HIS words marked by long pauses, but his eyes shining, Devendrabhai Parmar says, “The thing I treasured the most as I was wheeled out of the hospital was the fresh air and sunlight on my body after 113 days.”
Parmar, 59, was discharged from Civil Hospital, Sola, Ahmedabad, on December 19, nearly four months after he was admitted due to Covid complications — the longest known hospital stay in the country due to the disease since the pandemic began — weighing 15 kg lesser, his head shaved and his beard all white, an older, frail replica of his self. But, as Parmar writes in a notebook handed over by daughter Hemangini, using it to do most of the communication as he is still on oxygen support, “The joy of returning home and being with family is bigger than the pain I am suffering.”
Of the 113 days in hospital, Parmar spent nearly 90 on ventilator. He lost count after the first few days, and says realised it had been one-and-a-half months only when a ward boy told him that.
A freelance accountant, Parmar had tested positive on August 28, at a time when Ahmedabad was reeling under a Covid spike, and was brought to the Civil Hospital after two days at a private hospital in Dholka, the town near Ahmedabad where the family stays. Gujarat Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, who represents Dholka in the Assembly, says he advised the family to opt for the government facility to avoid exorbitant costs. “Right from the beginning, I tracked the family as a local party worker approached me for help regarding Devendrabhai.”
Dr Kiran Rami, the Head of Department of Respiratory Medicine at the hospital, who led the team treating Parmar, said he was admitted with oxygen support, and with his lungs showing signs of infection. “The one thing favourable was that he has no comorbid conditions.”
On October 3, Parmar tested negative for Covid, but his lungs didn’t improve and by October 28, he had developed pneumothorax, followed by breathlessness and pain in chest. Doctors had to insert a tube for drainage in Parmar’s chest for nearly 10 days. At his worst, Parmar was being administered 75 litres of oxygen per minute. By the time of his discharge, this was down to four litres, as noted by Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, who was around for the occasion. Dr Rami says Parmar is suffering from post-Covid fibrosis, hence the oxygen requirement.
One of the three rooms at the family’s residence in New Shivshakti Society in Dholka has now been kept aside for Parmar, and resembles a hospital room. “I am paying Rs 800 per day rent for the oxygen concentrator machine, Rs 600 per day for the cylinder and Rs 5,000 monthly for the bed,” says Hemangini, 27, Parmar’s only child. Doctors have advised Parmar to practise deep breathing, and told the family to allow only limited visitors, to wear masks at all times, and to avoid any kind of smoke around Parmar, including of incense sticks.
The continuous wearing of oxygen masks has left a mark on Parmar’s face. “He has also developed some skin problem as he was not cleaned or sponged properly during his stay in the Covid ward. My mother now cleans him every day,” Hemangini says, adding they got his head shaved to facilitate hygiene. Hemangini and her mother Induben, 55, had tested negative for Covid.
Parmar needs help to sit up and use the toilet. Showing the trembling in his hands and legs, Parmar worries his thighs are “thinner than my arms now”. Hemangini says that while he is back on a normal diet, his appetite has fallen and he has developed anxiety about when he will get back to his feet.
This is the second ailment to afflict Parmar in 2020, after a fall in January left his leg fractured and him bedridden. He had just started using crutches when infected by Covid.
As Induben says a long hospital stay “can impact the most mentally strong”, Parmar takes the notebook to write, “I saw several patients die.”
What kept him going was video calls with family, playing online Ludo and Mahamrityunjay mantra (for long life), that he still keeps listening to on his phone.
With Parmar on the mend, Induben has returned to work, with the primary burden of running the family now on her. Despite opting for a government hospital, the family say they ended up spending nearly Rs 80,000 on medicines. A field health worker for more than 30 years at the nearby Trasad Primary Health Centre, Induben had gone on leave during Parmar’s illness and moved into a rain basera (night shelter) near the hospital to avoid travelling from Dholka daily. “Someone has to run the house,” she says, about going back to work.
A postgraduate in commerce with training as ‘Company Secretary’, Hemangini is looking forward to giving her state civil services examination.
And, one more thing. Showing pictures of her engagement on her phone, held days before Parmar fell ill in August, she says it was the last good times the family had. Her fiance was a tower of support, running between their home and the hospital. Soon, the phone will have other memories, she hopes, of their wedding, earlier meant to be held this month.