Story of a Collective Healing – Reflections on the time at a first-line Covid Care Centre in Kerala

covid centre

A Theater of Dark Fantasy

Hearing a hushed commotion outside my room, 203 of the first-line Covid Care Centre at Makkiyad, I opened the door. A young woman with her husband and two small children, looking deeply hurt, confused and restless, was looking around the corridor. I asked if I could be of help. She was about to burst into tears. She asked if any daughter on earth would come to her aged parents knowing she was Covid positive? I asked her what happened. She said that after many months of missing her parents due to the Covid constraints and not being able to bear this emptiness any longer, she and her family from Kannur (name changed) came to Wayanad to celebrate Onam with them. The day after, when she felt a bit of irritation in her throat, people suggested a check up, which was found to be Covid positive. The moment she tested positive, she received a shower of accusations for making a visit to her parents. She asked again if any daughter would do it knowingly? Not knowing how to console her, I mumbled a few words and she went to her room wiping her tears. People can hold such a blind and dark mind, losing all reasoning, when a situation like that occurs.

Being tested Positive

From 4th of June to August 29th we registered six times with Covid19 Jagratha to come to Kerala from Bangalore. The first five times we canceled. With the sixth registration, we finally drove to Wayanad via Muthanga. On the suggestion from the officials there we went in for a Covid test. Two days later, on Onam day after our lunch, a call came from the Health Inspector of Family Health Centre of Thondarnadu panchayat, Yusuf. He asked if Sibin, who had called earlier, told me about the result. No, I said. It is positive, he said. We were shocked. How had it come? We had taken extreme care in Bangalore during the last five months to protect ourselves from the dreaded virus. How had it come in spite of all this.

“The result must be wrong,” our son and daughter-in-law said in one voice on hearing the news. They were restless. “Please do another test?” I said we can’t just walk into a clinic to do it. Soon I understood the RT-PCR test that I got done is the most reliable. I was told from the health desk that the ambulance would come once we were ready.

Question of choices

“Please drive back to Bangalore,” our children said. There we have every kind of support system: the hospital we know, our doctors, attention, insurance, friends. Without all of that how could we manage here? I asked Yusuf if they could permit me to drive back to Bangalore. He told me that they cannot allow a person who tests positive to go to another state. I understood it as the care Kerala is taking to the neighboring state. That is a graceful thought, but the question for me was that I didn’t have any control over it.

For much of our life, without our own knowing, a kind of consumerist thinking has percolated in us. We have choices and we can decide what we want, or so we had come to think. Now being part of a market culture, most of us unknowingly trust private hospitals. Our inclination is to go there. We think they are efficient and professional. A trust we hold tight at an unaffordable cost. In the name of freedom of choice and other fancifulness, businesses continue to succeed holding our trust.

I told my family that we knew Kerala has the best care record in this matter. Let us submit ourselves to a system that this state has assembled with care. Let us trust the people who are working behind it.

The ambulance came and I got in. Dr. Abdulla and Shareef, along with about ten other support staff members, greeted me at the Makkiyad Covid Care Centre. I went in, and the grill gate behind me was locked.

Once the personal stiffness was loosened, everything changed for me. At times many questions of personal rights and choices can be absurd and insane, blinding us towards a well functioning system that is in place. If I had listened to such questions trumpeted by people I would have constructed dark clouds over my head, affecting not only myself but others too. A friend asked over the phone about the food. I said it is the best food I can get, not just for our tongue, but also for our healing, carefully prepared. Then my friend asked, “But do you have a choice? You have to eat what they give!” To the absurdity of this question, I laughed.

The closed windows

The only painful thing that everyone at the care centre shared was the dark attitude many people held toward them once they tested positive. A woman named Chinnamma said how neighbors hesitated to come near their house and people stopped coming to work on their land. For another inmate, her husband had a bypass surgery 14 days before she tested positive. She could not find anyone to take care of her husband while she would be away on treatment, but thankfully the health department made arrangements so that she was able to come to the care center in peace.

Speaking on this matter, an officer from the family health centre narrated a story: Someone was quarantining on his return form gulf. The neighbor complained that this person was keeping his windows open, so urged officer to compel him to close his windows. To which the officer tried his best to explain that the windows kept open will not cause any problems. Even after explaining everything still when the complainer was blind enough to understand, the officer told him, in that case you may close your windows. Yes for some people it is difficult for the ‘light’ and ‘air’ to enter.

But we know that it is from these very same lands we have lakhs of people who have volunteered themselves to serve the works of healing. It is a theater of dark and light in our troubled times.

Many people around consider those who tested positive to have done something terrible. Most people who express a dark response do not realize that people who test positive need not necessarily be irresponsible and careless. The ways you can be infected can be so subtle. It is important to hold a caring attitude. If you are healthy, the virus may go through your body as a wild boar through your farm, without your own knowing, doing no harm. Sometimes you may not notice that you are infected. Only if you did a test would you know, you may be positive or may have recovered on your own. Otherwise, if not today, another day you are most likely to be infected.

Everyone a Healer

Covid positive treated with positivity

For Chinnamma, it was the 16th day at the care center. She had packed her bag to go home after finishing that day’s test. Her daughter, who had delivered a baby just 43 days ago, was waiting for her to return home.

Chinnamma was no longer able to bear not seeing her grandchild. She was certain that day’s test would be negative. But it turned out to be positive. Her eyes got wet. Her situation was like that of Rekha from Vaduvamchal, for whom it was her 18th day. The mood on our floor was sad, as everyone had been waiting for these two ladies’ results to be negative and to join them in their joy. We did not know how to console her.

Chinnama wanted to see her daughter. Immediately Pratheep from the next room took his phone and connected to Chinnamma’s daughter on a whatsapp call. Chinnamma had an hour of chatting with her daughter and soaked herself in the joy of seeing her grandchild. A wonderful joy returned to the floor.

Everyone was caring for everyone. Sumayya noticed that I was not taking any additional care other than what the centre was giving. She prepared a warm drink using turmeric, dry ginger, pepper and black jeera boiled in water. She came to me and asked, if she gave me some of it, would I drink? I saw Abdulla giving boiled country chicken eggs. Someone, seeing me boiling water in my steel plate, made arrangements for a small vessel without telling me anything. Each and everyone noticed what each one’s needs were and helped in silence.

When a new person was admitted, in no time, in an unassuming manner, someone or other would make the new member feel at home. The person soon forgot the uneasy time following the test result, coming in an ambulance, neighbors’ reactions and everything else. With a smile, soon she would enter the new world of healing.

Normally when we eat during a wedding or at some other public function, it is not unusual to see traces of selfishness: urgency, priority or something of that sort. But here it was so healing to see how each one gave priority to the other.

Ann Maria was a seven-year-old bird-like child, always circling around her mother, affectionately calling out Amme. Early morning the day after their arrival I heard her calling out to her mother Amme, did it rain in the night? She was surprised and overjoyed. For her everything around was a wonder. She saw clouds coming down from the sky on its wings and the rays of sun caressing the mountains. Yes, without our own knowing, many surprises were passing through us and around us. Aihan was the youngest boy on the floor, about two-and-a-half years old. To run around, the earth and the sky was not enough for him. He could not be contained in a room.

Like the wind, he came out through the door and window panes to the hearts of everyone.

Every moment was alive working towards healing, physical and emotional. Doctors, nurses, other support staff and inmates together shared the days of pain, anticipation, hopes, prayers and joys in small things. I felt that when people are left to themselves and are in need of healing they strip off all layers of identity: education, status, money, profession. The grace of pure humanness rains.

A True Quarantine

Today is a time of making profit, profit at any cost. We have learned to make profit even out of a tragedy, let alone illness, learning, anxiety, simple joys, or even spiritual needs. At the Covid care centre, its sole interest was only our health.

We are used to receiving greetings with a smile at airports, shopping malls, or high-end hospitals, but we all know they come from business interests. But here every smile was a promise for our health. At a time when people without money, power, fame or connections find it difficult to get any care, here everyone receives it in the same measure. No one was burdened with political and religious discourses or compelled to bow our head with gratitude like one receiving charity. No donation or contribution box was kept outside. The only notice we saw all around was “If you need anything, please call this number,” with the number given below. These notices were everywhere.

An Upside-Down Reality

Some of us at times hesitate to receive phone calls from unknown numbers. But it turned out to be that most calls I received on those days were from unknown numbers. And I knew behind each call there was only one intention, my health. Even when I was speaking to some friends, when I saw a call coming from an unknown number, it became a priority to receive it. If I did not receive the call then the person would call again soon after. In normal course of times calls from strangers can be a nuisance or confusion, but in these times of healing they turned to be of care and open hands. How can I explain this upside-down phenomena of priority and respect?

Some of their calls may not have been relevant for me, but would have been critical for others in need. While I was speaking to Junior Health Inspector Sithara, she told me, “We cannot afford to miss a single call that comes to us, be it during the day or the night. We stay vigilant, because it would be a call for help. We cannot miss it”.

C.F. John is an artist



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