An Indian American grandmother describes how she beat Covid-19.
By Vishakha Sheth
(As narrated to daughter, Sejal Desai)
My husband and I split our retired life between the United States and India. Between my younger sister and I, we care for our mother, who is 108 years old. I had been in Mumbai since November 2019 looking after her. When the lock down was announced in March 2020, we had to care for my mother while in isolation and manage the household work. The past few months were spent in good health, cooking, cleaning, caring, and we did not experience any major issues.
Recently, my mother experienced 48 hours of hallucinations and she was up all night and spoke non-stop. I had not slept for two days caring for her. The overall exhaustion may have led to a drop in immunity. I experienced a few days of mild fever and loss of appetite, which caused extreme weakness. So it was determined that a Covid-19 test may be a good idea just to rule out the possibility even though my blood reports were all normal.
On June 4, we received my Covid-19 test results. Within an hour, Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) officials were at our building gate. Besides me, we have an 82 and 108-year-old at home, so the BMC doctor was coordinating next steps for my removal from the flat.
Officials told us that they had a bed at a local nursing home reserved for me and that an ambulance was on the way. Thankfully, my physician was able to speak with the BMC physician, who was very nice and cooperative. He had reserved a bed at Hiranandani hospital, a private hospital in Powai and got permission to move me there instead. On the ride to the hospital, I was blank and speechless, but not anxious. I believe in the power of blessings of elders and good wishes from friends and family. An unknown guiding force was holding me tight. While I knew I would be alone, I did not feel lonely.
On the first day, I realized some of the difficulties the healthcare workers were facing. Everyone was working hard and trying to do their best. Tea and meals served to us were always cold by the time they got to us, but I realized that I needed to be more understanding and compromise as everyone was trying to do their best. They were risking their health and lives to take care of us.
Power of positive vibes and saviors shrouded in PPE
I was getting positive vibrations thanks to the good wishes of many around the world. People I knew directly and indirectly were praying for me, doing Reiki, and constantly asking about my health and well-being. I also spoke daily with my family physician and that provided me a lot of peace. Even though he could not visit me, he would call and keep me informed about my health. He also provided a lot of moral support and encouragement. I am the daughter and sibling of physicians who practiced family medicine, and I realized that during this Covid-19 crisis, the role my family physician played was critical.
I was not scared of having contracted Covid-19, nor was I worried that this will be my end. My biggest concern, however, was the loss of energy. The weakness was overpowering. My grandchildren would call me regularly from the US and tell me that I was their “Super Nani” and that nothing would happen to me so that also gave me courage and hope.
In India, we always consider doctors to be a God in a white coat. This time, God appeared in the form of individuals wrapped from head to toe in blue PPE gear. Under the blue covers, it was hard to differentiate male from female until they spoke up. But either way, I experienced their dedication every day.
I realized that, at 77, you can get Covid-19, but also, at 77, you can be a Covid-19 survivor. My humble request to anyone, or any family going through this crisis is to remain calm, cool, composed and always positive. Do not lose faith and confidence in doctors, or the medications offered to you. Also, while prayers cannot change the situation, they do have the capacity to change our attitude toward the situation by giving hope and new dimension to life. So, everything from science to spirituality will come in handy during your recovery process.
There were times when the isolation and weakness led to boredom and lack of motivation. My nephew, who is an Oncologist based in Houston, decided to give me a task I was to complete every day. He requested that I write small anecdotes or snippets from my life and share with him on WhatsApp. He mentioned that I had to stay strong for his sake and that of my own daughter and her family. So, every day, I would write a few lines about something I remembered from my life. If I was late in doing this on one of the days, I was sure to hear from him!
Will I go home or not?
Thankfully, even at the hospital, my blood reports and oxygen level were all normal. My fever was in control due to medication. I continued to have extreme weakness and the lack of taste made it difficult for me to eat anything at all. But since I was not worsening, there was discussion about discharging me after three to four days at the hospital. One of the chest physicians, however, was concerned about some crackling sounds she picked up on and they decided to do a CT Scan. The reports detected a mild case of ground glass opacity. I was kept back at the hospital to be under observation for 48 more hours. I later understood that this can be a turning point for the patient’s health if it grows.
Thankfully, the decision to discharge me came when the second Covid-19 report was negative, and my health had not deteriorated. The doctor came in morning on June 12 and said that he will let me go home. Discharge usually takes a few hours, so it was expected in the evening. I was mentally very calm about going home. The nurses asked me to change into my own clothes. They walked me through all the medications I needed to take and the importance of taking them. Finally, a hospital ambulance took me back home.
I returned after nine days of treatment at the hospital. We had alerted the building of the timing of my arrival. There were a few people in the compound who waved at me at a distance and asked how I was doing. It felt good to be greeted with warmth from people we have known for over 40 years. My husband and mother are all quarantined, so I went straight to our apartment and into my bedroom, where I will be quarantined for at least another week. I will then quarantine at home for one additional week to honor the 14-day quarantine period. Given that I am the primary caretaker of my mother, I rarely can leave my apartment, anyway.
A happy ending: Back in the comfort of my home
I am in my room with an attached bathroom. My husband has taken over the living room, while my mother and the caretaker are in the other bedroom. I spend a lot of my time reading, talking to family members, and continuing to write snippets from my life. Some days I write about the more serious memories and on other days I share lighter moments of my life. I think I now also have a larger audience of family members, who look forward to reading these so that is motivating me to keep it up. Thanks to the Covid-19 experience and encouragement by family, I am hoping to make this a daily ritual.
I have always been a hardworking and energetic person throughout my life. I am now trying to appreciate this opportunity I have been given to rest and relax and live life a little differently. I enjoy the room service at my door, like the hot masala tea that I do not have to make for myself! We are also very appreciative of all the support received from volunteers in our building, who are shopping for and delivering perishables, non-perishables, and medicines while we are all in quarantine. I pray every day that we can find a solution to this crisis, so others do not have to go through these health challenges. I am also hoping that others will find comfort by reading about my experience.
I think, coupled with my faith, I also now have a better appreciation for medical advice. I hope that continues beyond my recovery and I do not go back to my old ways.