Avoided by family and isolated at hospitals, the patients go through a gruelling ordeal on their path to recovery, reveals Saima Bhat

Coronavirus: Chattabal declared as containment zone sealed after several positive cases reported from the area. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

On March 16, as a couple at Srinagar’s Chattabal, returned home after performing Umrah, relatives, neighbours, friends,  acquaintances, all welcomed them.  There were a large family gathering and a feast.

Three days later, on March 19, when Kashmir reported its Covid-19 patient zero from Khanyar, the trouble for the family began. They were shocked to learn the details of the patient, a 61-year-old woman who has since recovered.  She had been a co-passenger on their flight.  Soon, the tour operator called the family to report for mandatory tests at SKIMS.

“All the passengers sharing the flight with the Covid-19 positive woman were asked to report for screening,” said a member of the family.

Without any further delay, the couple reached SKIMS and treating physicians advised them to go home as they had no symptoms.

Following day, the couple was called again to the hospital. Their swabs were taken and sent for test. Again, the couple was advised to go home. After a few days, a team from the Chest Disease hospital visited the family. They broke the shattering news. The couple had tested positive.

Later a team from Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), Srinagar visited the house and sanitized it. Other family members were asked to go for tests. The news spread and changed the social profile for the nine families living in a cluster with around 30 members. People showering accolades a few days before for the couple started to abuse them, their journey and the presence in the area.

“It was a heart-wrenching scene at home. Our neighbours came out of their windows and abused us for something which we had no hand in. They asked us to leave before others are infected,” said a member amid tears.

As the officials requested the family to move, they cooperated. Their next destination was JLNM Hospital at Rainawari, a designated Covid-19 hospital running an isolation facility. The family alleged that once they entered the hospital, they were left unattended in the compound.  Reluctant to share space with already declared positive cases, the family agitated.

“There were four more positive cases in the corridor. Fearing for our lives, we decided to go home,” said a member. “Yes we broke the windows in the hospital because we were left to fend for ourselves.”

The police have registered FIR against the family.

Walking the distance from Rainawari to Chattabal on foot, the family had tea at home before being taken back.

“We reached the hospital at 6 pm but nobody was there, so we returned and stayed home for four days,” said the family.

But as one more member of the family tested positive, the family was called again and tested again.

“Presently two members of our family are admitted at CD Hospital and another one in JLNM Hospital. Rest of us have tested negative but most of us were taken to NIT and put in quarantine except for one member who suffers from liver disease,” said a family member. They finally had a get-together on Friday last when their mandatory quarantine concluded.

The family has had a tough time all these days. “We have suddenly become outcasts. Nobody talks to us in our area. Nor they open their windows towards us. ,” a family member said.

Doctors present bookie to Kashmir’s First COVID-19 Positive Children after discharged from the JLNM hospital. KL Image

Not far away from Chattabal, panic gripped Eidgah on March 30, when a fleet of cars stopped at Laigaridoori area. As the officials entered a house, all  attention of the neighbourhood shifted to a particular place.  The family had reported a Covid-19 positive case, a 10-year-old boy.

However, as per the family, the boy had contracted the disease after coming in touch with the members of Tableeghi Jamaat who had come to the local Masjid and stayed there from March 18 to 21.

As per the family, they belong to a Salafi school of thought and did not visit the Jamaat in the Masjid, locally known as Shaheed-i-Milat Masjid. However, on the last day of their stay in the area, the Tableegi Jamaat came out of the Masjid and visited the neighbourhood houses to invite them to join for Magrib and Isha prayers.

The visiting delegation knocked on the door of this family as well and met the 10-year-old boy. One of the members said that the boy shook hands with them and he was taken along for prayers.

“The following day he complained of fever and a runny nose for which I gave him antibiotics and paracetamol at home. For three days he was in fever but on March 28 his fever was under control and same evening an announcement was made from the local masjid’s loudspeaker that one of the Tableegi Jamaat members was Covid-19 positive.”

The announcement gave the parents of young boy goose-bumps. They started connecting the dots and were apprehensive of the fever. Without wasting time, father took his son to nearby SMHS Hospital from where the father-son duo was referred to the Chest Diseases (CD) hospital in an ambulance.

At CD hospital, the dearth of beds became a reason to refer them further to JLNM Hospital. Desperate father had no option but to call his brother-in-law. “I had to call my brother-in-law and ask him if he comes and take us to JLNM Hospital. He did the same but after reaching there we couldn’t find any doctor with whom we could talk and show the prescription. One of the class 4th employees told us that they can’t be allowed to stay in the hospital because they admit only those patients who are ferried by police,” the father of the child said.

4 Kashmiri medical staffers collect information from a Kashmiri family in a residential area declared as a red zone by the authorities in Srinagar on 09 April 2020. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Dejected, the father moved back to SMHS hospital where he met the CMO. “He told me to go home and keep my son in quarantine for two weeks but I called the Director Health Services Kashmir and he suggested I go to SKIMS. At SKIMS also we were told to go home and stay in quarantine. We came back at 2.30 am that night.”

The family took the boy and reached home where he was kept in isolation on the second floor.  Not willing to leave his son alone, his mother became the nurse for a while.

Following day the father involved media in highlighting his issue and it worked. The same day, he said the concerned tehsildar along with his team reached his place around noon and took the boy to SKIMS where his swabs were taken for testing. The child tested positive.

Mercifully, other family members were also tested but they came negative. However, the father-son duo continues to remain in the isolation ward of the hospital. The other members including mother, sister, and uncle of the boy were taken to NIT quarantine centre.

At SKIMS, it is a story of pain and helplessness. While sharing the same space, the father is unable to come closer to his son. “It is the worst time of my life. Being with my son and not able to hold him is painful,” says the father. “At times his son insists him to hold him in his lap.”

While denying son the luxury of sitting in his lap, the father becomes more desperate when his daughter calls from NIT and asks to come and see her. “How can I leave my son alone in this crisis. He even doesn’t understand the magnitude of the crisis.”

Terming his stay at SKIMS, where he shares a room with another Covid-19 positive patient from Soibug Budgam as an experience of being in jail, he says: “I have to check the temperature and the blood pressure of my son myself”. But at the same time, he expresses satisfaction with the care and facilities.“For eleven days we used a washroom where we had a commode and a washbasin but no water supply. Nobody listened to me or solved my problem so I reached out to social media after which they fixed the tap and we could have a bath after 11 long days,” he said.

Virus of Stigma

Right now, reportedly, the boy is asymptomatic but he will be allowed to go home only after spending mandatory time in the isolation ward after which his tests will be repeated. He meets the rest of his family virtually. “He is a kid how would he know what this isolation and quarantine mean. I have given him my phone and he plays different games to pass his time and makes video calls to remain connected with his mother,” said the father.

Meanwhile, at Eidgah, three friends of this boy and their families have also been sent in quarantine and one neighbour, a sumo driver who used to ferry Tableegi Jamaat members in his sumo. His two children and wife are also in quarantine.

On April 8, one of the neighbours of the family was tested positive creating further panic in the area.

A man from Lal Bazaar was in Kolkatta. As he planned to return home, he along with his two friends preferred flight over the train. But the rest of his friends decided to come by train. Back home he developed symptoms and later was found positive. His two co-passengers and the group who travelled by train are doing well. His two daughters and nephew have also been found positive. Next door neighbour of the family told Kashmir Life that man was seen even in the Masjid days before he was confirmed positive. As this report is being filed, the entire area has been sealed and the process of sanitization is going on.

Caught in the quarantine, the patients see social media as an important tool to communicate. Sharing their concerns, lack of facilities and even appreciation for the doctors, the virtual world is emerging as a helpful platform.

A patient confirmed positive and under treatment at SKIMS uploaded a post on social media: “I have been tested positive for Covid-19 a few days back, Alhumdulillah I’m doing well. We are 22 patients including a female patient, sharing a common washroom, eating cold food, without the proper bedding and no official dares to visit us at SKIMS.”

The one in the quarantine at NIT had the same ordeal to narrate, “One day we found cockroaches in our food and following day they gave us biryani and rajma mixture which smelled very badly. We uploaded some videos on social networking sites because we have understood that this administration is more active on social networking sites than on the ground,” said a person, who added most of the people at NIT have now got electric kettles from home and a few get food from their home as well.

Authorities raising a barricade in Natipora after the area was declared as red zone on Tuesday April 14,2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

A fortnight ago when a Covid-19 positive case was admitted at JLNM Hospital along with his father, who had also tested positive, on March 30, they found their presence annoying for the other family. The father-son duo had together gone for Umrah.

Once admitted in the isolation ward of the hospital, they had to share the ward with two minor girls, both positive and their mother, who had tested negative. The patient said he sensed the uneasiness from the woman’s harsh tone, who was taking the care of her minor daughters.

“First thing she informs me about was the pathetic condition of our washrooms and that we newcomers shouldn’t use the washroom that she has used for her kids and herself,” the patient said.

Besieged By Coronavirus

After three days, repeated requests and the increasing number of patients did not change the state of their ward. When the patients complained to the hospital staff, they suggested a remedy ‘supplicate to Allah for a speedy recovery.’

Other than that, the patient added that there were no doctors available who could come and physically check and monitor the patients. “It’s a telephonic consultation in the hospital,” he said. “At the best, they will knock at the door of the ward, once in last three days, and stay two meters away with all PPE gear on and ask you if you are okay.”

Only people who dare to enter these wards, according to these patients, were the helping staff who cleans the wards. “All of it defeats the purpose of being admitted in a hospital. If it was all about telephonic consultation why not quarantine at home or some better hygienic place.”


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