When COVID-19 Caught Up With Me
For this 21-year-old, life was all about friends, college classes and the road ahead. Then, the deadly coronavirus struck
As the COVID-19 pandemic rampaged across the globe, dismantling life as we knew it, I remember remaining indifferent at first. But all that changed, in late March, when I contracted the novel coronavirus.
Until then, my life was like that of any regular 21-year-old’s. As a master’s student of economics at the London School of Economics, my regular day involved waking up, rushing to classes or seminars and studying in the library. I never thought this routine could, or would, change.
Soon, as the virus spread through the world, our university started prepa-ring for the now-inevitable lockdown. It operationalized the shutdown in phases—it was early March when the school announced the transition to online classes. Shortly after, they shut down campus buildings. I coped as everyone else did: trying to not panic, following the news, maintaining personal hygiene and being careful, whenever I stepped out of my dorm.
In the days that followed, the entire country found itself firmly gripped by this scourge—the numbers refusing to plateau. Caught in this grim spiral, I made a quick decision to return home to India. Within 24 hours, I had cleared out my room, booked my tickets and got on the flight. It was 15 March—I had no symptoms when flying back, and even upon landing in Mumbai, I felt healthy and normal. I passed screening at the airport, but even though I felt alright, I isolated myself from my family. I practised physical distancing and avoided contact with friends and loved ones as far as possible. My plan was to carry out the recommended 14-day quarantine.
It was about two or three days after my arrival that extreme fatigue began to set in—my body felt limp, as if all energy had been sucked out of it. Soon, a fever, which steadily rose as high as 102°F, accompanied it. I felt waves of pain, especially in the lower half of my body. My head hurt, I felt dizzy and threw up. The persistent dizziness was the worst of the symptoms—I could not shake it off. Then, I passed out.
When I came to, I took some oral rehydration solution and ate what I could find. I must have fallen as I blacked out because I found a few broken teeth and injuries to my jaw and chin when I woke. I patched up my wounds with some cotton and gauze, and told my parents about what happened. They frantically contacted our family doctor, who advised that I get tested for COVID-19. That evening, my father drove me to Mumbai’s Kasturba Gandhi Hospital.
"Landing in Mumbai, I felt healthy and normal. It was only a few days later that the fatigue, fever and pain set in," says Hrishi Giridhar, who suffered from a coronavirus infection in mid-March. (Photo courtesy of the author)
The test was a simple throat swab and the report would be available in 24 hours. Meanwhile, I was given a bed, food and warm water. Sure enough, the next day I was informed that I had tested positive for COVID-19 and needed to be shifted to another ward. It was past midnight and I remember feeling a little shell-shocked, but also relieved. Fearful as the diagnosis was, there was some comfort, at least, in being able to name the enemy. I called home, broke the news and fell asleep. My family showed admirable calm, partly, perhaps, to keep my spirits up. Had they panicked, I think I would have as well. I remember worry flitting in and out of my mind—younger people were statistically less likely to die from the disease, but then many under-30 people infected with the virus had not made it. I steered clear of the news—reports about the daily death toll only made things worse. The first few days were the hardest—I was in pain, fatigued and felt weak. The dizziness and disorientation lingered for a week. When I was admitted to the hospital, there were just a few COVID-19 patients, but as the numbers swelled, all of us ‘mild cases’ were moved to another ward.
My day would start pretty early—breakfast was brought to us at 6 a.m. and the rest of the day followed a strict routine of eating, resting, drinking hot water and medication. As my symptoms began to subside, I tried to unwind and fill my days, talking to friends and family over Zoom or watching YouTube and Netflix shows. My symptoms persisted for a few days more, and soon, with rest and medication, I was on the road to recovery.
Compared to many others, I feel lucky and privileged. Because of the self-isolation I practised initially, everyone I was in contact with tested negative. In a country like ours, where we live and work packed like sardines, we need to understand how contagious the virus is, and take social and physical distancing seriously. Self-isolation is a privilege and none of us in the same position should take that for granted.
It’s undeniable that beating this illness would not have been possible if not for the medical team at the hospital. Not only was my time there comfortable, but the doctors, nurses, ward boys and cleaners—everyone involved in my care—were unfailingly kind, friendly and always willing to help. In light of all the struggles that front-line health-care workers face, I hope we all can acknowledge how much they have been putting at stake, so we can battle this pandemic together.
As I write this, big cities of the world, with large stretches of empty streets, feel dystopian. During my hospital stay, I saw fellow ward-mates pass away and others lose family members to COVID-19, without being able to say a goodbye. I’m so grateful to be back home, for my family’s safety and for the wonderful medical care I received in the hospital. I pray for this pandemic to blow over soon, but until we find a cure or vaccine for COVID-19, social distancing and hygiene are the only scientific measures against it. Do it for yourself, your family, your communities and to not further overwhelm our already burdened health-care system.