An Oral History of the COVID-19 Crisis: 'I told my father that his treatment has to go on, pandemic or not'
This account is part of Firstpost’s Oral History Project of the COVID-19 Crisis in India. The Oral History Project aims to be an ongoing compendium of individual experiences of the pandemic, with a focus on one significant day in our respondents’ lives during this time.
Neha Ghosh, 28, is a Kolkata-based schoolteacher.
(In June 2019, Neha’s father, 58, was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma — a rare, incurable cancer of the white blood cells — and underwent several rounds of chemotherapy and non-surgical treatment. Neha and her family wish to continue giving him the best treatment that can make his journey as painless and as easy as possible.)
There is this one particular day in the lockdown that I want to talk about. But before that, I want to mention that my father’s last chemo session was in the first week of March when everything was normal. The next chemo session was scheduled for two months later, on 12 May, when everything was under complete lockdown, and it was not like what we have now in December 2020.
Back then, there was a lot of anxiety and uncertainty about the potential of the virus, and what it might do to people who are vulnerable, or have comorbidities — whether it would impact them more. We had a cancer patient at home, so we were even more anxious about everything, and were taking the best possible precautions. But, unfortunately, chemotherapy cannot be administered at home, so we had to go to the hospital on 12 May.
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I decided to accompany Baba, and told ourselves that the doctors and nurses were anyway going to the hospital every day, so it should be okay. However, we still felt fearful when the day finally arrived.
So the cancer ward and the general ward are separate at the Apollo Hospital — which is where my father goes for his cancer treatment — and are in two different buildings. When we reached, there were strict checks — our body temperatures were recorded and we were sanitised. Both Baba and I were wearing two masks each, and so was the doctor, by the way. We saw that there were other cancer patients there for their treatments as well, much like my dad. I suddenly realised that the nurses and other hospital staff were all in PPEs, and sensed a general air of anxiety at the ward over the coronavirus outbreak. However, I would also like to mention that the cancer treatment was not being compromised with, or treated with any less urgency at the facility, because of the pandemic.
The nurses were extremely helpful that day — they always are. But especially on that day, I felt like they knew the anxieties of the patients well. They were carrying out the treatment in the right way, and were not holding back out of fear. They were doing their duties in a way that helped us feel like it was a ‘normal’ day on which we had come for chemotherapy, just that people were in masks and PPEs.
That is definitely one day in 2020 that I shall never forget, mostly because of the anxieties attached to it, with my mind telling me that ‘Oh, I am visiting a hospital, and there is a COVID ward right next to the building. What if Baba gets infected with the coronavirus? — Because the news constantly told us that the virus was fatal for individuals with comorbidities; that they may not survive.’ These were the thoughts playing in my mind.
However, we were finally done with the chemo and we got back home. Baba ran into one bathroom and I ran into the other; we cleaned and sanitised ourselves and our phones, and threw out our clothes. We weren’t speaking to Maa and Dadu for a day because we were worried about being carriers, and did not want to spread the virus to others. However, the day passed and nothing of the sort happened.
...Back then, I remember telling Baba that we have to prepare ourselves to live with the virus for a while now, because in May the vaccine was still uncertain. I also told him that his treatment has to go on, pandemic or no pandemic; it cannot stop...His treatment is still our priority, and even if he does not get well, we would want him to be patient with the treatment, and not suffer.
— As told to Arshia Dhar
Write to us with your COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown experiences for inclusion in the Oral History Project at firstname.lastname@example.org
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