It had been more than 3 months since I visited my home in the valley. The last few months had been miserable with lock downs and associated issues. Being a health care worker, I went to hospital every day. The number of patients visiting the hospital came down drastically; not even one thirds. It was mainly emergencies with serious heart problems with a very late presentation. That makes the successful treatment very difficult. We did, however, save a number of lives. While doing all that I unfortunately became COVID positive on testing. The purpose of getting a test was to travel to Srinagar. This meant a home quarantine for 14 days since I did not have any symptoms. It was the most treacherous part of my life with a red quarantine board hanging outside my door with my name written boldly. Neighbours became panicked and sent me very impolite messages through the Resident’s Welfare Association (RWA) to move out to a hospital. There were no beds in hospitals even for sick patients needing care with oxygen etc, so I would not be accepted, moreover those were the Guidelines of Delhi.
The neighbours prevented my domestic help to even bring food from my father’s house located very close. The garbage collector refused to pick it up from my door step. The chemist refused to send me medicines from his outlet. It was so harrowing and reminded me of the Leprosy stigma. My nephew from Bengaluru and children from Mumbai and Pune sent me eatables through the chain “Big Basket” left outside the door. One morning I ventured out to get some important documents from my car parked outside the main gate. Neighbours clicked photographs of mine and wrote a complaint against me to the station Police officer (SHO) and the District Magistrate (DM) of that area that I was violating the rules. They lodged a first information report (FIR) and also informed the RWA. A policeman came home and warned me but refused to listen to my side of the story. Somehow this gruesome period neared the end. An occasional phone from health authorities used to come to find out if I was alive. They never directed me any treatment or advices.
On the 13th day of quarantine I rang up the SHO and the DM, to find out the future line of action. They told me to go to a dispensary about 10 kms away and see the doctor on duty there and get a certificate before resuming work. No repeat testing was required, because they were short of facilities. I did as was directed and resumed my work. On reaching the hospital the peons ran away and disappeared so that they don’t get my glimpse. I called them to open my office but they did not, saying that these were the orders from the authorities. Ultimately, I called the President of the hospital, who was startled to hear this and ordered them to open my room. Life slowly normalized and professional work was resumed.
I got myself retested and booked a ticket for coming to valley finally. I had a copy of the negative COVID test done just 48 hours ago. However, on reaching the airport they asked me to show the Aarogya Setu App. I down loaded it but to my surprise it showed a RED sign. Despite arguing with the security staff and talking to their seniors they were unrelenting and refused to take cognizance of my negative COVID report. The matters got sorted out only when I talked to the Director General Indian Council of Medical research (ICMR). It is ICMR which has to upload the fresh reports. It was such a relief when I boarded the flight and it took off finally.
Finally, I am in the fragrant valley trying to unwind the miseries of the last one month. If this happens to a doctor, what would be the fate of a commoner who wants to travel after having recovered fully from CORONA infection.
Author is a cardiologist and past president of the Cardiological Society of India and SAARC Cardiac Society. He is also the Recipient of Padmashiri and DR B C Roy Award.