“Tai, mala ghari zayche (Sister, I want to go home),” the 41-year-old, an anganwadi worker with the Pune Zilla Parishad who was briefly suspected to be the first case of community transmission of COVID-19 in the country, told her sister on a WhatsApp call on Tuesday, minutes after she was taking off the ventilator after a critical 12 days at the city’s Bharati Hospital.
Hours after that call, at another hospital in the city, the 41-year-old’s elder sister, Sunita Pawale, a 44-year-old nursing supervisor, told The Indian Express: “I can’t tell you how relieved I am that my sister is fine.”
Sunita is in isolation at Naidu Hospital along with her husband and daughter, and the anganwadi worker’s husband and 16-year-old son. The anganwadi worker’s daughter tested negative for the virus and is under home quarantine.
While both the sisters and their families — six of them in all — had tested positive for coronavirus, the anganwadi worker’s condition had deteriorated rapidly since she tested positive on March 20.
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Though the anganwadi worker’s case was initially suspected to be one of community spread of the virus, with her husband, who works for a hotel in the city, later testing positive, authorities are now investigating if he could have passed the virus on to her. State health authorities are now trying to establish if the husband got the infection from guests at the hotel where he worked.
Authorities had traced 108 of her contacts and, barring five of her family members, none of them had tested positive for COVID-19.
A Zilla Parishad official said it was a “daunting task” to trace the anganwadi worker’s contacts. “She lives in Vadgaon Budruk and used to travel to the anganwadi at Varasgaon, around 25 km away. So that meant a fair amount of daily travel. Plus, she had been travelling for personal reasons and to attend meetings organised by the zilla parishad,” he said.
It was on March 8 that she first developed symptoms — a sore throat and dry cough. Over the next few days, she attended a few zilla parishad programmes until March 16, when she was admitted to a local hospital. A chest X-ray here suggested viral pneumonia, after which she was shifted to Bharati Hospital.
Though she had no underlying conditions, the 12 days that she was on ventilator support were crucial, said Dr Sanjay Lalwani, medical director at Bharati Hospital. “The patient was under total sedation and the challenge was to ensure that there is no hospital-acquired infection. We had to sometimes change her position in bed, make her lie on her chest and stomach, and that was challenging as we had to ensure the ventilation tube was in place. At one point we even kept the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine on standby as it functions like an artificial lung,” he said.
But at the end of 12 days, doctors decided she had recovered enough to be weaned off ventilator support. “She has been on 12 days of mechanical ventilation and is naturally very weak. But she is responding and gave us a thumbs-up sign and is now alert. We have decided to take her off the ventilator for 48 hours and check. We will wait and watch,” Dr Lalwani said, adding that two samples of the 41-year-old have now tested negative for coronavirus.
Back at Naidu Hospital, someone else is waiting and watching — the anganwadi worker’s husband. “I did a video-call with my wife. I could only manage a smile and a wave. I want to meet her now,” he said.
Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?
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