE kit whose face you can’t see properly. In some cases, we had to take the help of our psychiatrist.

Personally, I was apprehensive at the beginning because both my parents are above 60, my father is diabetic and my wife was carrying at that time. As soon as I reach home, I wash myself in a bathroom outside and change my clothes before going inside.

To be frank, we are more scared now. People seem to have a false faith — they think that Covid-19 is like any other disease, that they can be cured easily. When the lockdown began easing, people were wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, but now it’s like any other day. If people become careless, the situation will definitely go out of hand.





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