New Delhi: “Where do you think you got it?” That’s probably one of the first questions every Covid-19 patient who has recovered gets to hear. Innocuous as it is, this question brings out everything that is mysterious about this illness.
ThePrint’s team, comprising photographer Praveen Jain, driver Anil Kapoor, and I had already travelled over 3,000 kilometres across Rajasthan and Gujarat, and met dozens of people during those 14 days, before we were found Covid-positive on 29 April. We still discuss where we might have picked it up from, and we still have no answers.
As patients, we learnt first hand that there was too much about the infection and its modus operandi that no one had clear answers to. This made us a little apprehensive, because we didn’t know what the next two weeks had in store: symptoms can be unpredictable, and crop up well into the incubation period. Praveen and Anil are both in their late fifties — close to the vulnerable age group for whom the virus can be deadly, according to what the world has been told by experts.
But we also quickly learnt that the virus wasn’t something to be feared of, and that fear and anxiety would worsen our predicament. Having reported from the ground, we also understood that that the virus will likely spread far and wide, affecting many others after us. We simply happened to be among the few to contract it, and the next thing to do was to go through with it.
Soon after we tested positive, we surrendered to the care given to us at the High Speed Rail Training Institute, a quarantine centre in Vadodara where we spent two weeks recovering.
It felt strange — for all three of us — to sit around and wait till we tested negative, after two weeks of relentless reporting.
Despite being weary initially, our stay was not unpleasant. We had the opportunity to meet and interact with people from different walks of life who had also tested positive, and the experience brought us all together.
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The days in quarantine
We were housed in the institute’s quarters, a large, rectangular-shaped building overlooking a central courtyard. It was set up to train the country’s future high-speed railway workforce, and had been recently built with well lit, spacious rooms and new furnishings. Every room could house two persons, but single occupancy was maintained to ensure social distancing. Leaving your room was discouraged, and leaving the floor was strictly prohibited.
We were driven to the facility in an ambulance a few hours after we were informed of our positive status. Our morning and afternoon were consumed by guilt, thinking about everyone we might have exposed to the virus. Hours earlier, we had checked into the Vadodara government circuit house, and had been serviced by an old server for breakfast.
Prior to that, we had met important government officials, stayed in numerous hotels, took the help of other reporters and editors. There was no way to know who might have picked it up from us, and whether they would be affected by the virus.
I drew up a list of people we had met and places we had been to, and submitted it to the Vadodara district administration. The guilt eventually gave way to a clear-headed acceptance of the fact that there were simply too many factors out of our control when it came to the spread of the infection.
Days in quarantine were fairly regimented: Breakfast was usually late, around 10.30 am, followed by lunch around 1.30 pm, and then dinner by 8.30 pm, with body temperature checked every morning. The days were punctuated by these three meals, and residents — including us — grew used to being served at a particular time.
On one day, however, the food came to the quarantine facility late without explanation. Restless patients barged out of their rooms and stood in the corridors, looking menacingly at the empty food carts and demanding they be served quickly. Some of the residents were elderly, over the age of 70. Every person in the facility relied entirely upon the administration for food and shelter, and it was interesting to see how easily one became agitated when that routine and expectation of sustenance was disturbed, even knowing well that the next meal would surely arrive.
During our travels, we had met countless homeless people and migrant workers whose anxiety for sustenance would often turn violent, because access to their next meal was never guaranteed. Though incomparable, shadows of that same anxiety were difficult to miss.
Staying in the facility was a reminder of all our privilege, and taught us well not to take it for granted.
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Treatment and release
Most days passed uneventfully, and we kept ourselves occupied with the daily barrage of phone calls and messages from well wishers. Most people were curious to know what our symptoms were and how we were coping. We spoke plenty to our neighbours, many of whom, like us, had no idea how they contracted the illness and were itching to get better and go home. We were encouraged to see many, including old men and women, recover fully and leave.
Praveen and I began to worry when Anil, our driver who had been putting up a brave front, came to Praveen’s room one day looking exhausted. A quick check with the thermometer we were carrying showed a high fever of 103 degrees.
Immediately, we got in touch with the doctor overseeing the facility and organised an ambulance for the hospital where symptomatic patients were being monitored.
Anil’s fever persisted for two days, along with a cough, weakness, and body aches while he was at the city’s Gotri Medical College and Hospital. He was briefly administered drip, but recovered quickly and returned to our facility after three days of being in the hospital. Praveen suffered a mild fever and body aches, while I was mostly spared any symptoms, apart from fatigue and a loss of smell.
Treatment for all three of us was the same: a 5-day course of the highly debated hydroxychloroquine with a 14-day course of vitamins and other supplements. We were aware of the controversy surrounding medication and treatment when it comes to Covid-19, but with so many conflicting reports and opinions, we decided it was best to finish the course as prescribed by the doctors at the facility.
Reading excessively about illness and treatment proved to be counterproductive to keeping our spirits and morale high, so we felt it was important to limit our news consumption while staying in the know about the goings-on in the country.
But there was one day when both Praveen and I felt shaken. On the 10th day, all three of us tested negative for the virus, and began celebrating. A colleague with relatives living nearby delivered a cake to us. In our glee, we rushed to the facility’s doctors and nurses to offer some. They politely declined and reminded us that we had another negative test to pass, as per the health guidelines of the time.
We took the test that afternoon. When the results came in the next day, it showed Praveen and I were positive, while Anil remained negative. We were crestfallen, and our spirits came crashing down. Suddenly, we started questioning everything, from the veracity of the tests, to our own recovery, to what effect the virus might be having on our bodies.
During our stay, we met a young man who had tested positive seven times, and had been in quarantine for nearly a month. We wondered if our fate would be the same.
The administration advised us to wait a day or two before testing again. Fortunately, the fourth test came negative again, indicating the positive we got in the middle was a false one. After 14 days of being in quarantine, we were finally allowed to leave.
We thought we would be infinitely relieved at this prospect, but when the time did come for us to leave, a feeling of sadness somehow swept over us. Perhaps it was leaving behind the friends we had made, and wondering when they would be able to go back to their own homes and families.
As we packed up and left, we waved goodbye to immediate neighbours — a mother and son who were yet to test negative. Praveen whipped out his camera to take one last picture of the facility, and when we looked back, several others from the facility were photographing us as well. Everyone wanted a memento of this unusual experience we had shared together.