‘I Lived Death At The Door of Hell’: Kashmir’s Chilling COVID Chronicles

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KO Photo: Abid Bhat

Recounting their tormenting time as COVID captives, some survivors say they kept praying for their negative status in the haunting hospital wards. Swinging between life and death, most of them consoled themselves by recalling good times in the indifferent isolation wards.

By Jyotsna Bharti

THROUGHOUT his stay in a woeful ward, a young father from Baramulla craved to touch his toddler’s warm fingers with his trembling hands. On his possible deathbed, he wanted to see his home, “one last time”, before the virus could choke him to death and sent his boxed body for a hush-hush burial.

Ever since he “came out alive” from the hospital ward where he saw his fellow COVID patient dying a lonely and miserable death, Shabir Khan (not his real name) has taken to secluded gardening. His family members say their 35-year-old headman has grown quiet and thoughtful after having a near-death viral encounter.

Today, Khan restlessly talks about his state of numbness and hopelessness in the hospital ward. “That feeling somewhat explains the uncertainty of life and death when this coronavirus infects you,” Khan says in a low voice.

Since March this year, when the first COVID-19 positive case was detected in Kashmir, the virus has unleashed new horrors in the society: Some it killed, some it spared, many it scared.

While administration is still trying to figure out ways and means to address this novel situation, and medical professionals try to figure out how to stop it, it has already killed more than 60 persons in Jammu and Kashmir.

Despite a decent recovery rate, it equally has an alarming death rate.

“It seems like COVID is the only killer, as our hospitals have no place for cancer and other fatal diseases,” Khan says. “God forbid, if anyone catches an infection or a disease, it is only your good deeds that can save you!”

But as the valley has already lost many people in the COVID combat, many survivors share their moving journeys from their positive to negative test and trial.

Case 1: ‘I Wanted To See Birds’

They came suddenly one day to take me away when my mother was tested positive. By then, I had shown what they now call COVID symptoms.

I thought I had just developed this constant cold after eating an ice-cream. I confused my cold and running nose with my poor immunity. So, yes, I was just hoping against the hope.

But eventually, they said it.

After tested positive for this vicious virus, I felt like world blurring from my eyesight. Constant coughing and burning lungs made me restless.

In the hospital, I would feel like dying alone.

Nights haunted me more. I had no comforting company of my mother around me. She was herself lying in serious condition!

Even in that distress hour, where I was staring at my possible end, I wanted to go out and watch birds. I wanted to see them fly and free.

Only a captive can value the true meaning of freedom.

Case 2: ‘I Was at the Door of Hell’

After losing my husband to cancer and son to abroad, I live alone. I hadn’t stepped much out of home since the time pandemic lockdown was announced. I would only go out to buy groceries.

One fine day, when I went out to buy essentials, I was exposed to a lot of people on street. That evening, I felt like inhaling more oxygen than I usually do. A quick test followed and I was declared COVID positive.

On the third night in the hospital, I saw myself standing at the door of hell, mourning in pain. It was a terrifying nightmare. I didn’t want to die.

After that night, I became more faithful and fun-loving — entertaining COVID-depressed souls in the ward. Sharing, caring and storytelling felt like a healing.

But at the same time, being COVID positive was no fun.

There were days when I couldn’t stop coughing. I was running out of breath. My vision turned blurry at days. I couldn’t even swallow anything. It was a terrible time. You understand life when you are an iota close of death.

Case 3: ‘I Felt An Excruciating Pain’

Burning joints, pounding headache and numbness made me feel like a living corpse in that COVID ward. Pain was excruciating, so was this feeling of dying alone in that apathetic space.

They keep a tab on your vital signs from distance there. Then, one day, one of them came and told me that my body wasn’t absorbing the right level of oxygen. My lung power was falling, so was the hope of coming alive from that ward.

It’s terrifying to be in that situation. All of a sudden, you wondered about the futility of your dreams, goals and life plans. Nothing made sense.

I was looking forward to this summer to attend my niece’s wedding. But then, who knew that I would instead be fighting for my own life in that horror ward, where you’re being dumped as some filthy person.

Case 4: ‘You Do Not Want To Catch This!’

After nursing COVID symptoms for 10 days, I suddenly fainted one day, and vomited. I had to call for help and was under observation for one night. The long feared news finally came and sent me packing to a COVID-designated hospital.

Soon as I breathed heavy, they put a device in my mouth. I started to panic. I had this sense of drowning and dying. I thought of my young kids and how they would be managing at my relative’s place. I imagined myself falling from a cliff and going down in an abyss. You develop that sort of mindset when you realise that you are up against a formidable enemy—who was slowly leaving you breathless.

Some days after, my situation started to improve. I moved on to another ward with four others.

After a few days, I was one of the lucky ones who made it through. I came home, but trust me, you do not want to catch this!

Case 5: ‘I Lived Death’

I woke up one morning gasping for air, feeling that I was having a heart attack. An initial coronavirus test came back negative. But when the symptoms worsened, I got tested again. This time the results were positive.

In a ward full of COVID patients, I struggled with fever and heavy breathing. It felt like something was stuck there and not coming out.

Nights were more tormenting. I did not go to sleep for three days because I was scared that I wouldn’t wake up.

I lived death and that too when there was hardly anyone to console you.

Yet I made it alive from the hospital, where I saw the virus consuming a poor patient.

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Jyotsna Bharti

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