Kashmir’s Alarm Calls: When COVID ‘Concern’ Becomes Trauma

‘Even if the affected families personally believe things would turn out to be okay, people are hell-bent on making them question everything’

THE torment did not strike us immediately. We were fine. We were busy and had a lot on our plate. There were things to consider, arrange and take care of. Yet, that was not what impacted us. It was because of the phone calls.”

This is what happened when Sadia’s mother tested positive for Covid. She had been running a high fever for a week. Things were improving when the family heard about pulse oxy-meter and how monitoring oxygen saturation can help.

Initially everything was okay but then this one morning the oxygen saturation suddenly dipped to 80. Along with her younger sister, Sadia immediately rushed to hospital. After a lot of difficulty, moving around and panicking, her mother was admitted in SKIMS, Soura.

As the test reports indicated and was obvious by then, her mother was Covid positive. Apart from being worried because of her mother’s Covid positive status and the existing comorbidities, medicines and everything else, panic had started to settle in. Not because of the fears of bilateral pneumonia or any other complications, but because of some calls.

All was well through the day. The trouble started as soon as Sadia’s relatives got to know of her mother’s hospital admission. Of the many calls that she had to attend to, many were simply crying and wailing. It seemed as if someone had told them that her mother was already dead.

Over the next few days, the frequency and number of such calls increased. Sadia revealed, “I snapped after a neighbour called. When I asked him who he was, he replied: Haji Sahab. As soon as he handed over his phone to his wife so she may talk to me, she started crying. I was consoling her for the 5 minutes that the call lasted for. It seemed as if something was wrong with a family member of hers and I had called to console her. I don’t even know who that lady was.”

Such calls, Sadia said, became quite common, to the extent that she stopped taking a lot of them. “They were getting me depressed instead of offering help or cheering me up. I was already afraid for my mother’s life and this premature mourning sent chills down my spine. My phone is still on so I may talk to my family and arrange things; otherwise I would have turned it off by now.”

Shakir had a similar experience.

“Once my brother’s reports turned out to be positive, many of my relatives started calling me and giving me advice on how to take care of him and the rest of family members. The most bizarre advice was when an uncle of mine asked me to heat some water in a pressure cooker and put a pipe in place of its vent. The other end of this pipe should be in my mouth so that I inhale steam. I am baffled how people invent these things and how can people think these things are safe to do in the first place. Sometimes I wonder whether he was not trying to kill me!”

A lot of this chaos is because of the fact that Covid is surrounded by a lot of controversies.

South Asian countries also believe in alternate medicines and sometimes this leads to people believing all kinds of things as possible cure. Like this steam inhalation, or clove vapours, or even ginger water. They sure might be good things but they are not cure. People lack proper knowledge and the happiness of having found an indigenous cure kind of blinds them about truth.

A lot of people are also resorting to taking antibiotics because of the panic around Covid, even if they merely sneeze once. They do not realize that taking antibiotics so easily and for everything makes these useless in case of a real infection later on. They know nothing about antibiotic resistance and how this behavior will make their infections last longer in the future and how they would need to take stronger antibiotics as well.

Naaz’s father asked her for something cold and watery. He was feeling irritable because of all the medicines he was being administered in hospital.

“When I told my aunt that I let him have a cold drink, she scolded me badly for it saying this could harm him,” Naaz said.

“She didn’t even consider that his doctors had approved of it and that these patients need something that can tone down the bitterness in their mouth and burning in their stomachs. The doctor even asked me to let a chilled glass of skimmed milk accompany his lunch but my relatives keep blasting me for it. I have stopped telling them any details, just to save my own peace of mind.”

All these uninformed advices and talks make one feel bad. Most of the attendants are feeling torn because of how and what their relatives, friends and acquaintances are saying. More than personal worry and concern, they get frightened because people believe a Covid positive report means death in itself.

Arsalaan has been searching high and low for the anti-viral drug, Remdesivir.

“My uncle and brother believe that this medicine is what will save my grandfather,” he said. “I have talked to the doctors as to why they haven’t prescribed this medicine yet. They responded that this drug is running short and hence is of no use to be prescribed. They further explained that the drug costs around Rs 30,000 for a 5-day course and has no proven value for the treatment of Covid. I tried to explain this to family members but they seem to believe that it is a magic drug and will save grandpa from any eventuality. They have crossed the stage where I could reason with them. So I have simply given in. Now I am hoping the medicine is available in SKIMS as they claimed a few days ago and I am saved the agony of visiting every drug store in the city.”

To Arsalaan’s good luck, the “vital medicine” is not only available in SKIMS, but also free now.

A lot of people, however, are feeling the Covid pinch.

Even if the affected families personally believe things would turn out to be okay, people are hell-bent on making them question everything.

No doubt there are harrowing tales around Covid, but that does not mean everyone meets the same fate. The mortality rate due to Covid is merely 3 percent. And a family, in such desperate times, would rather want people to tell them things are going to be okay instead of talking as if the patient is already dead.

“It might help us, as a society in general and the affected families in particular, if we could put ourselves in their shoes before saying something,” said Mushtaq, a family member of a Covid patient.

“After all anyone would start to have doubts if every person they talk to says something negative. Some people might be able to see though but the ones prone to anxiety would out rightly think that something is totally wrong with their patient.”

So the question arises, why give people such heartache?

Maybe among all the other things, people need to figure out how to filter fake medications and cures from authentic ones, along with realizing that there is no treatment for Covid yet. They also need to keep a check on what they say to the affected families for they might be causing panic, depression or even trauma.

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