“Can I please call you back? I’m getting repeated calls from a relative,” I requested of the doctor treating my father’s severe COVID. After ending the call, I dialed my relative who had called me four times in the last minute. “Why didn’t you add me to the WhatsApp group for your father’s health updates?,” he demanded.
Two weeks ago, my father was diagnosed with a mild case of COVID. After a few days of home quarantine, his condition worsened and we had to get him admitted. Given the high transmission rate of the virus — especially with several new strains — caregivers are not allowed to accompany their loved ones into the hospital. And Indian families (mine in particular) struggle to accept this.
I come from a very big, tight-knit family with a mixed-caste, mixed-language and mixed-religious history. And this comes with its own power structures and emotional rollercoaster rides. So at 24, when I was thrust with the responsibility of taking care of my father, almost every relative — mainly the men — were sure that they could do a better job than me. Yet, none of them wanted to. They only wanted to share endless unsolicited advice and “solutions.”
When a family member is admitted with a case of COVID, from finding a hospital bed to isolating and testing the rest of the family, there are a lot of immediate responsibilities to be handled. Presently India has nearly 14 million active COVID cases and is seeing the largest spike in cases per day in comparison to any other country. A shortage of beds is often the first obstacle a caregiver faces. This is followed by the mammoth task of figuring out finances.
Almost every relative — mainly the men — were sure that they could do a better job than me. Yet, none of them wanted to.
Despite a cap on private hospital charges in some states, treatment for COVID is very expensive. Even with the government cap, it comes to ₹10,000 – ₹25,000 per night for a bed in private hospitals and ₹5,200 – ₹10,000 for those admitted based on a public health authority’s reference. This is without including the added costs of injections, medicines, oxygen mask, ventilator and ICU, depending on the severity of the case.
The coronavirus pandemic is rife with misinformation and panic particularly in India where WhatsApp often fuels misinformation. India is also facing a scarcity in medicines — one so severe that there is a black market for Remdesivir, a popular medicine administered to severe and critical patients.
At a crucial time like this, it is important that caregivers are given space to breathe and process their emotions. But that is not an option in the midst of a pandemic and if you have a huge family that constantly needs health updates and has incessant advice to give you.
The most exhausting part of the last fortnight has been fielding endless calls from relatives — distant and close. And Indian families don’t have the best track record for being sensitive to others’ feelings. While trying to cope with my life suddenly taking such a drastic turn, I was also forced to deal with questions from relatives including whether my father would die of COVID, if I looked at shifting him from an ICU to an ayurvedic treatment center and why I hadn’t given them all an update in four hours.
Frustrated, I took my woes to Twitter. I was sad and unsurprised to learn that I was not alone. My inbox was filled with messages from people who were in a similar situation, fed up with constant badgering from their extended family. We were all exhausted and often felt alone. Amidst the chaos of this pandemic, we found no time for ourselves, our grief or anger.
+ contact for what really helps streamline communication amidst this chaos.
— Vaishnavi Suresh (@vaishnaviisure1) April 10, 2021
But to avoid going down a mental health spiral, I ensured I took out 30 minutes for myself each day to relax. I cross-verified the barrage of details and misinformation thrown my way with credible sources. It is an overwhelming time and making checklists and to-do lists helped with getting tasks done. Ironically, one of the most efficient things that helped me cope was Twitter.
Social media can often be toxic but sometimes it is also a safe space where you feel heard and cared for. Even by strangers. On Twitter, many people whose loved ones recovered from COVID shared their stories of hope, comfort and solidarity with me. Above all, my immediate family and close friends have constantly stood by me and ensured my basic needs were taken care of.
As my father recovers from this difficult period, I am once again reminded of how much strength one gets from a supportive community — blood or not.