- The number of people affected by the coronavirus increases every day.
- For the last month and a half, my consistent writing on the reality of the coronavirus has an unchanging caveat: the increase in the number of cases is exponential every third day, every week.
April is my asthma month. In 2020 – the year that would be known in history as the time the invisible coronavirus wreaked havoc in our known dynamics of existence – even personal maladies have been forced to change their itinerary. My April asthma showed up in May. The last few days have been slight wheezing and a heaviness on my chest. Uneasily mixed with the chronic pain in my left temple and childhood sinuses issue, and water and food starvation of fasting, my days and nights are a blurry sameness of much of nothing.
Burrowed in the cosy familiarity of my room, I try to understand why words on my screen, and pages of the book I’m reading slower than the tortoise in the hare fable don’t make sense unless read aloud. Typos appear in every tweet that I post, in every text that I send to old friends, and those whom I call friends because the word acquaintance is almost rude in the over-familiarity of the much-expected closeness of my world.
Tiptoeing through my motherly duties–which are increasingly scant as my son is 20, touch wood, and more rational and responsible than I ever hope to be in my middle age of declining memory and haphazard priorities – my mind keeps wandering to things I read on news websites, on my Twitter timeline, watch clips and videos of stuff I find in YouTube recommendations. Not having a working TV in my room is solace I’m used to for years, but that does not serve as a shield against the bleakness that COVID-19 has draped our world in – literally and metaphorically.
I overthink, my responses are hyped, I feel more than a normal human should. All of that, singly or in unison, disturb my normal existence. Juxtaposed with my laboured breathing and chronic pain makes me tiptoe even more. It is as if I await a louder sound that would make it go away. Change the channel, and it no longer exists. On my non-working TV. Put the phone away, and the news of the destruction of COVID-19 on my Twitter timeline will be marked in red, captioned Fake News. Don’t open daily newsletters and briefings of New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Vanity Fair, National Geographic, and UNHCR in my Gmail inbox, and coronavirus will be a forgotten bad dream –terrifying but just a nightmare. If only life could be a Netflix series, bad things could be paused, played back, fast-forwarded, removed from My List.
COVID-19 is very much here, reshaping every known parameter of humanity in ways that are hard to recognise, scary to come to terms with. Every tomorrow is a prayer.
It increases every day. The number of people affected by the coronavirus increases every day. For the last month and a half, my consistent writing on the reality of the coronavirus has an unchanging caveat: the increase in the number of cases is exponential every third day, every week. Today, on May 6, at 22:04 Pakistan Standard Time, according to John Hopkins University, the number of global confirmed cases is 3,709,800. The ray of hope is the number of recovered patients:1,225,364. The number of families in mourning has risen to 259,695. That is almost 2.6 million people dead because of COVID-19.
Tomorrow, the number will change. I won’t google it. This number is the monster that does not even bother to hide under the bed, slither in the closet to hide in the wall. It is in gigantic digits on every webpage I open.
In the US, the world’s sole superpower, the number of confirmed cases is 1,210,822. The US dead are 71,463 on May 6. New York – the city where my son has been studying since August 2017, the city he loves and thinks of as his second home – has 58,950 deaths. Mid-semester, albeit grudgingly, he came home on March 18. His home in Lahore. He reads about that New York while he maintains social distancing in Lahore. His best friends, one of them Indian, are still there. My son is deeply pained, but he doesn’t say much. Perhaps silence is his way of dealing with the idea of so much agony, so much sickness, so much despair, so much death in the city that enveloped him in a tight hug.
Virus doesn't discriminate
On May 6, Pakistan’s confirmed COVID-19 cases are 23,655. The number of recovered is 6,217. The number of those who didn’t survive COVID-19 is 545. Pakistan is in a state of a semi-lockdown. People are restless, complaining, almost complacent, jittery. In varying degrees, everywhere.
I try not to read too much. Everything hurts. Some more than others. Like that tweet I stumbled upon in my half-awake-brain-state of most days that a doctor had posted about the death of a young doctor in Rawalpindi. On April 20, the doctor had complained of “mild flu and cough symptoms.” Her doctors diagnosed it as “mild fever.” Four days later, her condition deteriorated. Hospitalised, she was placed on a ventilator. On April 30, the doctor died. On May 1, she was to start her house job. Her name was Rabia Tayyab. She was the daughter of a respected teacher. She was 26 years old.
There was not more about her in the newspaper report I googled to write on her.
A twitter buddy living in a Gulf country shared news of his hospitalised brother-in-law. He is in a hospital in a Western European capital. On March 29, he had a fever. Five days later, his condition worsened. On April 4 or 5, he was transferred to ICU. It has been more than a month since he was taken from his family and placed in the germ-free isolation of a COVID-19 ICU.
The patient was put on a ventilator. When his condition didn’t improve, he was connected to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). He requires 90 per cent oxygen that the machine provides him. Before being placed on ECMO, his lungs required 100 percent oxygen – artificial oxygen. His condition is still critical.
Before COVID-19, the 6’1, good looking man was perfectly healthy, a non-smoker, and “fit like a rock.” He is 44 years old.
The parents of the patient connected to an ECMO machine in Europe live in Pakistan. COVID-19 travel restrictions have ensured that they cannot be with their son, even if it is to just see him from a thick glass partition or be able to speak to his doctors in person. Their pain is unimaginable.
His sister in that Gulf state is in excruciating pain for him. His wife waits for his doctors to give her some good news. That is something that is scant in the time of coronavirus. She has to be strong for her daughters. His two daughters, 13 and 8, pray for him as they wait for their dad to come home.
The helplessness of his family is indescribable.
Yesterday, his wife told his sister that a male nurse told her that he held her husband’s hand. The ECMO-breathing patient did not want to let go of his nurse’s hand. He is all alone in his ICU. His loved ones are dying every second he is in there, but they cannot be with him. That is what COVOD-19 does. It separates you from your loved ones as you breathe because of a machine. In all probability, in his state, he does not even know whose hand he is holding. But even in his state of almost no consciousness he needs human touch. If it is the gloved hand of a nurse.
Two stories, of one dead, one on ECMO. So many men, women, the young, the old, the healthy, the frail are infected, suffering. Some have recovered. Some have died. Some are barely breathing. These stories, and others that I read and try not to let them become echoes in my head are my whimpering acknowledgement of the sheer helplessness of human beings in 2020. These stories are my daily reminder of gratitude. I utter silent duas. The stories are a constant nudge: of the unquantifiable blessing of my quarantined wellbeing, that of my son, of my family, of my friends, of my acquaintances, of my Twitter buddies.
Death of COVID-19 is terrifying, alone, agonising, long.
How many of the 259,695 COVID-19 dead had that death?
I can’t even begin to imagine. My wheezing worsens. My left-temple pain expands, becoming the only sound in my head. And I pray.
May no one die of COVID-19.