by Saifullah Bashir
SRINAGAR: On 20th April my online editor, Tahir Bhat tested positive for COVID 19. I along with six other staffers of Kashmir Life went into self-quarantine following contact with him.
Two days after the incident, when heavy rain lashed Srinagar, I went to Upper Primary Health Centre Batamaloo. I was of the opinion that it will take me few minutes to get tested for the novel Coronavirus but my perceptions turned topsy-turvy as it took me three hours to get tested.
While waiting in the long queue I got drenched in rain. Amid pushes and pulls, I tried to save my eyes from the sticks of the umbrella I was carrying.
People of all ages were clinging to each other, throwing all SOP’s out of the window. A Covid-19 person could easily have been infected in that never-ending queue.
For such a huge number of people, there was only one female health worker who was issuing paper slips for testing and jotting down details of the patient. After the tedious wait for acquiring the testing slip, the patients again had to wait for another half an hour to get their swab collected.
For no logic at all, the patients were unnecessarily harassed amid Ramazan while they also had to dish out Rs 10 for the testing slip.
Finally, my turn came after what seemed like an unending wait. However, my woes continued as I had to wait for twenty more minutes to know the result of my Rapid Antigen Test (RAT).
A health worker was declaring people positive and negative by calling out surnames. An adult man who was just a step ahead of me tested positive.
‘Saifullah Bashir negative’ a health worker yelled to my relief.
After being tested negative in RAT, I was informed by the health worker that my RT-PCR report would be delivered in two days.
I went home and gave this good news to other members of the family. However, my RT-PCR was yet to come. Again as a precautionary measure, I self-isolated myself from my family.
Everything was going normal as I had no symptoms except occasional joint pain in my legs.
Eagerly waiting for my report, I spent five days in isolation.
On 27 April, my younger brother insisted me to join them for dinner. I was reluctant but gave in because of my brother’s repeated insistence.
‘In case you would have been positive then symptoms would have come by now. Come, join us.’
I crossed the barrier and as soon as I washed my hands my phone ringed.
‘We are from UPHS Batamaloo. Are you Saifullah?” Yes, I replied.
‘You are positive!’
As the words registered I felt the sky falling over me. I looked towards my younger brother in shock.
‘It happened because of you,’ I told him angrily.
Without touching the food I went back to my room. Worried about my family’s fate, I dialled back the same number.
‘The delay in my test report because of you people has put my family at risk. Why did not you inform me early? What if my family will be positive?’ I poured a dozen of such questions to them.
Without any answer, the official dropped the call.
Gathering my courage back, I called my younger brother and asked him to get our mother and him tested.
They went for their test which also came positive. An interaction of twenty minutes turned with them had made them Covid-19 positive.
This is how a delay in my test report landed my whole family in trouble. If my RT-PCR report would have come in just two days, my family might have been saved.
On May 1, I went back for my fresh RT-PCR test but this time at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS). There too I witnessed similar dramatic scenes at the test collection centre. Just one male and one female health worker were handling the entire situation. No SOPs were followed at all.
At SMHS, one needs to get a form from room no 16. The form has almost 20 columns which one need to fill up.
Then the doctor in the emergency ward needs to sign the form and fill in the official details.
Doctors, who are already dealing with such a huge flow of patients, are supposed to fill up these forms also. This was ironic as well as astonishing. Aren’t we putting doctors at further risk?
‘Kindly fill this form yourself; I will just sign on the back. I have to examine patients,’ a young doctor told me.
‘What else was he supposed to do?’ I thought.
Now the lengthy form needed to be handed over to the guy standing on a table just outside the collection centre. Again it took me three hours to get tested.
However, when my turn came, the female health worker raised an objection.
‘I will reject your form. Who gave you the authority to fill the official side of the form? Handwriting is not matching.’ she said.
The limit of my patience overflowed and I showered a dozen of comments on the faulty official system.
She got agitated and said, ‘my duty is over, come tomorrow for sample collection.’
Behind me, there was a large contingent of people who were waiting since morning.
All of them raised a huge hue and cry forcing her to agree to take our swabs.
I am still wondering why this form is so important.
This is the situation of our testing facilities. I believe if the situation at these centres isn’t corrected then they will turn into COVID-19 hotspots. The need is to enhance and increase the number of collection centres so that the huge rush of people can be tackled and SOP’s will be followed.
Also, the report of tests must be put out within 24 hours so that chain can be broken and families can be saved from getting infected.
Imagine if this is the situation in Srinagar, how terrible it will be in far-flung areas.