My battle with long haul Covid and the second wave

Written By: Akanksha Swarup WION
New Delhi, India Updated: Jan 22, 2022, 09:41 PM(IST)

I journaled my experience during the Covid wave as I looked after my mother in the hospital. Photograph:( WION )

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The impact of the wave was debilitating not just physically but also emotionally and psychologically

They say people cry not because they are weak but because they’ve been strong too long. It was the second wave that broke me down.

Like many of you, I’m still recovering from the trauma of it. Alas! The third is already here, mustering my courage to write about a ground zero experience during the second wave, one that I journaled through pictures as I looked after my mother in a Delhi NCR hospital.

The fight for a hospital bed, Remdesivir, Plasma, even Tocilizumab brought with it a realisation that you were among the fortunate few if you managed to arrange even one. I managed all four and yet lost my mother to Delta after twelve days of hospital admission with an equally ailing brother isolated at home.

 

Staff attendant looking after my mother.

Image: Staff attendant looking after my mother. 

Me in a PPE kit with the Tocilizumab vial.

Image: Me in a PPE kit with the Tocilizumab vial.

Understandably, friends and relatives couldn’t turn up but I am grateful that my mother found cremation space and her ashes were duly handed over to me. Several families were deprived of even this basic right. But mummy’s ash immersion waited for days because soon after her last rites my brother was rushed to the Army Hospital in Lucknow and with the help of my brother-in-law, an army surgeon and his fantastic team of doctors, Akshay was rescued.

 

Hindon cremation ground in Ghaziabad.

Image: Hindon cremation ground in Ghaziabad. 

Ash immersion.

Image: Ash immersion in the holy water. 

The struggle wasn’t over. I contracted long haul Covid and battled it for seven months. For most physicians, this is one aspect of Covid that remains a tougher challenge than the virus itself. Three CT scans within two months failed to spot any growth or lymph nodes that could have possibly explained the reason behind my fever, chills, headache and body breaking fatigue. As someone who ran regularly for fifty minutes at a stretch, a five-minute stroll would leave me breathless. 

The effect of vaccination on long haulers is still being studied. And its lack of adequate information is perhaps why doctors were baffled by my condition inadvertently procrastinating my vaccination till November 2021 when fever briefly subsided and I was administered my first dosage. And yet post the jab, fever and fatigue resurfaced for several days but settled on its own. Eventually, my second shot was administered in December which so far seems to have gone well; now bringing me back to the frontline.

The impact of the wave was debilitating not just physically but also emotionally and psychologically. For months my dreams were haunted by the staccato beeps of the ICU equipment, sounds of which surrounded me during my mother's hospitalisation; I even experienced sleep paralysis. Flashes of the patient monitoring machines with manic fluctuations of my mother’s heart rate and oxygen level are now permanently etched in my memory.

We are mostly told to ‘be strong’, ‘hang in there’, 'be grateful' or ‘move on’ without the humble realisation that there's a fine line between toxic positivity and the manifestation of real positivity that goes beyond lip service and must be exhibited through actions and support given perhaps just by listening to the person in need or simply checking in on them. Also, how does one do that in an environment that’s devoid of human contact? Isolation in grief worsened my mental state but therapy helped to bounce back to life.

Here’s what Forum Lalka, Senior Psychologist at Anjali Chhabria’s clinic, Mindtemple has to say about grief.

'Grief is a process through which one expresses their varied emotions towards loss of a loved one. It could be anger, denial or even acceptance for that matter. Isolation in grief has a dual impact on people: having to deal with the loss plus dealing it without there being sufficient family support. The entire narrative of handling grief has undergone a shift in COVID times.'

Lalka further explains, ‘Acknowledgement is the first step towards coping better. This can be followed by talking about what has been bothering as well as how one requires help. Then it is reaching out to family/friends and professionals to get relevant help.’

Death and sorrow hit you hardest when you’re least prepared, actually, truth be told one can never be prepared enough to face death let alone lose a loved one. Many a times, death is a Kafkaesque reality, surreal and illogically complex in a nightmarish way. And, sometimes it arrives like a hurricane destroying everything that comes in its way, leaving behind remorse and realisations too, the kind that moved emperors like Ashoka during the war of Kalinga. 

For me, the war is this pandemic and scenes I’ve witnessed, suffering on every face that couldn’t survive the ICU, wailing wives and mothers, shaken children and frustrated doctors. But sturdy support from family, friends, office seniors and colleagues at WION ensured that I am able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Wailing relatives of a Covid victim.

Image: Wailing relatives of a Covid victim. 

While the pandemic has tested our fortitude for years now, interestingly the pain it has inflicted upon us also has the power to heal. Know that no family member, friend, pet or therapist can help you heal till you want to heal yourself.

Perhaps harking back to the second wave might just remind us of the mistakes made which not only citizens but the government too must take stock of. Travellers flocking in Goa during New Year's was reminiscent of the viral images of maskless tourists taking a dip in Mussoorie's Kempty falls during the second wave. 

Despite the ongoing third wave, the status of Assembly elections remains unchanged for the five poll-bound Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Goa; a reminder for the Election Commission of India to wake up and smell the coffee. Going by the projections, the peak is set to hit in mid-February but is the medical infrastructure adequately equipped as the rate of hospitalisations rises sharply each day?

The Government of India especially The Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSO) of the Ministry of Health have a crucial task ahead. Is it ethical to approve medicines still on trial in other countries or those which have merely received emergency use authorisation only after the pandemic struck? Case in point is the deterioration observed in my mother’s condition soon after she was administered a dose of Cipla’s Tocilizumab. She was among the few who were allotted the drug’s vial in Uttar Pradesh in April, 2021 at a time when the supply was not even meeting quarter of the demand.

The efficacy of the medicines is highly questionable till date. Be it Ivermectin, Remdesivir, Tocilizumab, Olumiant, Hydroxychloroquine or even plasma therapy, no drug or therapy till date has proven to be a foolproof cure for Covid. Health authorities across the globe rushing to approve medicines to fight Covid has exposed the dark underbelly of profiteering Pharma giants and the gap of evidence-based data in primary clinical trials, one that is limited due to a lack of time. 

As a matter of fact, we are in the third year of the pandemic and yet most drugs like Dexamethasone, Ivermectin, Budesonide and Remdesivir are being repurposed to treat the virus. Not to forget, many victims of Omicron are fully vaccinated, some even with the immunity top-up through a booster.

I write this piece not only for closure but perhaps with a hope that our experiences will be able to highlight the anomalies posed by the virus and perhaps give us a better understanding of its mutating nature. After all, at a time when the world is losing lives, the only thing keeping us alive is hope.

Me with family post Covid recovery.

Image: Me with family post-Covid recovery. 

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