It’s been eleven days since my father passed, but it hasn’t sunk in yet. I keep expecting to bump into him on the road with a mysterious smile or wake up to him laying on the couch playing ludo on the phone with the TV on full volume. Just one week after his passing, I dreamt of him happily sprawled across his fav chair in the kitchen, wearing his tattered red cap, brown sweater and stripe PJ- all his fav wears that we put in the coffin he rests in. He was happy and smiling as ever.
I never expected that the last time I would see my father walk was when he came back from the ITI Covid Centre to pick up my mother and go to Covid Centre / SDO Transit. He had his mask on, his blue Ts, and his green PJ. I remember how happy he was to see my mother.
There are so many things in my head but I know I cannot put them all down but I’ll try to make sense out of it.
On June 15th, my father went to the Khampasom Community Hall for the mass testing that was taking place there. He volunteered to go as it was announced that every household must come for the test, and he was concerned that if my mother went, she would test positive as she had Sinusitis.
At 2:20 pm I received a call from him that he tested positive and he was yet to be told where he would be taken to. Then I called him at 3:50 to ask where he would be taken and he said to the ITI centre. So, I told him I’d get him the beddings and come, and that he should stay put in the room where they put him. At 5:54 pm, I dropped him his beddings, fruits, and snacks. He was confident that he would be fine there. The next morning when I called him at 7:50 am, he asked me to get him stuffs like soap. He said the floor was very cold and he had indigestion from the previous night’s dinner. So, I got him O2 medicine as a precaution.
On June 17th, we requested home testing for my mother. Her result was unclear as it was negative but had a pinkish tint, so the nurses said she should be declared as positive as a precaution. We complied. Because we knew that my parents needed to be together, anywhere, anytime!
My father spent Father’s Day in the Covid-care centre/ SDO Transit. All we could do was call to wish him.
On 21st June, my father’s Spo2 dropped to 90% and had low BP, so the personnel at the transit decided to shift my parents to District Hospital Ukhrul. Fast forward, my brother and sister came home to attend to my parents in the hospital.
On 4th July, after a long battle with Coronavirus and the poor care at the DHU, my father passed at 2:44 pm. The same day my mother tested negative. We took our father to our native Talui for burial, and by 8:40 pm, he was rested in the place he breathed his first.
From Asymptomatic to Critical
When my father bathed and left for testing, he told my mother that he would return as he was not sick. Even while at ITI, inmates remember him as the old man in a green jacket with a huge orange glass.
After he was moved to the hospital, he was described as a ‘moderate patient’, nothing to be alarmed about. But day by day, he worsened. Being at the isolation ward was ‘isolation’ by all means. Two cold visits from Docs and Nurses daily were all they got in that cold dingy ward.
Initially, it was just my mother who was attending to my father. On the second day of their admittance, my mother mistook a lady doctor for a nurse which led me to call the Isolation ward to enquire if no doctors were visiting. Turned out the doctor was there, and we spoke about how being a senior patient my mother must have mistaken her for a nurse. Soon after, my mother received an honoured call from the lady furious like medusa trying to give a piece of her mind saying “Theilo, mayarnao mangna doctor kasa maning mana!” (Know this that not only males are doctors). I presume the lady doctor’s ego was seriously hurt. My mother never spoke a word to me about the ins & outs thereafter until my brother went in as an attendant. So yes, in between the dirty ward, dirty washrooms, power cuts and extreme isolation, my parents decided to keep their worries to themselves as they were scared the docs/nurses would scold them if they reported anything to me!
On the night of 26th June, my father started coughing blood. I was told so on 27th early morning and since it was early before the usual cold rounds from the concerned nurses/docs, I took the liberty of consulting my doctor friend as I was concerned. That noon during the doctor’s round, my father’s ‘Patient Advice’ no 6 was – DO NOT CALL OUTSIDERS. As writing on the paper itself was not enough, the isolation ward called on my father’s number, fortunately being picked up by my brother, asking if we had a problem with advice no. 6?! Some big egos carried by the fresh doctors there, I presume!
The same night, my brother texted us at 10:14 pm in our family group that he had just received a call from the isolation ward that they were ready to discuss matters concerning moving my father to other hospitals with better facilities. He asked me to call them back for details as he couldn’t speak without my parents overhearing.
I called the isolation ward at 10:45 pm to enquire the same, but the doctor seemed to have no idea that such an idea of moving was made by them. To this, he spoke to another doctor who had spoken to my brother, a rather young Tangkhul doctor. (Turned out he was the one who inquired if we had a problem with advice no. 6!). In a conversation that lasted 13m 23s, I was told of how X-Ray, CT-Scan, and other tests were going to be beneficial for treating my dad. And since DHU had no facilities, the ‘senior doctor/s’ had advised that the option of moving my father was open.
In the conversation, I enquired if taking Xray would be helpful, the first doctor who picked my call said yes. But said DHU’s X-ray machine was for the general ward so not possible there. I asked if I could arrange for an X-ray, would that help, to which he said yes. So, I called my cousin at 11:22 pm to discuss the arrangements to get an X-ray for my father at a different hospital, and we blocked 7:30 am the next morning for the same. When I called back about the arrangement, he said I had to take permission from the Covid-MS. So, at 11:35 pm, I called the covid-MS, who then blatantly told me it was not possible and if they wanted, DHU had the facility. She further mentioned that the X-ray result would make no difference, really.
On 29th June, I went to see the covid-MS to discuss further my father’s case and to seek a medical summary that was required to take leave from my brother’s office. At the meeting, the covid-MS said my father was on the 2nd Floor, and the X-ray machine was the on 1st so if my father had been in a condition to move, they would have easily taken the X-ray. The doctor mentioned Pneumonia, so I asked her if it was confirmed that my father had it. I got the vague answer that all corona cases are mostly Pneumonia. Anyway, I only found out on 4th July that my father was on the top (3rd) floor and not the 2nd floor as I was told.
On 4th July, at 9:57 am, my brother messaged saying it had been almost an hour he requested for a doctor as my father’s Spo2 was fluctuating at 40-60%. Said one nurse came and left. So, I tried calling the covid MS twice, it went unanswered. I tried the DHU MS again, and it was attended on the second call. He assured me that a doctor would be sent. By 10:36 am, no doctor had arrived. At 10:38 am, we were told that the doctors were getting into the PPE Suits. It was only around 11:15 am that the doctors finally finished getting suited in PPE and walked in to attend to my father. My father, unfortunately, passed at 2:44 pm. The doctors tried CPR for more than an hour, but honestly, what was the point of even trying when they delayed their coming by more than two hours.
It was devastating to lose our father like that, but we were happy that he was no longer in pain. And we no longer had to sit there helplessly waiting for the cold visits of the doctors and nurses.
What could have been Done Differently?
This question haunts me and will haunt me till my dying days.
- First, I could have forced my father to get vaccinated when I did, even if it meant forcing him physcially! Perhaps, taking chances with vaccine than without it could have given us a different outcome.
- Second, had they put my father on a ventilator (I was told that DHU had one ICU), perhaps, just perhaps, he could have stayed a wee bit longer!
- Third, we should not have trusted the health department so blindly. We were blinded by the PRs done by them that we thought covid centre and DHU Isolation meant better chances for them. But really, what is a duty if done without compassion and passion? Yes, maybe not all doctors, but most of them. But no, it is not their fault. It was our fault that we believed in the failing system, we believed in the frontline workers. It was this blind faith of ours that led to our father’s passing.
- Fourth, the hospital could have trained the doctors and nurses more on empathy. That would have made a world of difference for the patients and their families. Was it really hard to check on the (critical) patients more frequently than the standard 2x in a day procedure as per covid-care training? Was wearing PPE really more troublesome than losing a life?
Yes, the facilities in the district are zero to none, but at least these doctors and nurses are vaccinated. And if vaccinated, why do they attend patients with utmost fear when they should instead be comforting patients in isolation? What message does that convey to the mass?
- Lastly, sending our parents to any of those centres would have been the last option had we known sooner that the inmates of the ward not only had to get themselves treated but also had to clean their own ward. In the two long weeks that my parents stayed in the ward, the cleaning personnel came TWICE to just SWEEP the room. The bathroom was out of their league so my brother took upon himself the task of cleaning it!
As I sit here and write away, I chant to myself – Alas, I led our father to his death!
He was 72 years of age when he passed.
He wanted to live so much; he urged the nurses to give him all the medicine to make him better. If you doubt me, you could ask the nurses if they ever came across an old man in grey hair who wanted to get better so much. Whenever we called him, he would tell us that he was getting better. We trusted his words. We expected him home, on the couch. But, in the end, he somehow realised he wasn’t coming home and he had his last words recorded.
Until the end, he prayed to God. For mercy, for healing, for forgiveness. With folded hands, he prayed to God. God’s verses and songs never left his lips, and with it, he passed. He left us his final words that he had forgiven everyone, and we must do the same. I just wish he knew how easy it is to forgive, but not for those of us who have to go on living without him.
My father always took pleasure in small things. The first thing he asked when he found out my younger sister was coming home was for Musk Melon- he loved it. He was a simple man, he relished everything we served him. He was someone who would do anything for his children, for me.
He enjoyed playing ludo on his phone. He enjoyed watching TV with grandma (his mother) on her bed or watch the NE news on our TV with our mother. He enjoyed cleaning the pond with his ingenious net. He loved parle-G. He enjoyed Avocado. He loved chilled Maaza juice. He loved his grandchildren. He loved us.
He served for the Lord he so loved for twenty years, touring villages on foot (mostly). When health failed him, he retired in 2004. Even after that, he continued to serve the Lord by visiting families and praying for them. He never said no if it involved God. He believed in prayer. He trusted God more than anyone of us could.
In the end, we clung to his faith in God, hoping God would definitely not forsake a soul as pure and dedicated as his. Our mother reminds us to trust in the God our father called upon even in his death bed. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to trust the same. My faith is now shaken.
When you do think of my father, I hope that you remember him as the smiling old man with grey hair who loved God like no other, and not as the old neighbour/uncle who passed away as the 22nd covid death in Ukhrul.
Rest in eternal peace, Heiwo.
[Disclaimer: We understand that every patient’s experience at the DHU isolation is different, so I am merely sharing our experience. We hit a bad luck, but it doesn’t mean you might too. This experience and opinion is purely based on our experiences at DHU isolation ward]