My Mother Tested Positive for COVID-19: 8 Lessons I Learnt from It
My worst nightmare came true when my mother tested positive for coronavirus.
All summer, I spent sleepless nights thinking about what would happen if I was infected with coronavirus, and carried it home to my loved ones. I thought about how guilty I would feel and how I would apologise – forgetting completely to spare a thought for the practical things I should do if the virus was to enter my life.
My worst nightmare came true when my mother tested positive for COVID-19 – one week after I moved back to Chennai from Delhi, earlier in August. Here are eight lessons I learnt about fighting the virus.
1. First, Don’t Be Afraid Of Getting Tested
My mother decided to get tested only as a precautionary measure.
As a veterinarian, who has been stepping out for work since June, she knew she had to get tested when she showed even the slightest of symptoms. So, when she caught common cold around 18 August (or so she thought), she called our family doctor for a prescription.
It was the early testing, isolation and treatment that helped her beat the virus. Don’t let any one tell you otherwise. If you are showing symptoms, and are in a position to get tested – do not hesitate.
2. Panic Is Inevitable, Remember to Breathe
In Chennai, private labs give you the results in 24 hours. But if you test positive, you will not hear from the lab but the Chennai Corporation directly. To say we were shocked when her test results returned positive is an understatement.
Within minutes, the corporation’s volunteers were outside our house – asking for our basic details, putting barricade outside our gate, giving us instructions to not step out. Here on, everything happened very quickly.
We were told to take her for medical examination at a COVID-19 camp set up in a nearby school campus. Following a CT scan, doctors recommended that since she's 56 years old, it would better for her to be under hospital observation for a few days. Two hours after she was informed of her results, she was hospitalised. Meanwhile, our house was sealed with an iron sheet outside the gate.
3. Inform All Primary Contacts
Let’s be honest. Contact tracing is now a distant dream for the government. My father and I were tested for COVID the next day, on account of being my mother's primary contacts. Our results came out negative after an anxious 48 hours (as opposed to 24 hours in private labs). But that's about it.
Even as we were worried about how my mother was doing in the hospital, we dialled to inform my mother’s team at work, and a couple of other relatives who came in contact with her. Remember to inform your domestic workers, drivers and help them get tested – in case they want to.
The only way to smash the stigma is being open about being infected.
4. Know Your Parents’ Medical History
How many of us know which medicines our parents are allergic to? What tablets do they take on a regular basis?
My parents are 56, fairly young, healthy and active. I did not pay much attention to their health – except for the once-a-year flu or cold that they would catch.
But pandemic or not, we should know these basic things about our parents’ health.
And if you haven’t already, buy an oximeter and gun thermometer immediately. I have been obsessively checking my parents’ oxygen levels every day since then.
5. Talk Money
This is one of those awkward conversations that we have with our parents. In these uncertain times, you cannot afford to not be prepared. Think about best and worst case scenarios, how to finance medical bills, what does your/their insurance cover.
That said, my mother was admitted in a private room at a top government hospital in Chennai. She did not require oxygen support or tablets beyond multi-vitamins.
She did not have to spend a penny on her medical care. But the virus could have taken any turn and it is best to be prepared.
Both my parents have medical insurance and would have covered hospitalisation charges, had her condition become worse. But if you are someone who is not covered, talk to your parent/partner about getting a COVID-specific health insurance.
This is not a conversation for tomorrow.
6. Isolation Is Difficult
My mother is the pillar of our family – she always puts my dad and me before herself, runs around the house like clockwork, making sure we get our timely meals. With her hospitalised, my dad and I felt lost. We fervently video-called my mother every three-four hours, to check on her. We would sit in front of the television and randomly surf channels before coming right to discussing my mother’s health – again.
My mother is one of the strongest and most practical people I know. She was in high spirits, joked about having anti-bodies and how she does not have to worry about going to the supermarket anymore. But the isolation got to her on the third day.
No amount of video calls, Netflix or reading magazines could compensate for the face-to-face interaction or even something as simple as dinner with the family. She was no longer sending photos from the hospital. Every time we called, she would tell us she wanted to come back home.
She was then shifted to home quarantine after five days in hospital.
But home quarantine was not any easy.
The doctors asked us to keep her door closed as we may keep interacting with her otherwise. For almost 10 days, my dad and I lived under the same roof as my mom but did not even catch a glimpse of her face. This broke both her and us.
We would keep food, water outside her room and inform her on a call. She would then take them and shut the door back. We would video call her so that she did not think that she was eating alone, I would give her movie recommendations, check on her for oxygen levels.
Around the 8th day of her isolation – she told us she wanted a break from it all. She did not want to discuss the pandemic anymore and that she was let down that this “happened to her”.
She ate, slept, read, watched movies but also broke down multiple times.
“I wore a mask everywhere, did not step out unless it was for work, washed my hands like a maniac, and this still happened to me.” I’ve never seen my mother sound so dejected.
It was painful to watch her suffer, but there’s nothing one can do except listen and wait for the isolation period to end.
Doctors told us that she could come out of her room after 14 days. At the time, it seemed like it would take 14 years for the isolation period to end.
7. Plan Meals, Divide Household Chores
To stress on this again, my mother was asymptomatic. She would wash her vessels and clothes and clean the room herself. The virus can take different forms in different people and a symptomatic person would need the help of a caregiver to do even the most basic of chores.
That said, when she was shifted to home quarantine, doctors gave us strict orders that she be given nutritional meals at regular intervals. Ensure that you are always stocked up. Luckily, we had the support of our extended family. My aunt, who is also our next door neighbour, came to our help and would drop off essentials and food every day.
My father and I would divide the household chores and plan meals, ensure that my mother was fed every two-three hours.
My mother, from her room, would video-call us and instruct where to keep which vessels, what we should cook and how we should make it. She was still trying to take care of us, in spite of being sick herself.
8. Reach Out to Friends & Family
No matter how much you read, how prepared you are, how many precautions you take, the virus can get to you any time and any way. If you are infected or are caring for someone who is infected, reach out to your friends and family.
I did not want to add to the anxiety of my parents (although, they were much better prepared) and turned to friends.
During the first week of my mother’s isolation, I would call my partner and simply cry. I could not explain the emotional toll this was taking on me. All I wanted was for my mother to be alright.
My friends would constantly check on me every single day, ask if I needed something to be dropped off, if there was something they could help me with. Looking back, I don’t know how I would have sailed through this period without my friends and family. Trust me, you will need all the support you can get.
After all, there’s no such thing as ‘too much support.’
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