For Malviya Nagar resident, Sahil Bagga, it started with a cough and ended with a rebirth of sorts. He had received his first jab on March 20 but tested positive on April 13. On the 18th night, his oxygen levels began to dip, and the new oxygen cylinder his family had kept handy ran out in 10 minutes. His family had been cheated by the vendor who had not filled the oxygen cylinder to its full capacity. He also tried using trekking oxygen cans bought from a vendor in Ghaziabad but they were of no use as these were – what Bagga suspects – hair sprays. “My oxygen levels fell even further after using the cans. I will sue the man after I fully recover,” he says.
Meanwhile, his general practitioner insisted he get hospitalised as soon as possible. After much hunting, he was promised a bed by a doctor at the Emergency Room (ER) of one of the top hospitals in south Delhi. They rushed to the hospital, but were barred entry, because that particular doctor was yet to arrive at the hospital. “Later, I got to know that the doctor had tested positive and was in the ICU. Due to this, he had not communicated to his staff in the ER regarding my admission.” By that time, his SPO2 levels plummeted to 86.
When he was allowed in the ER, the scenes of chaos here reminded him of Grey’s Anatomy. Doctors rushing from one patient to another, patients sobbing, shouting for help, families outside the ER banging the doors to enquire about their loved ones. As all the beds were occupied, he only got a stretcher positioned at the far end of the room. His condition was not visibly severe and because of his age, the staff thought that he was here just “to waste a bed”. “I tried telling my oxygen saturation had gone down to 85, but the doctors insisted I get a CT scan to decide if I needed to get admitted. The scan revealed that I had moderate compromise in my lungs.” Meanwhile, when his only oxygen can ran out, he noticed an old oxygen panel on the wall near his stretcher that had a small leak. So, he stood next to it and started breathing the air around the panel.
Bagga also had to deal with brain freeze that resurfaced every time he slept and woke up with a cough; the longest episode lasted for four hours where he was unable to move even a finger. One night, he lay in pain for three hours because the elastic band of the oxygen pipe’s mask was cutting through his ear but he had no energy to loosen it. He would request his family members to watch him sleep over his mobile phone’s video, in case his mask slipped off.
The fear of losing his oxygen was all he could think of. Meanwhile, his family kept applying for an ICU bed so he could avail of a more cohesive treatment. By the end of the third day in the ER, he was shifted to the ICU and treated by the team of doctors from the Department of Critical Diseases. The change of room instantly changed his perspective. Away from the ER and its patients’ pitiful cries, he slept blissfully the first night. “A two-month-old child who had contracted the virus was placed next to my bed. Between all the crises – patients being put on ventilators, patients soiling themselves, nursing rushing from one patient to the other – that child’s innocent cry for milk had a soothing effect on me and gave me a new sense of purpose that if this child can fight this virus, so can I.”
The ICU doctors were much more accommodating, and allowed to listen to music with his headphones on. “Here, on Day 2, I had a brain freeze but went into a trance listening to devotional chants. For the first time in my life, I shifted into a sense of deep meditation. I woke up with a sense of gratitude, and I wrote a post on my Facebook page about my experience. Soon after, I started getting messages from many people who wanted me to pray for their loved ones.” The more I meditated, the more I could pass on hope and positivity to those who had read my post and were connecting with me from all over the world. In time, I volunteered to call for help on the patients’ behalf if they were unable to do it themselves. “I think because I was shouting out for help so much, my lungs expanded and my oxygen levels started to rise.” Seeing his enthusiasm, one doctor trained him how to check oxygen levels and keep tabs on other patients as an additional support to the ground staff.
On Day 8, his condition improved and he was shifted to a daycare room. It had a window from which he could see a courtyard where hospital staff would gather without their PPE gear, get trained and receive orders before their shift. The sunlight, twittering of the birds, the view of the frontline workers, made him happy, and he wrote a Facebook post with a video of the staff. “Everything was going wrong, but I got strength looking at my doctors and nurses, and finally got to know who is who when I showed them the video and each one identified themselves, excitedly, ‘sir, this one is me!’
Bagga was finally discharged on April 29, when his oxygen levels reached 93, and was sent into home quarantine for 14 days, which ends this week. “There is no time to be negative. A patient should not be able to see hopelessness in the eyes of his family. They should remain positive, smile and dream of a future after they are cured. To everyone who is fighting this terrible disease, I will say do not give up. You will be surprised to see how much fight you have left in you. A hospital can create more beds, but how can we expect them to recruit more ground staff, nurses and doctors overnight? One nurse is in-charge of almost 11 patients suffering from a range of symptoms. So, please express your appreciation to our frontliners whenever you get the chance.”