“Gaurav Sharma, you have tested positive for the virus, and BMC officials will be coming to pick you up,” stated the official on the other side of the phone, and my heart dropped down to the floor.
The Test After the Test
On the 7th of May 2020, I underwent testing for COVID-19 at a BMC testing-camp near my residence. I got myself tested as I had spent a considerable amount of time on field, reporting on Coronavirus developments in nearby slum establishments along with assisting local NGOs in the distribution of essentials to daily wage workers, and the families of those struggling to make ends meet.
Panic set in a couple of moments after getting myself tested. Suddenly, the grim reality of contracting the virus hit me. Until then, being personally affected by the virus felt like an abstract concept. I had taken all the necessary precautions during my journalistic endeavours. I kept soothing and reassuring myself with the thought, “I am young and that I will not contract the virus”. However, despite my best efforts at trying to put up a brave face, I was scared. The anxiety of not knowing my fate was killing me. This was the test after the test.
Was going out on assignments worth it? Is my work even appreciated? We reporters are the subject to critique and snide remarks, did I really have any obligations towards the truth? These were uncomfortable questions which crawled their way into my headspace.
A Series of Life-Altering Phone Calls
A day later, I got a call from an unknown number claiming to be from the AMO. The person was immensely polite. He asked if he was speaking with 'Mr. Gaurav Sharma' and on learning that he was, he started quizzing me about my whereabouts and reportage. Then, he proceeded to ask me if I had undergone testing. I responded with a fearful ‘Yes’. He then asked me if I would be able to help him with information like my Aadhar number that he requires for documentation, to which I nervously agreed. And after he received the information, our call came to an abrupt close. I was left wondering about the results of my test.
This phone call brought me closer to my fears. The period between the 8th and 9th were perhaps one of the loneliest hours of my life. My mind was racing with all sorts of negative thoughts. I spent the next day battling thoughts of my uncertain days to come and as destiny would have it, the next day, my tests came back positive.
After I received ‘the call’ from the BMC official confirming my ordeal, I was oddly put to ease. At least now I finally knew what was going on. My family, on the other hand, broke down in tears and were inconsolable. Looking at their despair, I tried my best to lift their spirits, without breaking down myself. I remember the last meal I had at home before leaving; it’s memory helped me brave through everything that was set to come my way.
I remember having to call relatives and friends to break the news to them. It’s funny how right before phone calls these days there is a PSA that tells you not to treat those who have contracted the virus differently, but almost everyone does. Some look at you with pity while others with fear, as though you have a bomb strapped to your chest. Listening to a PSA doesn’t seem like a bad idea anymore, does it?
The Facility That Lacks Facilities
I was taken to the Karve Nagar, Kanjurmarg East quarantine facility in an ambulance. I wasn’t very hopeful at the start but then things took a positive turn with the passage of time. Everyone at the facility—doctors, nurses, helpers, patients—was scared. There is this sense of uncertainty that loomed and it was killing us all from within. The first couple of days were very rough, but then we found the key to beating the virus—relationships. In the centre, I befriended other COVID patients and we walked shoulder to shoulder out of the battlefield.
A handful of staff members went an extra mile towards making the lives of the patients a little more bearable. This kept our morale high and gave us a sliver of joy in our lives’ worst moments. The doctor who was assigned to our facility in the latter half of my stay there used to bring things to eat for patients as the food at the facility was almost always inadequate, under-cooked, and never arrived on time. On some days, we were also graced by insects in our food.
Talking about food, an interesting anecdote from the quarantine centre is of a protest. And this was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. So like most days in the facility, our lunch arrived a little before high tea came to a close everywhere else in the world. And though by now we’d gotten used to this never-on-time delivery of food, we weren’t really expecting uncooked food. And on realizing what we had on our plates, almost all the patients at the facility decided to forego the meal (as for those who weren’t upset with the meals, their stomachs most certainly were). It was quite the spectacle.
And this wasn’t all…
Water—initially, we were given mineral water to drink but this policy was later put to revision. We were asked to drink water from the tap on the ground floor of the facility, which is alright for the younger patients but for the geriatric patients climbing the stairs was nothing short of harrowing. But there was a bigger problem at hand, the water, which was ‘allegedly’ fit-for-use, caused nothing but complications for anyone who consumed it. And our COVID-ridden bodies didn’t respond well to the water at all. It left some of us in a really miserable condition by the end of the day.
Overworked departments coupled with bureaucratic bottlenecks created delays in testing as well as the delivery of results. Countless patients had to stay in the facility long after their recovery because of the sluggish operations. I, for one, had to fight my way to get my reports back from the testing centre. You see, as a Journalist, I’m used to getting reports out on time.
And after 13 days of staying at the quarantine facility…I beat it. I beat the virus! I was allowed to go back home to my loving family. And all I can say is I’m a ‘new Gaurav Sharma’ in this ‘new normal’. And I know that we are all going to beat this virus and then years from now it’ll just be folklore. Because the real vaccine is what we all have within us—humanity.
If someone contracts the virus, here are some must carry items for the tenure at the quarantine facility:
- Extra Sanitizer
- Masks and Gloves
- A Blanket
- Dry Fruits