‘Please Take Care of Our Children’: Farewell in Kashmir’s COVID Ward

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Pics by Abid Bhat

The cruelty of this pandemic is that it sweeps invincibly through the house and takes away loved ones before their family could say a final goodbye. Death is patently inevitable but to lose loved ones without comforting them or give them a proper funeral at the end, is likely to haunt the victim families forever.

By Zaid Bin Shabir

THE long night was yet to end on July 7, 2020—when doctors wearing PPE kits, safety goggles, nitrile gloves and breathing mask, took *Rafiqa from ward no. 5 of Srinagar’s JVC hospital to its ICU. Her intubated husband was waiting inside for a final farewell.

The doctors aiding Rafiqa stood outside the ICU. Her husband, Mushtaq, had his eyes fixed on the window room opposite to his bed. As she reached the large window, her moist eyes hooked on the smiling face of her husband, who slowly raised his right hand to greet her.

The couple had last seen each other 10 days ago when they were tested Covid positive together.

With an exhilarating smile towards Rafiqa, Mushtaq removed his respiratory mask and said, “Now, you’ve to take my place. Please take care of our children. Ask them to never miss Namaz, and always follow the path of Islam.

The poignant conversation lasted for 20 minutes before Rafiqa came out to enquire about her husband’s health.

Her fretful state pacified only when doctors informed her that Mushtaq’s condition was incrementally improving and once the plasma surgery was done, he would be better.

With that assurance, Rafiqa was taken back to her prescribed ward.

That day, opposite to the JVC hospital, her brother, Nisar, was opening his retail shop when a random call suddenly thrilled him. Some unknown Samaritan had come forward to donate his plasma for his brother-in-law.

In excitement, Nisar called Mushtaq’s brother and also his friend to share the happy news. Shortly, as the doctors set the stage for his brother-in-law’s plasma surgery, Nisar went to receive the donor.

But at about the same time, Mushtaq’s condition was falling in the ICU. The virus had severely affected his lungs causing shortness of breath and sinking pulse. The doctors in PPE gear immediately started to operate on him.

It was 9:30 am, half an hour before plasma surgery, when an unexpected call from a doctor rang Nisar’s phone. He was on the way to the hospital along with the plasma donor.

No need for plasma donor now,” the doctor informed him. “We lost him!

Mushtaq had passed away after suffering a massive cardiac arrest.

After spending nearly three months at home due to the pandemic lockdown, the deceased had organised a family trip to Chraar-e-Sharief, just a fortnight before his death.

On his return, he had developed Covid symptoms.

Along with his asymptomatic wife, he was shortly declared positive. Their two children had tested negative. The couple was referred to JVC, where Mushtaq, two days after testing positive, was put on ventilator due to breathlessness.

The moment he died, Mushtaq’s son Tabish and daughter Masrat were collecting their COVID reports and discharge certificates from Chraar-e-Sharief’s Government hospital. They were finally being discharged after serving their quarantine period there.

Shortly, an unknown number rang Tabish’s cellphone. The caller was from JVC administration, informing him that his father breathed his last.

The son couldn’t believe it, as he had talked to his father just two hours ago. Mushtaq had made him believe that his condition was improving.

Tearful Tabish called his uncle, Nisar, who at that time was among the seven people burying Mushtaq’s plastic wrapped body. Even though Nisar was grief stricken, he tried to calm his inconsolable nephew by terming his father’s death a lie.

Weeks after his father’s demise, Tabish sat with a glum face in the family living room. “Papa was the greatest father in this world,” he said in a low voice. “He never stopped me from pursuing my dreams but this virus took him away from us.”

Married for 35 years, Mushtaq and Rafiqa were a few months shy of their 36th anniversary before the pandemic changed everything for them.

Today, the other half lives on with her departed better half’s pictures and memories. Her children and Mushtaq’s last words are the only support she has against her grief now. 

*Names have been changed in this story to protect the identity of the Covid victim and his family members.

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