On May 18, at around half past 9 pm, a radio silence reigned over my home town Shopian in southern Kashmir as the mantle of darkness had enveloped the entire area. Nothing, save for the burble of a stream flowing down a short walk away from our home, was heard. Inside his uncluttered room, my father Muhammad Yousuf Bhat was lying supine on his bed as he was feeling slightly unwell for the past couple of days. I was sitting in my room leafing through an old magazine. My mother suddenly called me and said to help Daddy as he was unsteady on his feet while he had made a failed attempt to get up. Immediately, I placed an oximeter on his forefinger to check his saturation level and after a few seconds I stared slack-jawed at the device as the reading did not go beyond 54 to 56.
I frantically removed it from his finger and examined my own saturation level, then my brother's in a bid to check the accuracy of the oximeter. Unfortunately, the small device was working fine. Soon, everyone in the family wore a glum expression. Without wasting much time, we tried to shift daddy to the hospital. Although he was not able to take a few steps towards the car parked right outside our home, his voice was firm as always. Somehow we managed to put slippers into his feet and got him into the car. A few minutes later we reached the hospital. Before we could take him out of the car, we scrambled to find a wheelchair. A little later we could arrange a decrepit one. He gingerly sat on the chair and we pushed it slowly into a ward through an almost dingy corridor.
Soon, a doctor donning protective gear showed up in the ward and checked the saturation level of my father. Unfortunately, it had plummeted further. The doctor immediately put him on oxygen and prescribed some medicines and a COVID-19 test, which turned out to be positive.
Barely a few minutes later, he felt much better.
The facility was well-nigh full of patients. An official told me that around 61 patients were admitted to the hospital. As the COVID-19 designated hospitals in neighboring Pulwama district had overrun with patients, they had referred some patients to Shopian as the district had comparatively less number of Covid cases.
My father’s saturation level seesawed between 80 and 85 and there was no significant improvement even after a good 48 hours. The doctors finally decided to refer him to SKIMS, Soura for specialized treatment. Javed Yousuf, a helpful and diligent official at District Hospital Shopian arranged a bed there.
An ambulance with a technician was readied to ferry Daddy to Soura. While we were taking him inside the ambulance, his oxygen mask was removed for a fleeting moment and he began to collapse. I had my heart in my mouth. It was for the first time when I saw him in such a condition.
My father was a lively and sturdy person. He was an ardent foodie and a well-travelled man who always remained flocked by pals. At SKIMS, Daddy was admitted to a COVID ward. The narrow corridors of the ward were filled with attendants hoping against hope. The attendants of those who were put on life support machines have had their eyes fixed on the monitors, flashing spikes and dips in the lines. Perhaps on the fifth day, I saw a young man distributing candies and fruits among the attendants as the saturation level of his sick father had shot up to 95 after a few days of his admission to the facility. There was a strange smile on his face. The development provided a flicker of hope for others as well. However, the next day amid the beeps and bleeps of monitors, ventilators and other machines, the shrieks of the young man attracted the attention of all in the ward.
I stepped out of the ward and saw him bawling his eyes out in the corridor. I came to know that the monitor had turned hostile and it was flashing a horrific number--35. The doctors were preparing to put his father on a life support machine.
Daddy, on the other hand, was improving. His saturation level had also gone up to 95. However, on May 29, his condition suddenly worsened and he started sinking. We began praying more heavily but at around half past 4 am on May 30 he bid us goodbye forever, though he tested negative for the baffling virus posthumously.
Amid the beeps of monitors and machines, Daddy was taken out of the ward and ferried home in an ambulance while the unfamiliar attendants were staring at us with misty eyes.