Since March 2020, when the pandemic entered India, it was never a question of “Will I get it” but more “When might I get it”. Most clinicians like me, who do hospital rounds everyday carry that reality within themselves. Hence, we live very self-vigilant of any minor deviation of health. On the evening of June 4th when I started to feel warm with a gritty throat, I paused and wondered. The next morning, after my work out, I felt drained and getting myself to move seemed like a burden. I told myself “That’s it, I am isolating in a room”. I told my son, who is toiling through online education resentfully to stay out of my room. I cancelled my clinic appointments and told my team that I am not coming to work. When my wife returned that evening, I let the clinician in me do the talking. Pertinent to the story, we are a 3 person household: my wife who is an experienced physician epidemiologist fighting the battle on the public health domain and a teenager. The latter is impressively resilient, I suppose from the knowledge suffusion due to conversations resulting from home entrapment.
Taking the situation objectively, we went about planning for an impending 14day lockdown. Unlike the nation, we had time, since the right time to test is at least 4 days from symptom onset which would come on June 8th. So, we spent the weekend executing a plan for the fortnight and my role was to do nothing. I started living a single person, single room household, but more of it later. I went through phases of low grade of fever and myalgia over the next 48 hours. On June 8th (day 4) around noon I had a pleasant drive to the lab to have the unpleasant experience of “the definitive swab test”. Late that night I learned that I tested positive. It was not much of a shock, as much as confirming what we doubted.
On June 9th, our first task was to inform our housing association as responsible members and the public health department. Our housing community had done an impressive job in striking the right balance between community safety, individual dignity, and family needs. Their response was reassuring and supportive. As for the health department, they did their job: Our house door was barricaded from outside with a display to alert neighbours !
By now I was into the 4th day in the room, we had 12 days more days of isolation. How does the math work? If you are compliant with the law, I am to be isolated and my family will be quarantined for 14 days from June 8th which was day of testing up to June 22nd. Next step, implementing the plan. I had already done it for 3 days and it wasn’t entirely new. At my wife’s insistence, I did undergo a CT scan and blood tests which showed a mild disease. An infectious disease specialist and a colleague gave me a very reassuring assessment of the status.
What were the parts of the 14-day experience? Mind, medical monitoring, self needs, and of course tackling our families’ emotional roller coaster. I would say it is the mind first. We are all different, but my coping strategy was to be in that minute and nothing else. I wasn’t going to let my knowledge base create hypothetical scenarios and consequences get over me. I got myself into a routine, fairly quickly. A chair next to a single-window in my room always gave me a feeling of seeing the world: I watched early morning walkers, kids playing shuttle and our apartment maintenance and housekeeping going out their jobs. Sashi Tharoor’s “Why I am a Hindu” was a great read for a naive Hindu like me. That book was one completed task for me during the isolation time. Medical knowledge was extremely handy to interpret, and simple solutions would suffice. My illness was mild with fever and body ache at a random cycle from June 5th to June 11th. I would sleep through these episodes with a Paracetamol which were mostly once a day. I did not experience many of the long list of symptoms, thankfully. The rest of the time in a day was between TV sitcoms and part of a movie. Going back to single man household part, washing your clothes, vessels, and the toilet was part of day’s chores. It kept you employed and tired you out but taught you to be self-sufficient. The best part of the was always the customary chat with family before I hit the bed at night by 10 30. The distance was 3 meters, but we could see each other. It was about European league football, the tormenting online learning and of course events outside the room. On Jun 10th, my wife and son testing negative was a huge relief.
Every day was a cycle gone through in steps with no speculative thoughts of how the next one would be. The clinician in me was telling that a longer period of feeling well is a good trend. The high point was that about my nutritious food that was dropped off on to my plate thrice a day: aligned with the food pyramid, served with love and sound infection control. I had taste and smell well preserved and so I enjoyed my servings. On June 10th the communication strategy implementation had to be rolled out: informing and supporting immediate family members. I guess all of them were partly confident by the fact my wife and I are resilient doctors, and we would wade through the illness but inability to reach out and be with us was frustrating. Video conference calls with them and my wife outside the room were the order of the day.
By week 2, fever episodes were not there, my wife’s nerves had calmed down and my son became more relaxed. On a lighter side, sharing the story with my college and school friends in our social media triggered an avalanche of responses that kept a good part of the day in phone conversations. In that context, these were fun moments. By June 17th I was doing conference calls for work, taking some random calls from patients. Over the next 2 days, I was well enough to do a stretch of teleconsultations.
June 22nd was the day of release (the Isolation period was to end) and the health department removed the barricade at midday. It is an irony but the fact remains that I improved with very little of my voluntary effort. I rested and stayed isolated; my immune system treated me by doing the right amount and not over-reacting but equally important was the care with diligence, positivity that I was fortunate to receive at home from my wife and son. This was truly a blessing. Late that evening as I took a walk around our community, I told myself that the virus was merciful, that it licked my body but left my organs alone. Yet there was sadness for what it had done so many individuals and families worldwide. At the end of it, it appeared to be a combination of the roll the dice, God’s will, and the wishes and prayers of families and friends and the random, mysterious behavior of Sars-Cov-2. Why did I have a mild one?, why I did not have to stay in the hospital? why my family members did not test positive?. I don’t think we have scientific answers now but I do sincerely hope that we get there soon and make the world a safer place for all of us.