The Recovered: Those who tested positive, yet battled coronavirus, and came out winning

Amrita Dutta, Kamal Saiyed, Laxman Singh, Ankita Dwivedi Johri, Gargi Verma, Sakshi Dayal

(Clockwise) MBBS student Shambli, religious preacher Maulana Asad Quasmi, choreographer Diya Naidu, London-based student Rita.

Written by Amrita Dutta, Kamal Saiyed, Laxman Singh, Ankita Dwivedi Johri, Gargi Verma, Sakshi Dayal

Diya Naidu I 36
Choreographer, Bengaluru
In hospital, waiting for second  test to be cleared

‘We always think system will betray us. But care I got reinstalled my faith’

It began as a loss of sensation — both taste and smell. Diya Naidu had returned to Bengaluru from Switzerland a week ago and thought something was amiss. “I read up online to see if that was a symptom of COVID-19 but at the time, not many had reported it. My friends, who were doctors, said it might be sinus,” she recalls.

But it niggled at the 36-year-old choreographer, nevertheless. She had returned from a work trip on March 9, nervous about whether she had to isolate herself. “But at that time, there was no quarantine protocol in place for people who had returned from Switzerland. Only travellers from China, Singapore, Iran and Italy had to isolate themselves. There was a helpline we had to call, but no one answered,” Naidu recalls. “The friends and colleagues I had met in Switzerland had also gone back home and were leading normal lives. That’s what I did too.”

She had self-reported to a private hospital, when doctors told her she could not be tested for COVID-19 yet — she had not travelled to the countries on the list, and had no symptoms. When the tastelessness persisted, she returned. “By that time, travellers from other countries too were being screened. So they called me over, and I had a throat swab done,” she said. It was positive.

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Within half-an-hour, a medical officer had arrived at her house to take her to a hospital in Indiranagar, where she waited for four days before the results of confirmatory blood tests came in. “I was not conscious of the fact that I was afraid. But I could see I was shivering slightly. From the moment you get that call, you start thinking, ‘Who all did I meet? Did someone I meet go and visit their grandmother? Did I put them at risk?’” she recalls.

Till she was diagnosed, Naidu had gone about her life as usual. An artist who lives alone in the city, she met friends, attended a concert and visited the dance studio she works at. “Immediately after I got to know I was positive, I put out a Facebook post, so that everyone who had come in contact with me would get alerted. I also made a WhatsApp group of whoever I had met and informed them,” she recalls.

Maharashtra faces an acute shortage of blood due to the 3-week lockdown in order to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading. Resident of Chunabhatti organized Blood donation camp on Saturday.

Six days ago, Naidu’s isolation at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases, where the city’s COVID-19 patients are housed, came to an end — when she was wheeled into a room with another patient who had tested negative after a round of treatment.

Though Naidu presented with very few symptoms — neither fever, nor cough — it has been a trying time. “It feels like a big wave has hit you and you are trying to stand up,” she says. “Once you go into isolation, you tell yourself you are ill and you need to stay alone. I did yoga for an hour to keep myself sane. The nurses would come in with their PPEs and their hazmat suits, but they were very kind. Even if they come in for 30 seconds, they try to joke a bit. The healthcare workers’ dedication is extraordinary. It’s the outside stuff that messes with your head,” she says.

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While people trolled her for not going into isolation on her return, her landlord asked her to move out even while she was in hospital. “Strangers on my Facebook post called me a cold-blooded murderer, and called for my arrest. It’s come to this that if I test negative again, I could be discharged in two days and I don’t know where to go,” she says. “But if people don’t refrain from hating patients, the next person who suspects she is infected will hide it.”

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While 85 people have been sent to home quarantine, 23 have been quarantined at the hospital’s isolation ward. (Representational Image)

In all this, it has been the quiet efficiency of the government officials that has helped Naidu keep the faith. “In India, we always think the system will betray us. But the level of efficiency, strategy and care with which the officials have worked in Karnataka has reinstalled my faith,” she says.

Several of her days in isolation were spent over the phone, talking to officials of the police, the municipal corporation and the state surveillance department, who painstakingly went over her every movement in the week she spent outside the hospital.

“From a list of the Ola cab drivers, food delivery people I had interacted with, to the places I had been to and the studio I had worked in. They checked CCTV footage and clinically tracked down my primary contacts. I had gone late at night to a grocer’s, I was wearing a mask so they could not recognise me. But they cross-checked with the clothes I was wearing, traced my bank transactions and made sure the shop was shut down. Luckily, none in the list of my primary contacts has tested positive,” she says.

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What she really wants to do is return home and her life as a dancer, though both seem difficult for now. “It will take a lot of courage, and more time before we can all take to the dance floor together, or watch a concert together.”

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2020, file photo, funeral home workers remove the body of a person suspected to have died from the coronavirus outbreak from a residential building in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. (Chinatopix via AP, File)

For now, a friend has offered their vacant office as a place to stay when she is discharged. “Even after getting discharge, I have to quarantine myself for another fortnight. If all

COVID-19 patients are going to be treated like this, then we have a big problem on our hands... and I am not talking about the virus....”

‘I value my life a lot more now. It’s a rebirth’

Rita Bachkaniwala I 21
Management student, Surat
Discharged on March 29

The four chairs around the dining table at the Bachkaniwala home have been placed at least six feet apart to ensure proper social distancing. The family has been very cautious since Rita came home on March 29, after being discharged from New Civil Hospital (NCH) in Surat.

Rita tested positive for coronavirus on March 19, days after she reached Surat from London, where she is pursuing an undergraduate degree in International Business Management at Brunel University.

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“After my university was shut down, I remained mostly indoors... I might have picked the infection from either Heathrow airport or the Mumbai airport,” she says on the phone from her home in Surat’s Piplod area.

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A policeman, foreground right, accompanies a group of migrant laborers, who came to renew work permits, to a migration center in St.Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, April 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Soon after arriving in India, the 21-year-old came down with a fever and cough. The coronavirus diagnosis, she says, “did not come as a shock as I had prepared myself for it”. Her parents Nimish and Anjana, and brother Janak, were also quarantined at the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) quarters at Vesu, though they tested negative.

But it was her days in isolation that tested her resolve. “I was prescribed oral medicines and injections. I became weak and was also given IV fluids. The hospital staff monitored me five times a day, measuring my blood pressure, my body temperature and my breathing. The most painful part was when the doctors took swab samples from my nose,” she recalls. After getting discharged, Rita put up a video on her Facebook page thanking the doctors at NCH and urging people to trust government hospitals. “They were very helpful,” she smiles.

Being away from her family was tough, says Rita, adding that all through her days in isolation, she saw them only once — through a glass separation. “There was no television in my ward and my phone was my only connection with the world outside. I would talk to my parents, cousins and friends. I couldn’t even do video calls because there was no Internet. But it helped me stay away from all the alarming news around COVID-19,” says Rita, adding that she managed to finish three novels during her stay at the hospital — Gone with the Wind, Inferno and Vanished.

“When I got tired of reading, I played Subway Surfers on my phone. I was also carrying my economics textbook and studied whenever I got a chance,” says Rita. Her exams are due later this month.

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FILE | Stranded German nationals brougt to Germany embassy in New Delhi from different cities of India on Thursday. (Express file photo by Anil Sharma)

After getting discharged from hospital, Rita was moved to a flat of the Surat Municipal Corporation, a little distance from where her parents were kept. On March 29, the family’s quarantine finally came to an end and they moved back to their house.

“The first thing I did on reaching home was to bow before the portrait of our family guru, Swami Nijanand. My mother got a call from Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. He asked her about our well-being and urged us to follow the post-hospitalisation protocol,” she says.

Looking back, says Rita, the COVID-19 experience “has taught me to value life more”. “The isolation gave me time to reflect on my life, my relationship with my family and friends, things that I would overlook earlier... I value my life a lot more now. It’s a rebirth for me,” she says.

‘Fortunately, life had other plans... Happy to be with family’

Maulana Asad Quasmi I 43
Religious preacher, Mumbai
Discharged on March 30

“When I was in hospital, rumours of my death would spread every day. People would call me to check if I was alive. Even my family members would get such calls. It was very disturbing,” says Maulana Asad Quasmi, 43, a preacher at a local mosque in Mumbai’s Govandi, a large slum pocket on the city’s eastern suburbs.

With over 300 infections, Maharashtra has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country, and with the virus now finding its way into the densely populated slums of Mumbai, where social distancing has its challenges, the state’s health administration has a tough task on its hands.

A maulana for the past 20 years, Quasmi had visited Sri Lanka, Bangkok, Cambodia and Malaysia, before returning to Mumbai on March 17. On March 22, he tested positive for coronavirus and was admitted to Kasturba Hospital for Infectious Diseases in Chinchpokli.

“After returning from my travels, I developed fever. When my condition did not improve for a few days, I went to the hospital. When I heard that my results were positive, I thought it was the end of my life,” he says, adding, “One day, when I was returning to my bed from the washroom, I had a breakdown. I was scared, I didn’t know if I would see my family again. The stress of being infected with the coronavirus took a big mental toll on me. I have diabetes and my sugar levels would also increase because of the stress... Fortunately, life had other plans.”

FILE | Indonesian tourists with Covid-19 symptoms get down from an ambulance at the Government Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad, India, Monday, March 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A/File Photo)

On March 30, after two consecutive negative tests, he was discharged from hospital and asked to stay in self-quarantine for the next 14 days.

For the past few days, Quasmi has been spending his days in a 10x15 room on the first floor of his house, while his wife and four children live on the ground and second floor. His room has a few utensils, his clothes, and a bed.

“I have been reading the Quran Sharif and a book on the life of Prophet Muhammad. Sometimes my children sit outside the room and we chat. I am happy to be back with my family,” he says.

Quasmi is also relieved that unlike many of the reports he had been reading, neither he nor his family faced any discrimination in his neighbourhood. “Most of my neighbours were concerned about my health and never blamed me for bringing the virus to the area. Even when I came back from hospital, many people came to meet me but I sent them back as I am still in quarantine,” he says. “Since I am a preacher, people respect me.”
As he now waits for his quarantine to end, Quasmi says he is relieved that all his family members tested negative for the virus. “After my isolation ends, I will visit the mosque and thank Allah for everything. I came back from the dead.”

“When I was in hospital, rumours of my death would spread every day. People would call me to check if I was alive. Even my family members would get such calls. It was very disturbing,” says Maulana Asad Quasmi, 43, a preacher at a local mosque in Mumbai’s Govandi, a large slum pocket on the city’s eastern suburbs.

With over 300 infections, Maharashtra has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country, and with the virus now finding its way into the densely populated slums of Mumbai, where social distancing has its challenges, the state’s health administration has a tough task on its hands.

FILE | Indian health workers spray disinfects as a precaution against COVID-19 in Jammu, India, Monday, March 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Channi Anand/File Photo)

A maulana for the past 20 years, Quasmi had visited Sri Lanka, Bangkok, Cambodia and Malaysia, before returning to Mumbai on March 17. On March 22, he tested positive for coronavirus and was admitted to Kasturba Hospital for Infectious Diseases in Chinchpokli.

“After returning from my travels, I developed fever. When my condition did not improve for a few days, I went to the hospital. When I heard that my results were positive, I thought it was the end of my life,” he says, adding, “One day, when I was returning to my bed from the washroom, I had a breakdown. I was scared, I didn’t know if I would see my family again. The stress of being infected with the coronavirus took a big mental toll on me. I have diabetes and my sugar levels would also increase because of the stress... Fortunately, life had other plans.”

On March 30, after two consecutive negative tests, he was discharged from hospital and asked to stay in self-quarantine for the next 14 days.

For the past few days, Quasmi has been spending his days in a 10x15 room on the first floor of his house, while his wife and four children live on the ground and second floor. His room has a few utensils, his clothes, and a bed.

“I have been reading the Quran Sharif and a book on the life of Prophet Muhammad. Sometimes my children sit outside the room and we chat. I am happy to be back with my family,” he says.

Quasmi is also relieved that unlike many of the reports he had been reading, neither he nor his family faced any discrimination in his neighbourhood. “Most of my neighbours were concerned about my health and never blamed me for bringing the virus to the area. Even when I came back from hospital, many people came to meet me but I sent them back as I am still in quarantine,” he says. “Since I am a preacher, people respect me.”

As he now waits for his quarantine to end, Quasmi says he is relieved that all his family members tested negative for the virus. “After my isolation ends, I will visit the mosque and thank Allah for everything. I came back from the dead.”

‘No one will know I was the girl who had COVID-19’

Shambli I 22
MBBS student, Noida
Discharged on March 26

The ‘Angry Birds’ game on her phone and a copy of Chetan Bhagat’s The Girl In Room 105 have been Shambli’s companion through her days of quarantine — both in hospital and now at home. “I have no idea of when the sun rises or sets. I have just been holed up in my room,” says the 22-year-old MBBS student on phone from her apartment in Noida.

On March 14, Shambli, a third year MBBS student at Tbilisi State Medical University in Georgia, returned to Delhi from France, where she was on a holiday with friends.

FILE | An Indian boy tries to sell face masks at a traffic intersection in Mumbai, India, Sunday, March 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool/File Photo)

While she headed straight to the flat in Noida that her family owns, Shambli — whose parents live in Pakur, Jharkhand — says she felt weak, and had a running nose, dry cough and headache.

“I immediately booked an Ola cab and went to the Government Institute of Medical Sciences in Greater Noida. On March 17, I tested positive,” she says.

At the hospital, for the next three-four days, she continued to have fever and some “side-effects” of the medicines she was on. “I was vomiting, I had breathing issues... But honestly, at no point did I think I was going to die. It was just like any viral fever,” she says.

“I don’t want to complain about the conditions at the hospital, but everyone seemed scared. The doctors and nurses were worried about taking the infection home,” she adds

On hearing of her hospitalisation, Shambli’s parents arrived at her Noida flat only to be put under home quarantine.

They also had to face taunts from others in the apartment complex, who accused their daughter of not being careful enough. “They were overreacting. They didn’t deserve an explanation because I had taken care to self-report and not meet anyone. I told my father to ignore the taunts and only interact with the Chief Medical Officer of Gautam Buddha Nagar district. Even on March 26, when I came back home from hospital, the head of the Resident Welfare Association raised a few questions, but nothing came of it. After all, I had come back to my own house,” she says.

At home now, while her parents are through with their 14-day quarantine, she continues to be restricted to her room. “My parents only get me food, there is no other interaction. For our supplies, we make orders online, and it is delivered to the apartment gate. My father goes and picks it up... I mostly play games on my phone or read. I like reading novels,” she says.

Hyderabad: Medics outside an isolation ward of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at a hospital in Hyderabad, Friday, March 13, 2020. India has more than 70 positive coronavirus cases so far and recorded its first COVID-19 death in Karnataka. (PTI Photo)

For now, Shambli has decided not to inform her university about her condition. “Anyway, the college is closed. I am now waiting for the online classes to start. I hope that happens soon. I don’t want to waste my year because of the pandemic,” she says.

Does she worry about having to deal with any kind of stigma in the future? “No... No one recognises me here. Even if I go and stand in the lobby of my apartment, no one will know that I am the girl who was diagnosed with COVID-19,” she smiles.

‘Happy I am alive, but I fear discrimination once I return home’

65-year-old
Raipur, Chhattisgarh
Discharged on April 2

Sometime in the third week of March, the 68-year-old developed a cold and cough. “It seemed normal, like any ordinary illness... But then one day the ASHA didi came to our house to inquire if anyone was ill, and we told her about our father,” recounts his 36-year-old son.

In the next 48 hours, the family of 15 was uprooted from their two-room house in Raipur’s Ramnagar area and moved to a government-run quarantine facility in the city. On March 25, the 68-year-old tested positive for COVID-19 — the third case in the state.

“This case was different because the patient did not have any history of foreign travel,” said a senior health official, adding, “After he tested positive, he was moved to AIIMS Raipur. Fourteen other members of his family, including his two sons and their children, were placed in quarantine and tested. Fortunately, they were all negative.”

After undergoing treatment for nearly 10 days, the 68-year-old was finally discharged on April 2, and joined his family at the quarantine facility. They have to spend another fortnight there before moving back home.

At the quarantine facility, the 15 family members are housed in four rooms where the children spend most of their time playing games on the phone. “The authorities also arranged for a few books, and my sons teach the children sometimes. But I can’t wait to go out for a walk,” says the 68-year-old. Adds his younger son, “Sometimes, we talk to people in the adjacent rooms through the walls, but that gets boring too.”

The 68-year-old has another concern on his mind. “I am happy that I am alive and well. But now, when I go back, people will treat our family as untouchables. No member of my family showed any symptoms, but because of me, all of them suffered,” he says on the phone from the quarantine facility.

Inside a shelter home in Delhi's Shahadra area.

The family has another worry: the impact of the lockdown on their transport business. “Fortunately, we own our house and our tempos, so at least we will have shelter and some help,” says his eldest son.

As they spend their days in quarantine, cut-off from the world, the family admits that they wonder how their father picked up the infection. “We don’t know what happened, but we are glad that he is now cured. Babuji theek hai, filhaal to usime santosh hai (my father is healthy now, we are happy with that for now),” says the 38-year-old son.

‘Have six-month-old child at home, not sure if I want to return to work’

37-year-old
Lab technician, Gurgaon
Discharged on April 1

Three weeks ago, the 37-year-old, a laboratory technician at Civil Hospital, Gurgaon, was filling up forms and ascertaining the travel history of suspected COVID-19 patients. On March 20, she joined the growing list of positive cases herself, fighting a battle that was “more mental than physical”.

“I gave my samples after developing a sore throat and diarrhoea. The results came on March 20. The next day, my son and husband were also tested. I was placed in isolation at Medanta — The Medicity,” says the mother of a six-month-old boy.

The 10 days in isolation, she admits, were very difficult, “especially because I was away from my baby, who is just six months old”. “The only thing I could do was to stay in touch with my family on a daily basis. The support from my department also gave me strength,” she told The Sunday Express on April 2, hours after being reunited with her family.

Although the samples of her husband and son returned negative, the family had to fight another battle back home, where a few hostile neighbours demanded they move elsewhere.

“Some of them really harassed my husband. They wanted us to leave. We finally had to call the PCR to counsel our neighbours,” she says, adding that there were also people who were “extremely supportive”, sending food to her husband, who did not know how to cook. “Since my husband was in self-isolation and could not leave the house, some people also got him essential items.”

All through her treatment, the family remained in touch through phone and video calls. While in quarantine, she would watch religious shows on television or read news reports on COVID-19.

On April 1, after 10 days in isolation, she was finally discharged from hospital when two of her samples returned negative. Back home now, she says she wants to focus on her home and family, and is unsure about returning to work immediately. “I have been allowed home rest for one week now because I still have some nausea and a little heaviness in my abdomen because of the medication. I also been away from my son... I don’t know if I will re-join my team any time soon,” she says.

Anugrah Pandya, 27
Engineer, Noida, Discharged on March 26

“At first, I was very chill. I had no symptoms at all. I was spending my days in hospital reading, watching videos... But then, each time someone recovered and left the ward, it got tough. I felt like I was in a jail,” recalls Anugrah Pandya, who tested positive for COVID-19 in early March.

Back from a vacation from Indonesia with his wife, the newly-weds cleared the thermal screening at the Delhi airport fairly easily and, after 14 days of self- quarantine at their home in Noida, the 27-year-old was ready to get back to work. “But my office insisted on a test. So my wife and I went to the Noida testing centre, where I tested positive and she negative,” says Pandya, who works at a software firm.

On March 18, Pandya was hospitalised at the Government Institute of Medical Sciences in Greater Noida and his wife was moved to a hostel nearby. “My wife was new to the city and I couldn’t have left her alone at home... I was among the first batch of COVID-19 patients. There were three of us together in a ward. Everyone was figuring out how to deal with us. The three of us shared one toilet and, initially, there was no bathing facility. Then they installed a shower but that broke after a few days. The plumber refused to fix it. So I went without a shower for the entire 14-day period, just rubbed sanitiser all over myself,” he says. “Every day, we were given fresh bed-sheets, which we had to change ourselves, three meals and a few medicines. Our vitals were also checked daily... Throughout my stay, I didn’t show any symptoms.”

While his time at the hospital was “tough”, it is the 14-day quarantine at home now, amid the lockdown in the country that he and his wife are struggling to get used to. “After I tested negative for the virus, I was released from hospital on March 26. But I will officially be COVID-free only on April 10. It has been over a month since I have seen anyone... I have started doing my office work from home and now I am focussing on eating healthy and exercising a little bit. My wife and I have split all the chores among ourselves... We are disinfecting the house all the time,” says Pandya, who returned from Indonesia on March 2.

The 27-year-old admits that living in a city away from family and friends, while dealing with a health crisis, hasn’t been easy for the couple. “I decided not to tell my family that I tested positive... They live in a village in Rajasthan and there are all kinds of rumours doing the rounds. They would have only got more worried. In the neighbourhood too, everyone is very scared. When I informed my landlord that I was returning from hospital, he did suggest that we move into a hostel, but he’s okay now. One of my neighbours also called recently and asked if we needed any help,” he says.

Since Pandya and his wife still have another week before they can step out, the district magistrate’s office has been helping them out with essentials. “I send them a list on WhatsApp, and they send across the items – but only non-perishables. We have not eaten vegetables or had milk in the house for days. Only dal-chawal and roti,” he smiles.

However, says Pandya, the experience has not left him bitter or disheartened in any way. “We got married recently and obviously, this was not how we wanted things to pan out. But I didn’t go through any physical pain. All of us just have to be more cautious, that’s all, and focus on strengthening our immunity.”

He also has a word of advice for other patients: “I have stopped reading forwarded messages on WhatsApp. Many of them talk of gharelu upchaar (home remedies) for increasing immunity... They may be good, but they won’t cure COVID-19.”

‘Isolation helped me complete college assignments. Now I can focus on family’

22-year-old & 3 of family
Student, Gurgaon, Discharged on March 28

As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the United Kingdom, and the world, the 22-year-old student, like many of her classmates, decided to return to India in mid-March. But within days of arriving home, she began to complain of fever and a sore throat. “I gave my sample for testing on March 16 at the government hospital in Gurgaon and on March 19, I tested positive,” she says on the phone.

Samples of three of her family members — her brother, father, and grandmother, who were all asymptomatic then — were also taken and within days, they were declared positive too.

“When I returned from London, I knew that the situation was serious. But I had not imagined that my family and I would find ourselves in such a situation within two weeks of my return,” she says.

“I had initially been admitted to the Civil Hospital in Gurgaon. Two days later, I shifted to a private hospital,” she says. Her family too shifted to the same hospital.

Her week in isolation, although tough, was “manageable”, says the student, as she spent time “working on her university assignments and watching television.”

“Passing time at the private hospital was not very difficult. It was harder at the Civil Hospital because there was no entertainment. Even at the private hospital, the lack of WiFi was an issue because everything I was doing, from assignments and chats with my professors to video calls with relatives, required Internet,” she says.

But quibbles aside, she is happy that she is finally COVID-free. While the 22-year-old and her brother were discharged on March 28, her father and grandmother were released on Wednesday (April 1).

“It feels good to be back home with my family. It’s been almost three months since we stayed together... On my return from London, I thought I would be able to spend some time with them, but I was moved to the isolation ward within a couple of days. The good thing is, the isolation helped me complete all my assignments. Now I can focus on my family,” she smiles.