'Second wave of Covid19 and its devastation' - By Subimal Bhattacharjee
Since March this year, the second wave of the novel coronavirus Covid19 has been creating havoc in the country. Many young lives have been lost and more are dying. I was also unfortunate to lose my dear wife Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, a fit and careful person on 20 April after a week of battle with the ventilator in the ICU. The virus almost took me but I made my journey back from the ICU after 14 days of hospitalisation including oxygen support. Delhi, Mumbai and now Bangalore have seen the worst not to forget the towns and villages in Uttar Pradesh where people have died due to lack of treatment due to the non-availability of medical infrastructure in the overwhelmed situation.
Cremation grounds were running out of space across cities and towns. The union government of the day from its self declared praise in January this year for containing the spread of the virus didn’t anticipate the situation and possibly ignored any amount of advice and so there was no planning and modelling to deal with the increased situation if it arose. In my life, some of the worst days I experienced as I saw how patients were struggling in the hospitals, first hand the pressure on the doctors and especially the nurses who had no rest all through their duty hours. Young patients were so sick and struggling to breathe and coughing on and on. And there was a huge queue for each bed in the hospital and sick patients were in stretchers and ambulances outside hospital beds gasping for breath outside hospitals and clinics.
All this has shaken the country and the extent of the catastrophe was understood by many people who have seen ambulance sirens almost every minute in a locked-down Delhi and the government with its initial unpreparedness was trying to do what best it could do despite the severe mismanagement on the oxygen supply fronts and at the same time trying to manage the growing negative perception on its unpreparedness and incompetency to deal with the situation. Luckily the High Courts and the Supreme Court intervened in so many cases and tried to bring in some order to the mismanagement and also the disparity in the supply of oxygen as also save the citizens from being targeted by the government for their social media posts expressing their hapless situation. On top of all that countless numbers of good samaritans came out to help in so many ways- the citizens showed how humanity was alive and from amplifying social media posts for urgent oxygen, ICU beds and oxygen beds, medicines and blood requests to actually carrying and arranging hospital beds the examples are many and heartwarming.
The Virus Spreads Fast and Getting A Bed Isn’t Easy
Let me elucidate on our case here to explain how fast the virus spreads and impacts and how the best of the treatment available in the country couldn’t save my wife. Joyeeta was a very careful person and never ventured out without a double mask and that too when very necessary, worked from home for more than one year and someone who had continued to take precautions even when the rest of the country threw caution to the wind in the belief that we had beaten the virus. She would in fact confront anyone who would be wearing a mask in the chin or disallow anyone to take a lift if that individual was not wearing a mask. But she has been taken away by the virus, and in no time- that is the irony of the situation.
It all started when I and Joyeeta had gone in for our first round of vaccination on 4th April at the RML Hospital in New Delhi. The next day we felt some fever and uneasiness but we were not worried as fever as a side effect of vaccination had been well documented and we were prepared for it mentally at least. However, on 6th April, we received some disconcerting news. One of my colleagues had tested corona positive. He had been running a fever for almost four days and on 30th March we had encountered him in my office and Joyeeta had also come to my office that day after delivering a lecture at the Land Ports Authority of India. We immediately went in for an RT-PCR test for Covid 19 on 7th April. The line at the hospital for testing was a precursor to the unfolding events. It took us close to four hours before our samples could be collected. Back home, we battled the fever and the severe weakness as we awaited our test results.
The report came in almost 28 hours later and provided some measure of comfort as we had both tested negative. But the comfort didn’t last long as the fever, weakness, body pain and loss of appetite continued despite medicines and gargling. We knew something was not right and started immediate attempts at securing hospital admission. But the bureaucratic process hampered us. Having tested negative for the virus, we were not eligible for a Covid bed facility. The alternative was to get another test done which would take anywhere between 24 to 48 hours. We instead went ahead and got ourselves an HR CT scan done on 9th April based on medical advice. The scan confirmed our worst fears. We both had lung damages and so tried again to get admitted but couldn’t secure beds as Delhi and adjoining NCR hospitals had already started getting the surge. On 10th April morning, we went to the emergency of Jaypee hospital in Noida but after an hour they sent us back as our oxygen saturation levels were good. We took the decision for the RT-PCR test that afternoon and was confirmed the following day to be Covid19 positive.
It took all of our accumulated influence to get us two oxygen beds in a single room in Yatharth hospital in Greater Noida hospital and went there in the wee hours of 11th April. At the hospital, we had access to medicine and oxygen in our room but around lunch, Joyeeta had to be taken to the ICU as her oxygen saturation levels were falling. Given the situation of hers moving from oxygen to ventilator that night, we decided to transfer her to Sir Gangaram Hospital in New Delhi and luckily she got an ICU bed there on 12th April after being ambulanced in a ventilator and then intubated. On the 12th April morning, I had met her in her ICU where she was on a ventilator but still confident she will make it back and we exchanged conversation. I never knew that would be the last time I would see her alive. I followed Joyeeta to Sir Gangaram hospital’s ICU on 14th April afternoon but with oxygen support only as my condition had also deteriorated the previous day.
While in two days I went down to a room from the ICU, to make room for a more serious patient, Joyeeta continued to be on ventilator with steady improvements until the 20th April morning when she passed away leaving a life-size hole in my life. Even on 19th April, she had responded to my neurosurgeon sister Dr Suchanda Bhattacharjee who had flown from Hyderabad to take care of us from the 12th April itself. Meeting Joyeeta for the last time was impossible as she suddenly went away but I mustered the courage and physical strength to go in a wheelchair and hold her cold hands before the final bye from the hospital to the crematorium.
Sitting and sleeping in my hospital bed, very ill to even grieve, I kept on getting condolence messages and the news of her cremation with all the right honour which was of great satisfaction as the crematoriums were getting surged by then. Meanwhile, I survived, two days were tough. I was put on a catheter as going to the washroom was becoming a very painful movement and was on oxygen support. I was on Remdesivir and steroid support and all the hour monitoring by some wonderful nurses who braved everything to serve us. But I was always confident in my mind and prayers that Joyeeta will make it back although she might take more time than me. Finally, I was discharged on 24th April and with all the weakness went back home to the emptiness there.
“While many of you from Barak Valley have mourned Joyeeta passing away along with thousands of people from across the world, let her death be a reminder to all of us that the Covid19 virus can take any fit person in a matter of a few days. Please do stay safe,” Subimal Bhattacharjee
If I now reflect back now as I recover, on the situation I mentioned above, I wonder if we could have taken some other steps that could have saved Joyeeta’s life. Time is of the essence here and we immediately went for the RTPCR knowing that my senior staff was positive. But to be honest, the negative RT-PCR report cost us close to three days, time that might have made the difference between life and death. I even wondered if the testing facility had got the samples mixed up or there was an error in testing. But having spoken to other Covid19 survivors, what I have realised is that the virus has become very sneaky indeed. It has learnt to hide in the deepest recess of our lungs and lull us into a false sense of security. Many others have told me that they had tested negative and had yet borne the full force of the virus. I have been told that this is being seen more and more in this wave as the worse is happening to the lungs in no time. In hindsight now I can say that we possibly didn’t lose any time the moment we realised we had a risk and also after the negative RTPCR report as we went for the HRCT scan the next day, was on medicines and hospitalised on time and then to the best. The virus in this wave is so deadly that it takes away life in no time and severely impacts those who get it with serious breathing troubles and coughing.
Request To All In Barak Valley
It is here that I would request all in Barak valley to be very careful as numbers are increasing. As of 9th May morning, there are 1753 total active cases in Barak valley out of which Cachar has 981, Karimganj at 470 and Hailakandi 302. That’s quite high and in the last few days every day, it is increasing. If people don’t take precautions and maintain their own social distancing and minimum interactions, the virus could impact and be deadly in no time. The beds at Silchar Medical College Hospital as well as the private nursing homes will run out in no time if the surge happens and it will be very difficult to manage. Last few days cases have been increasing in the whole of Assam and Barak Valley and a few precious lives have already been lost.
So the first step everyone should take is to wear a good quality mask properly and also alert anyone not wearing it to wear it. Usage of sanitisers and maintaining distance with others while talking and movement is also very crucial. The virus mutant in this second wave is known to be more airborne as the WHO has also recently reported and so distancing becomes very important. Testing resources and reports in time by the authorities also become crucial in these times so that isolation can be done soonest when someone tests positive. At the same time ramping up hospital beds, oxygen, medicines and managing human resources become key from the health administration point of view so that the Delhi NCR adjoining states fiasco is not seen here.
It is very crucial to understand that the surge happens in no time and so collectively everyone has to be responsible to prevent that from happening. The original mantra to beat the Covid19 virus was to test, trace, isolate and vaccinate. The huge numbers effectively mean test, trace and isolate is not going to work. More people also should go out and get themselves vaccinated.
I have first-hand experienced the stress that the healthcare system is under. I am a reasonably privileged individual and I have seen the frustrating lines and lack of basics to fight the virus that too in the national capital and in other major cities where definitely healthcare facilities are better than many parts of the country. Much needs to be done on the healthcare infrastructure front despite the promises by successive governments. The only silver lining that I see before me is that humanity has not been lost. The doctors, nurses and paramedical staff are doing so much in the surging situation everywhere. Many moments I have personally encountered where I felt they have saved so many of us constantly working and forgetting the risks to themselves.
Universal vaccination at the fastest pace is the only solution to beat the virus possibly. But what we all need to note is that we all have to be protected by ourselves and thus save ourselves as well as others. While many of you from Barak Valley have mourned Joyeeta passing away along with thousands of people from across the world, let her death be a reminder to all of us that the Covid19 virus can take any fit person in a matter of a few days. Please do stay safe.
The author of this article, Mr Subimal Bhattacharjee is a member of the editorial board of Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. He is the former country manager of General Dynamics.