India’s first corona survivor tells her tale
At 2.30am on January 23, she and 20 other Indians from her medical college in Wuhan left campus. Wuhan was the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, but the lockdown happened just a few hours after they left. The students were aware that many people had been affected by pneumonia, but they thought they were safe as it spread due to man-animal contact. As they left campus to board a train to Changshui International Airport, about 1,500km away, they learnt that the disease spread from human to human too. It was a worrying thought.
At the airport, they learnt that one-way flight fares to Kolkata were prohibitively expensive — costing Rs 60,000 against the normal fare of less than Rs 25,000. But the airlifts hadn’t started then so they had no other option but to fly home on their own. From Kolkata, she flew to Kochi and then travelled to Thrissur, arriving there on January 24.
Nothing was amiss until January 27 when the Thrissur student got a sore throat and cough. Since she had come from Wuhan, she approached the local health inspector. She was immediately admitted to Thrissur general hospital along with three others, one of them her college senior in Wuhan. Three days went without event. But her anxiety deepened when she learnt that one person of the four had tested positive. “No one was telling me what my status was. And this had me worried.”
On January 30, she tested positive for Covid 19 — India’s first confirmed case. “I was filled with fear. If I had the virus, my family members could be infected too. My umma (mother) was brought near my room and I heard her cry inconsolably,” she recalls.
By evening that day, the health officials visited her and took details of all those who came in contact with her. They were all contacted and tested. Only the Alapuzha youth who had travelled with her tested positive too. That was the second case.
The medical student says she knew staying positive is the key to healing. “I spent most of my days in the isolation ward praying, talking to family and friends on mobile, reading medical textbooks and pretty much about Corona.” She also ate a lot of biryani since the hospital indulged her meal requests.
Despite her resolve to stay upbeat, the uncertainty got to her. Around February 12, she had an emotional breakdown. “But the health inspector and counsellor kept me motivated,” she says. It also helped that her mother moved into an adjacent room at the hospital.
On February 19, she was discharged from the hospital, into home quarantine. That too ended on March 1 though she still avoids crowded places. Though her health recovered within a few days, there were some distressing moments. She and her family were targeted on social media. Their names and photographs were circulated, and her father’s profession was also revealed. This upset her a lot. “I didn’t want my family to face any kind of stigma or isolation. I took up the matter with the health authorities and they promised that they will take care of it. They kept their word.” Now, she’s a firm believer in the Kerala model of healthcare which, she feels, should be implemented across the country for quick detection, tracking and treatment.
Her college has also pitched in by offering e-lessons. “It is conducted by our teachers from their homes in Wuhan. This takes care of theory, and we can finish the practicals when we return to college,” says the medical student.
What has changed for her is her faith in the power of prayer and sanitisers. “In the past, I rarely used sanitisers when I was home. But now I use them too frequently. I also wanted a mask but there is shortage of both surgical and N95 masks at medical shops here,” she says. But she is positive that things will be back to normal and she will be back in China to resume her medical studies. Now, she has even more inspiration to become a doctor.