Covid chronicles might’ve started sounding a bit clichéd now, but as the threat of the third wave is still looming large, some stories continue to stir for their evocative appeal.
Asma was busy with household chores when her mother, Khadija, called in to inform her that she was tested positive for Covid-19. It was April 19 2021, and Kashmir was in the middle of the second viral wave and in the third consecutive year of lockdown.
Assuming that the news would cause a disturbance at her in-laws’ place in the holy month of Ramzan, the daughter preferred to ignore it. She simply asked her mother to isolate herself and take medication at home. Asma would be assured by her husband, Javed that her mother would be fine as the recovery rate was very high at that time.
But deep inside, Asma, a government schoolteacher was getting paranoid. The valley was witnessing another traumatic period. The viral death had devoured the collective mourning and made it an individualistic, untouchable affair. Mindful of this tense situation, Asma was trying to keep herself busy with online classes.
For three days, she pretended to be calm and composed in front of everyone. But when alone in her room, she felt guilt-ridden and cried. Her mother was breathing heavily and with difficulty. She was feeling selfish.
Next day, at the time of Sehri, her father, Bashir, texted her saying, “Mouj bachawun, assi bachav assi chakh chi umeed” (Save your mother, save us. You’re our only hope).
The text unsettled her. She ate a banana for Sehri and asked her husband to drop her off at her father’s place.
Asma’s husband lives at Kupwara—a north Kashmir district—85 km away from Srinagar. Her father lives in Bandipora, a district in north Kashmir, 74 km away from Kupwara. “I wanted the car to fly and take me to my parents,” she recalled.
As Bashir and Khadija’s eldest daughter, Asma was the matriarch of the house. After her father’s retirement, she took the reins into her own hands. She was the decision-maker of her family. From accompanying her siblings to universities to making arrangements for her own wedding, she had done everything. She even used to buy mutton from the butcher, which is generally considered a man’s job in the valley.
In Kashmir, it’s generally believed that after getting married girls don’t take responsibility for their parents but Asma proved all this wrong.
Even after getting married in 2019, Asma not only continued taking responsibility for her parents but for her siblings as well. This time also, she did the same.
When Asma reached Bandipora, she went to see her mother Khadija, lying alone in her room. “My mother’s lips had turned blue due to lack of oxygen,” recalled Asma with a crack in her voice.
Next she went to see her father and saw a pale fragile figure lying in bed. She couldn’t believe it was her Abu ji. “When he saw me a smile crossed his lips.”
She hugged him carelessly. He was so weak that Asma could feel his bones.
Khadija couldn’t catch her breath. Javed carried her to the car without taking any precautions. Her fingers were as black as the colour of the car. She was taken to a general physician, Dr Parvaiz. “Take her to Srinagar now and admit her there as soon as possible. She needs oxygen immediately,” he advised.
Asma insisted they take her to the hospital, but Javed suggested they buy an oxygen concentrator and give Khadija oxygen at home only. “Javed told me things were fine and I was panicking unnecessarily,” she said. “My husband had to go home, as everyone was calling him back. So, I listened to him.”
Asma asked her siblings to take rest, while she slept with her mother. She was more of a parent to her younger siblings — Ayman, 31, has completed her masters in science; Aisha, 27, is an engineering graduate, while Ayan, 18, is the youngest of all, who recently passed his secondary exams.
Asma checked her mother’s oxygen level all night and it didn’t rise above 60. “I was staring at those white walls and my mother’s pale face and waiting for the dreadful dark night to end,” Asma recounted the dark and despairing moments of her life.
With the dawn of the next day, Asma rushed her mother to the same doctor. He scolded Asma for ignoring his advice: “I’ll give you a referral letter; take your mother to JLNM [Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial] hospital now.”
Due to the lack of facilities at hospitals in Bandipora, Asma had to take her mother to the hospital in Srinagar, another district, which is 66 km away.
“All the relatives called and were showing concern about how I was all alone,” Asma said. “But hardly anyone came forward due to the fret of the virus.”
Determined to take her mother to the hospital, Asma made all the arrangements alone. And shortly she embarked on the Bandipora-Srinagar journey, in an ambulance. It was turning out to be a nightmare as the road is in shambles. Inside the critical van, Khadija could barely talk and walk due to weakness. Her semi-conscious state broke Asma, who was crying under the burqa. “I puked thrice and was drenched in sweat and tears.”
Khadija was repeatedly asking her, “Did we reach?”
“Just five more minutes,” her daughter would tell her.
When Asma finally saw the green board of JLNM hospital she sighed with relief. Entering through the white gates of the hospital, she felt she has won the first battle. But little did she know the real struggle would start from there.
Khadija was admitted to ward no. 3, bed no. 11. When doctors checked her, Asma recalled, they said, “We can’t save her. She won’t survive!”
But the dauntless daughter refused to believe that and begged other doctors to check on her mother. Their response, however, was no different.
Left heartbroken, Asma had two options — either lose hope and cry or pray, or wait for a miracle to happen. She chose the latter.
Later at the time of Iftar, her husband came to see her, and brought blankets, food and all the necessary stuff. He rushed back home.
For seven days, Khadija was lying only in one position. She couldn’t move. Her daughter had to arrange a portable toilet for her. Doctors asked her to buy medicines from different parts of Srinagar. Asma hadn’t even heard of those places.
One day a doctor asked her to buy injections from Khayam Chowk. “I didn’t even know how to reach there,” she said. Another time, she broke down and went out in the corridor to cry. She saw people dying in front of her. It was horrible.
As soon as her mother’s condition was a bit stable, her younger sister, Ayman, gave her horrible news. Back home her father’s condition had worsened.
She asked Ayman to bring her father to the same hospital where their mother was admitted. Upon reaching, he was denied entry. Hospital authorities refused to admit her father.
The white building was Asma’s only hope. She believed if she could bring her father in she might save him. But when she failed at everything, in the end, she bluffed them saying, “I’ll send all this information to Press.” Then, she pretended to dial a number. As soon as she did that, one of the hospital staff members, stopped her and said: ‘I’ll see what I can do?’
Asma held her father’s hand and rushed him inside the hospital, thinking she can at least save her father by giving him oxygen support until they sort out things. But her father was so weak that he could barely walk. She took him into ward no. 3 and admitted him there. After a few more requests, Asma managed to get a bed adjacent to Khadija’s bed number 12, for her father, Bashir. This way she could keep an eye on both of them.
One day Bashir’s blood sugar level dropped to 40 and doctors asked Asma to bring sugar as soon as possible or her father might die.
She rushed to the ward boy and cried in front of him, “Get me the sugar please, from anywhere!” She rushed out to bring chocolates. “Every night for fifteen days I barely slept,” Asma said. “I used to check their oxygen saturation every twenty minutes.”
When Khadija saw Bashir beside her, she started healing miraculously. Earlier, she would refuse to eat anything, but now she asked for more food. Even though Bashir was extremely weak, seeing his wife gave him hope. “I used to hear people whispering: She’s running pillar to post to save her parents but doctors are saying they won’t survive,” Asma said.
Hearing such things crushed her, but her love and devotion for her parents didn’t let her give up. She slept on the floor for a fortnight to keep a close watch on her parents.
With time, Asma was acquainted with all the patients and doctors there. “I helped a lot of people in installing oxygen concentrators, as I learnt to use all the machines and devices in there.”
There was a man in Asma’s ward attending his old mother recovering from Covid. But the son was impatient. He used to yell at her: “Why don’t you die! You’ve become a burden on me! I have a family to look after, and couldn’t stay there any longer.”
One afternoon he crossed all the limits and turned off her oxygen supply, Asma recalled. “Everyone was astonished. Someone rushed to turn on her oxygen; others called the doctor who rebuked him. That old lady eventually passed away in the midnight.”
Next day someone told Khadija and Bashir how lucky they were to have a daughter like Asma.
After days, the old couple started recovering. Their oxygen saturation was above 90. All the patients and doctors were congratulating them terming their recovery as a “miracle”.
However, before Asma could take a sigh of relief, another adversity awaited her. She was now herself tested positive for Covid. Doctors advised her to get admitted to the hospital but she refused. “I just couldn’t trust my parents with anyone,” said Asma.
She stayed on that hospital floor only and had a high fever constantly. She took medicine after every three hours. But she was relaxed because her oxygen saturation was above 90 always.
Three days before Shab-i-Qadr, her husband, Javed, came to see her in the hospital. By then she was unrecognizable. She looked haggard and skinny. Javed wanted to take her home, but she didn’t want to leave her parents. He insisted that they take her parents home as well, as they had recovered, but doctors refused to discharge them for some reason.
Bashir was scared of going home. He said he was afraid, if he and Khadija went home, they might be sick again. He couldn’t believe he had survived Covid. On the other hand, Khadija was adamant to go home. She was sick of hospital. “I saw patients getting discharged every day, I too wanted to go home,” she said.
Later, Javed called an acquaintance, who was a doctor, to check on Asma’s parents.
Eid-ul-Fitr was just five days away. Asma had lost all the hope of celebrating Eid or going home, when the doctor announced that Bashir and Khadija were fine and could be discharged.
They couldn’t believe they were getting out of the hospital alive. “That moment was incredible,” said Asma, with moist eyes.
Next day, Asma went home along with her parents. She refused to stay at the hospital anymore for her own treatment. She fulfilled her commitment of taking her parents back: “We celebrated Eid on that day only!”
Aaliya Shalla is a bachelor's student of Multimedia & Mass Communication at the Govt. Degree College, Baramulla. She is currently an editorial intern at the Mountain Ink.