Bina Nayak posted on 10 May 2020

Dear Jagdish,

On 15th March 2020, our lives changed irrevocably. Maybe it was a bit earlier–on 9th March, when we celebrated my birthday with wine, cheesecake and pot. Or was it 1st September 2019, when we made the move to Goa from Pune? When exactly did the first domino fall? When we first met? Two lonely divorcees looking for love, on 21st August 2013? What brought us to 20th March 2020, the day I rode a cardiac ambulance with you. Your body inert on a stretcher, wearing only an adult diaper. Two doctors constantly monitoring your parameters as various tubes connected your body to different machines that kept you alive. How Grey’s Anatomy I would have thought in another life. But here I was, almost shitting my pants and bawling as I transferred you from one hospital to another bigger one.

The Saturday preceding that Bloody Sunday of 15th, you showed signs that something was amiss. It started with a mild fever at breakfast that broke by afternoon and you were fine by evening. You blamed it on the drinking and doping—which was quite pathetic—we have started living a clean Vipassna life, even our drinking and doping thresholds have reduced. The first alarm bell rang at night when you tried to tell me something but couldn’t complete the sentence. You tried again three times. I asked you if you were feeling okay and made you a tomato soup. You complemented me on the soup and said it was just tiredness, you would sleep it off. In hindsight, I should have rushed you to the hospital then itself. At 4 am you woke up to pee, like you always do and I found you swaying as you stood. And from there on my life started spooling like a cinema reel fast forwarding on an editing machine. And I prayed that the editor would not make any unkind cuts…

With the help of Keith and Jackie, and Clarice- who joined us later, I took you to Galaxy Hospital. They refused to admit you, saying it was a medico-legal case. Go to GMC or Asilo they said. Off to Asilo we went. What a mess their OPD was. They put you on a bed which had blood-soiled sheets. I was petrified you’d catch something. To my right was a ward with the dreaded words- ‘Isolation Ward for Covid-19 Patients’. The young GP at Asilo immediately diagnosed it as a Neurological issue, (not the drinking or doping we had suspected) took a CT Scan and sent us to Vision Hospital in Mapusa. They admitted you and I took my first breath of relief, little knowing that my nightmare had just begun.

At Vision you were coherent- albeit speaking in monosyllables, understanding what was said and asked of you, your reflexes were fine, BP normal, blood sugar normal- but your motor functions were fading. Unable to sit upright, you got restless as the minutes passed. Transferred to a private room, administered sedatives and a saline drip, you looked comfortable and I thought we would go home next morning. Maybe you will sleep it off, I thought. It’s weird how both of us have been brought up to believe that our illnesses can go away by ‘sleeping it off’. I wonder if it is because the worst that had happened till date was a cold or a fever. At 1.30 am, the house doctor transferred you to the ICU in anticipation of seizures. And your body lockdown started.

As I sat on the steps leading to the ICU floor and wept, the world outside was conspiring against us. In my time of need, it ensured that no one would come to my aid. But how could I complain, I was a Socially Distant Isolationist from before Corona times. All my life had been a preparation for this eventuality. Friends visited the first few days and then kept in touch over phone calls and WhatsApp.  I cried constantly, shell shocked and unable to comprehend what was happening to me, to you. To us. Over the phone I was handed one doomsday scenario after another- ‘Don’t let him become a vegetable’, ‘Don’t keep him alive just because… switch him off’ Switch him off? Is that really in my hands? ‘He will either fully recover, or he will go away quickly’ SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP EVERYBODY…

A battery of tests followed. They sucked your blood and tested you for everything, from Malaria, Dengue, HIV, Hepatitis, till finally a Lumbar Puncture test of your spinal fluid revealed inflammation in your brain. Cerebral Meningo- Encphylitis. You were a good case as you did not have ‘Co-morbidities’- that term the world would repeat on a loop in the days to come… As the house doctor at Vision put it- ‘We in India are dancing over Corona, when there are a million more dangerous viral infections floating around in our country.’

On 20th March, the Vision doctors huddled and gave me their verdict–take you to Manipal Hospital as they were ill equipped to deal with your case complications. Your BP was shooting to 290 on the higher side. The part of your brain that regulates BP was out of whack. And here’s the thing about most viral infections that do not have a vaccine—including the current Corona Virus—the doctors can only hope to manage the havoc caused to organs while the virus does its thing. When it loses its virulence, you slowly get back, hopefully, to your original state. Considering this virus attacked your brain- the organ that controls all other organs in your body, the worry was-  how much of your original self will you recover to. I took a quick decision and shifted you in the nick of time. And from 22nd onwards things went ape-shit all over Goa. By 24th, the rest of the country and the world had joined in.

Manipal Hospital of course had more facilities as it also caters to foreign tourists. I had my first bath in 5 days— a hot water one at that! Got a restful night’s sleep after 5 days and a proper meal at the canteen. The only problem was the ICU timings– just an hour in a day of twenty four. It was sheer torture, not seeing you, not knowing what was going on. Sure, the doctors met me and briefed me, but that’s hardly enough. And they got stricter as the lockdown continued, not letting relatives touch their loved ones, getting us to wear masks and making us wash our hands to the bone.

At Manipal you spent one more week being incommunicado. You were someplace else, some place far far away. I worried you would not return, stay lost inside your mind. Was it excruciating for you, or was it ecstatic like the jhaanic states you achieve in Vipassana meditation? And I worried even more… would you want to come back to this mundane world? When you finally opened your eyes, you looked through me, past me, like I didn’t exist. Like maybe you had lost your eyesight? You responded to my voice though and your name. That was the only thing you remembered- your name. Jagdish.

You smiled and cried with your eyes closed, like a baby. You made involuntary hand gestures, like a baby. No problem, I told myself, I’ve had a baby before and I know how to look after one, even if he is 90+ kg baby. But really? Maddening fear is what I felt, when the initial bravado subsided. And then slowly the fog in your brain cleared. You started focusing your eyes on people, on objects close by. Listening to conversations around you. You smiled at me one morning. Oh my god, you smiled! You blushed when I said I love you. You nodded when I asked if you were mad at me. And best of all, when a doctor asked you to open your mouth and show your tongue, you turned to me and mouthed the words ‘what the fuck’.

In the years to come, when people remember your time of illness, they will plead ‘not guilty’ for not meeting you, or offering to help us out. The strange circumstances of this time made it impossible to do so. When the rest of the world was having an apocalypse, you chose exactly that time to have one in your body.

You missed out on so many things— we missed out on so many things, cocooned as we were in a hospital that turned into a fortress. We missed the mayhem beyond its gates. The food shortages, the police beatings, the stock piling of groceries, the fake news and WhatsApp forwards… And I am hoping we also dodged a bullet. 4 days before you shifted out of the ICU, they admitted a patient in the Isolation room beside your bed. He turned out to be Covid 19 positive. Luckily I was privy to the doctors fighting over whether to take him in. They sent him to GMC two days later. Two days during which his wife and daughter went about mixing with people, touching things, drinking from the cooler– generally being normal people. But the wife was openly coughing and I kept my distance. I even slept one night with my mask on because she was coughing two beds away from me. I felt like a worm afterwards, but it had to be done. I did not engage with them. I asked myself if it was because they were labourers—persecute me later, but I had to ensure I didn’t get even a common cold so as to not infect you—your lungs were already compromised after having been on the ventilator for a week. Our lockdown still continues at the hospital. God knows if it will extend beyond 14th April- but I doubt it, and besides, my money will run out! As you sportingly re learn how to sit, stand and walk, I cannot help but wonder at the miracle I have witnessed. Jagdish, you fell asleep and woke up to a completely changed world. Were you dreaming it up as you slept?