When COVID-19 hits family back home

Saloni Bhavsar shares her story.

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covid patient

With (comparatively) fewer cases of the virus here in Australia, many of us have managed to keep the pandemic at an arm’s distance, remaining cautious yet optimistic that it hasn’t reached our own inner circles.

That is, until we received that dreaded phone call from India.

As the third worst-hit nation in the world, India has been struggling to contain the pandemic. Many have been locked indoors for over four months for fear of infection.

Imagine our concern when we learnt that not one but three family members were in the hospital in Vadodara, India. All we knew was that they had shown signs of fever and sore throat. Their phones had been taken away (presumably to assure rest without a barrage of phone calls and messages).

Then their families were brought in for tests – these included school and college students, septuagenarians, and housewives in their mid-40s. The situation in India was getting worse by the day; we prayed that the results would be negative.

All except one family member tested positive. Thankfully, the children were mildly affected, and the elderly family members were stable.

News of their results spread like wildfire in their local areas and there was panic and confusion about the next steps. Buildings were sealed, ambulances were brought in, and their phones never stopped ringing.

vadodara lockdown
Many Indians have been locked indoors for over four months for fear of infection.

The guilt and helplessness for us here in Australia, and more so for the relatives in the same city, was inconceivable. 

The one family member who didn’t test positive, the lone housewife in a large empty house, was distraught. The next morning, she was admitted to the ‘suspected cases’ ward – a 15 per cent patch of infection was found in her lungs.

Shortly thereafter, we got to know that one family member, a diabetic, had been moved to the ICU. His breathing was strained, and the doctor intimated they might need six dosages of Remdesivir injection and one of Tocilizomb.

A recent bust on a fake drug racket in Gujarat meant these much-needed injections were now in short supply. Relatives and friends were informed, contact details were exchanged, and we were all on our phones at 11 PM AEST, in different cities in India and Australia, talking to absolute strangers for assistance.

covid lockdown
From procuring medicines to false bills, the pandemic has badly affected many patients in India.

Eventually, we found some leads, including, would you believe it, a black-market medicine supplier and an official in the health ministry of India. The official pointed us to the COVID centre in the city which was hoarding these injections. It was a relief to finally procure the necessary medicines, and have them delivered to the hospital where our family members were admitted. Yet, the ordeal did not end there – the hospital now denied receiving them!

It was only after threats to report them, that the pharmacy admitted to a ‘glitch’ in the logistics and claimed they had ‘just’ received the medication. If that wasn’t shocking enough, the hospital then counted these injections procured by us, as part of their pharmacy inventory, and billed the patients twice for it.

Fully prepared to get a media team down to the hospital to report these unethical practices, we eventually gave in. There were four family members still admitted, what if they had to suffer the consequences of our daring actions?

Now a week later, all the members are still in the hospital, in stable condition, with huge bills looming over their heads. Still, we’re reminded of the pervading spirit of human decency and are grateful to all the strangers who helped us in our time of need.

It has been a terrible saga, and probably reflects the stories of many others. For those who do not have such contacts or the means to procure important medicines, would their experience be?

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