Friday was her 25th day in the hospital, the longest a COVID-19 patient has stayed in a hospital in Gujarat.
Twenty-one-year old Niyomi Shah who returned from New York on March 14 was the first from Ahmedabad to test positive on March 19. She has been holed up in the third floor isolation ward of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC)-run Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (SVP) Hospital here and finds “staying positive in a hospital, a struggle in itself”.
Most of that time has been spent in few wakeful hours, left to catching up with her family over phone, keeping up with her college assignments and exchanging notes on the coronavirus spread with friends back in NY.
After three tests, all of which showed her positive, she has been asymptomatic since some days and will go through a fourth test on Saturday.
About staying positive mentally, she says, “It is difficult because in a hospital you are surrounded by so much negativity that it takes a toll on your body and mental health. Few days back I was experiencing a lot of anxiety but the hospital was kind enough to provide me with psychological treatment as well. I have a virtual therapy session everyday in the morning which helps me a lot,” Shah adds.
The third-year fashion design undergraduate student of Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, was attending classes until March 12. “I found out that there might be a lockdown in Miami in the coming weekend then, so I thought it is best to leave (for Ahmedabad) the next day. Overnight, I packed my entire apartment up and left on Friday, the 13th,” she recollects, taking a minute to laugh at the inauspicious connotation of the day and the date.
“The situation in New York was getting bad and my parents were worried as I already had an underlying lung condition (of asthma)… I had to leave my internship in New York and landed in Ahmedabad on March 14. While traveling, I took every precaution I could,” she adds.
On the morning of March 16 she had a sore throat and by the same night she had fever. She was hospitalised on March 17 with her family home quarantined the same day. Her results came out positive on March 19 and since then she has at least been tested three more times with hope of ascertaining recovery but the tests have all come out positive, indicating existing viral load in her body. “The doctors are saying that it may be because of my asthma that the virus is taking time to be flushed out of my body,” she says.
With her college classes shifted online, her friends back in New York tell her that they are strictly home quarantining, ordering their groceries online as well. “Nobody is stepping out, it has been bad in New York, and they (the administration) are doing a lot of rapid testing. Of course, a lot of them do want to come back but they have been stuck there because of the travel ban. Some others think it is not safe to come back here either… fortunately everyone ( friends in New York) is safe at this point,” says Shah.
It is not that her stay in hospital is bothering her though. “I have been hospitalised before, but my parents were there with me constantly in the same room… I could see them. It has been three weeks now and I’ve not seen anyone from my family, nor can I ask them to come here to look after me, which is a little sad, but I know I have to be mentally strong,” she says, her voice cracking with emotion.
Being the first patient of COVID-19 case in Ahmedabad, there was stigma and rumours she had to deal with, with her medical history and personal details circulating on WhatsApp groups the first few days.
“The evening my test results came as positive, I got to know these details are circulating on WhatsApp. Instead of allowing me time to absorb this news, people were gossiping about it, which I felt was against my privacy… I was upset and felt violated… there were also rumours circulating that my father was hospitalised and he tested positive too. A lot of people argued that it is important for them to know considering they may have caught it from me but the point is, I quarantined myself (upon landing in Ahmedabad) and didn’t interact with anyone. Few days back I read a tweet where a guy blamed me saying all the cases in Gujarat is because of Niyomi. That’s a bit harsh. But I got a lot of support from my parents.”
Shah is also okay with the AMC making public all names and addresses of positive patients. She says “it is acceptable for the authorities to do so for them to do their job better as long as medical history of the patients remain confidential”.
While Shah remains anxious to put this behind her at the earliest, she is also careful to note that she doesn’t want to be discharged in a rush unless she is completely recovered, for she does not want to infect anyone.
“I tell this to so many people who keep saying that they are getting bored at home. We are privileged enough to have a roof over our head and food we are getting. I am privileged enough to have a hospital bed and I am thankful for that. People in the US are not even getting treatment,” she says.
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