Days flew by with the same routine, of waking up, freshen up, wait for breakfast, take the prescribed medicines, wait for the doctors’ round, take a nap, wait for lunch, sit at the balcony while waiting for the sun to set. Dinner came next, then again take the pills and sleep. Lo! Kafkaesque.
By Ningthoujam Victor
Bishnupur, Manipur, 2021: It was June 18 as I was cleaning my bike, my aunt broke the news that my father took my mother to the hospital. Both my mom and I had been down with fever and cold for a few days now. She also started to have breathing problems, thus, my father took her for a check-up. Pre-pandemic days, a check-up is just a check-up and the first step in a diagnosis but during the ongoing pandemic, it seems a diagnosis for any illness starts with a mandatory Covid test (at least in Manipur). I had a genuine feeling that we would be tested positive. Father called me and asked me to come to the hospital.
When I reached the Hospital, I could not believe what I saw with my own eyes. It was like the traumatic images that I’ve seen in news and articles about the pandemic but way more terrible because now I’m at ground zero and could see with my own naked eyes. I felt scared and miserable. The hospital was filled with patients who were extremely sick with the virus. The entrance, parking lot and (seems) everywhere was filled with patients and oxygen cylinders. Almost every human except for the health workers (nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, etc) that I saw was attached to cylinders as if the cylinders were an extension of the human body.
The Hospital was in complete chaos and I felt smaller and weaker seeing what unfolded in front. Patients were put up in any space that had a roof using tarpaulin sheets for partition between patients. Parking lot, waiting shed, etc. weren’t spared. When the roofs ran out, some were put up inside their own vehicle (auto, van, cars) with cylinders.
As I waited with my mom for the results we were sure that we’d been tested positive just by seeing the way how they reacted moments before breaking the result officially. Father was a little distant from us outside the car and he maintained his distance from us as he had no symptoms unlike us. A nurse came and tested our oxygen levels and Blood Pressure. Now, we are pretty sure of the possible result.
I felt indifferent to the result. Father, unlike us, wasn’t exposed to the virus. He was free to go home but no, he had the responsibility to look after us but he couldn’t possibly do anything other than wait for us to recover. We were then shifted to a community quarantine centre in Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou, Bishnupur District. The particular centre was a high school that was converted into a makeshift community quarantine centre. Maruti Suzuki Eeco vans were widely used as ambulances when a shortage of ambulances crippled Manipur. There were reports of ambulances overcharging. But the uncanny thing that I noticed in this newly converted Eeco Van Ambulances was that each one of them had Posters of the local MLA. Everyone in the centre was talking and praising the local MLA for providing free food and running the centre. There were no beds, no proper place to take bath, no one to look after the patients medically and we were told to make beds for ourselves using the available benches and desks of the school. There were only the arrogant ambulance drivers who shouted at the patients but still they sang in praise of the MLA. Ah, Politics in these testing times! Not surprised. But the initiative is very good they were providing a roof to stay for those patients who were not severely ill and didn’t have a proper place at home for self-quarantine.
Luckily within a few hours, we (mom and I) were transferred to another centre. This time a Government-run centre with proper medical facilities at Loukoi-pat. I felt relieved and was hopeful about recovery. We were assigned to room F11 and voila! It had proper beds. F11 was a big room with 7 beds. 5 male patients were already in F11. Mom and I made our beds and tried to rest. But no, we couldn’t. Family members, relatives, friends and colleagues called and didn’t make us rest. All the cajoling was okay but we really needed to rest so at one point I wanted to switch off my phone and just sleep off the day. Dinner was at 7 pm and was provided by a Catering service at Rs 150 per plate. Food was tasteless and awful. Does food have any taste when you don’t have any smell or couldn’t smell anything at all?
We lack civic sense and the sooner the people of Manipur accept this the better. Sense of social responsibility is very low in Manipur and when I say this it is with a deep sense of angst and stating the banal. Maybe after all the text readings and social conditions, one goes through growing up in Manipur, the society as a whole has failed to teach us the ability to comprehend social responsibilities such as using a common toilet and leaving it clean for the next in line. We just know how to escape but don’t know how to think for the commons, I guess. Maybe I’m wrong and maybe not but how do we explain the bad conditions of public amenities such as public urinals, toilets, waiting sheds, etc.? One conclusion that we can all agree upon is we do not know how to optimize the resources provided but are an expert in destroying it. Toilet, bathroom turned unhygienic as patients even started dumping their food waste inside it. Garbage littered all over the place. Somehow, the place became a dump.
Days flew by with the same routine, of waking up, freshen up, wait for breakfast, take the prescribed medicines, wait for the doctors’ round, take a nap, wait for lunch, sit at the balcony while waiting for the sun to set. Dinner came next, then again take the pills and sleep. Lo! Kafkaesque. Until the fourth day. Tragedy, tragedy. When I woke up, I overheard people discussing the death of an old man that occurred downstairs. I also heard that he was attended by his old wife and she too had contracted the virus and was put up in the same room with his now-dead husband. She was left alone, all alone to cry a river for the death of her husband. Imagine the plight she must have alone gone through seeing the sudden disappearance of her better half from the world must have shattered her. The death was now packed in plastic rather than a coffin. The hospital authorities took the body for cremation and it must have cost around Rs. 15-20 K. Silence took over the centre but soon it was back to normal. Another death occurred in the evening. This time the silence even became shorter. Maybe nobody cares about death or does caring or showing respect to death makes sense? We never know until such happens to our very own near and dear ones!
On the 5th evening, we were struck with a sudden notice, ordering us to shift to another Government Covid Care Centre at Ningthoukhong. We were told that more serious patients who have been put in parking lots at the District Hospital would be brought to the centre where we’ve been staying and we had to make way for them. We hurried away to the new assigned centre. Ah, the same eeco vans ambulance with the posters. Division of ward such male and female was simply impossible as patients attended would sleep nearby the patients only. Since I was together with her I was doing okay but things could have been totally different if it was me alone who got the virus. All my life she had been taking care of me in both my good and bad days. I started introspecting the role of my mother and motherhood to me.
The new quarantine centre was an indoor badminton court/hall with metal beds, few bulbs, no partition and was occupied by some 30 patients. Here, unlike the previous centre, we were not allowed to go outside the main door, and it felt like I was caged like a bird. A plastic string at the door was the furthest line we could step to. Sanitisers, masks have become so much a part and parcel that it was weird to even see people without them. Even while watching some videos over the internet I felt strange when people were seen without face masks. The food here was the same dishes but now the taste buds have resurrected. I was getting better and regaining strength.
Food was delivered by a catering service that delivered at the same rate of Rs 150. Names would be called out in turns for the foods packed in plastic and the packets were drenched with sanitisers. Our hands were wet with sanitisers every time we lay or touch something. The sound of the oxygen concentrators was louder at night and patients coughing robbed me of sound sleep for 5 nights here until I was finally discharged on the 28th of June. We were asked to quarantine at home for a week, so we did.
The whole experience was indeed an eye-opener for me. I must thank the hard-working frontline health workers who took constant care of me despite the monumental workloads. Now as I write my account of what I went through, I’m relieved that I didn’t end up inside a plastic bag like the old man from day four.
(Ningthoujam Victor is a student of Mass Communication at the St Anthony’s College, Shillong and is an aspiring creative photographer and filmmaker. The writer expresses gratitude to Donald Takhell for the help rendered and guidance given on writing down my expereince)My experiences at the quarantine centres