Responding to an SOS: What Not to Do When Helping a COVID Patient

5 min read

The last couple of weeks have been harrowing, to say the least. I read a tweet online which said that all of us will probably feel the effects of PTSD long after this pandemic is over. Couldn’t agree more.

The very meaning of the term 'privilege' has changed, and how.

'Privilege', now, is having all the members of your family safe, at home.

Privilege is not having to run from one hospital to another, or to stand for hours in-front of a hospital’s emergency room, begging the staff for a bed for your parent or spouse, or sibling.

Sadly, most of us have not been that lucky.

We’ve paid 25,000 for a vial of Remdesivir and 20,000 for an oxygen cylinder.


For the first time, Instagram stories that were filled with food and laughter are begging for beds in an ICU or Plasma from a willing donor.

And while we’re all trying to wrap our heads around this unwelcome feeling of collective grief, we’ve emerged as a generation that refuses to shrug and bury our heads in the sand.

The only good thing to come out of this entire catastrophe is this spirit of solidarity amongst us all.

For every person selling life-saving drugs in the black market, there are five youngsters volunteering to deliver oxygen to patients in need.

There’s no doubt about the fact that each one of us wants to help. The only question is, how?

A little context—both my parents tested positive and had to be admitted to hospitals in early April. Thankfully, they are now back home, recovering.

In this piece, I talk about how you can effectively help someone who is looking for resources for a friend or family member suffering due to COVID.

Stop Sending Forwarded Lists, or Screenshots. Make That Call Yourself

As someone who was constantly juggling between two different hospitals at roughly the same time, I can tell you this— the person asking for help DOES NOT have the time to skim through lists and indulge in trial and error.

This also applies uniformly to all leads that you are trying to pass on.

Please sit down and call the numbers on those lists yourself, instead of simply forwarding a message or a screenshot.

I understand that passing on a screenshot is much easier, but it is imperative to remember that most of them contain information which is at least a day old. Consequently, this is as useful as an N-95 mask hanging below the nose.

Instead, ask yourself two quick questions.

First, do you have five minutes that you could take out to make these calls? Second, is the person asking for help important or close enough for you to take that time out?

If the answer to even one of these questions is yes, then note all those numbers down, and start dialing.

You’ll be amazed at the amount of phone numbers that are busy or unresponsive.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find a lead that actually works, and pass it on.

1. Do Not Reply to Their Instagram Stories Simply to Show Concern

I understand that you’re overwhelmed, and I absolutely understand that you want to tell the person asking for help that they’re not alone in this.

However, this is not the time for niceties.

Anyone asking for specific help on a social media platform is looking only for replies with actionable leads. Please hold on to your concern for a little longer if you do not have helpful information at the moment.

Uncharitable as it may sound, every “hope your parent/sibling/spouse gets better soon” or “I am so sorry, how did this happen?” translates only into thirty wasted seconds when you’re trying to arrange for a plasma donor for your father.

If you do have the time, try instead to help them out by finding a lead.


2. Try to Include All Essential Details in a Single, Crisp Message

In all cases, the person you are trying to help will not have the time to have a proper conversation with you at that very moment.

Try to include all details about the information that you’re trying to relay in a single, structured message.

This has a twofold advantage—one, this message can now be easily forwarded to a friend or family member.

Two, it can now be easily referenced multiple times instead of having to scroll through the chat. This applies squarely to information links and Google forms.In cases where there is a definite wait time, or a public body is allotting resources, take the time out to register the patient instead of simply sending links to that particular database.

In cases where there is a definite wait time, or a public body is allotting resources, take the time out to register the patient instead of simply sending links to that particular database.

For example, the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences provides plasma of a particular blood group in exchange of donated plasma of any blood group.

However, this is a multiple step procedure requiring the filling of five different forms present as links on their website.

My brother-in-law downloaded all these forms and combined them into a single PDF, which he emailed to me while I was making the other arrangements.

This simple act of his, easily saved half an hour that I would have otherwise spent in doing the same exercise.

Even better, I was now able to forward it to 7 different people who were subsequently looking for Plasma, and had reached out to me for help.Less Phone Calls, More Texts.


3. Less Phone Calls, More Texts

This one’s rather logical, isn’t it?

Amongst the 7 odd days when I was juggling between two different hospitals, the most difficult were the two days when I was trying to arrange plasma for my father.

Someone who has called over a hundred random numbers in the past hour, does not have the luxury of filtering phone calls from unknown numbers.

As a result, I was picking up every single call, hoping that it would connect me to a willing donor.

Calls from relatives and family friends, regardless of how well meaning they must have been, were only a hinderance at this point of time.

Please don’t force a person fighting for a loved one’s life to instantly update you on their condition.

By all means, avoid calling unless you have information that could be useful for them.

Your concern will remain just as real even when relayed over a text message.

And that’s all, folks. My apologies if I come across as overly preachy or ungrateful.

If there is one thing that this entire experience has taught me, it’s that when fighting COVID, every second count. Time might have been money under any other circumstances, but when fighting to save a loved one, time is life. Stay safe, and keep helping.

(Harsha is a Delhi based lawyer and freelance writer, working currently in legal technology.)

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