I wrote a poem about COVID from the point of view of a five year kid. The kid uses present progressive tense to capture the impact of death hanging and hovering around like an all encompassing ghoul. Little, I knew I will have to face the same music as I would be COVID positive. Being positive is nothing new because it is a common place theme and every household story but experiencing the infection may be varying, therefore, worth to be heard. The debate should not be whether it is any other kind of flu or a real life time calamity of the grandeur of a pandemic that has practically left nothing untouched!
To be fair enough, it started with mild tapping and sneezing. By the evening that day, it looked the muscles were convulsed, the joints locked near the sockets, an uneasiness and a sweeping pain unlike my case, as my friend who suffered the attack would describe it, a shooting paroxysm and convulsing of muscles as if you had been hit by arrows and the wounds caused are inflicting the pain all over the place. Honestly, my pain was enough to make me cry but not something I had not previously experienced. In the evening, I was like a burning type, emitting fire through my eyes.. If anyone could dare touch them, save my wife, she would fancy playing with fire, this scorching of eyes was something I had long back experienced while I had been a typhoid patient. But the combination of pain and fever with a feeling as if the body and muscles are too heavy to stand on legs was something I had been going through for the first time.
As couple of days passed, I had kept a control on the ember like burning eyes by all types of domestic remedy plus injecting 1.5gram Monocef. By the time darkness would envelop the day and a long night characterized by general uneasiness and a type of somnambulism: a kind of sleep and sitting disorder took a captains drive, I would search for a cool corner and keep on rolling the pillow and quilt for some sort of a cooling touch. It all would go down as a futile crying for the spilt milk. The body exuded pain and I threw my body all over the place beating a puff of dust from the matting. Finally, I found a place near the threshold of the door where I had fallen into some sort of sleep after a two night struggle. It occurred to me, “how much it matters to have a sound sleep irrespective of our standing and position in the society.., how no one other than that natural grace could help you to get to this state, how recklessly I would otherwise fall asleep, how irrelevant the matter and food is before this sleep, how unlucky are those who don’t get a full dose of it?” Just as this feeling sharpened as the pain intensified until the atmosphere echoed with the voice of Muezzin. The call for the early prayer. If one is a believer even in a literal sense, how thankless he is to his lord that he doesn’t attend his call after such a reward? As my mind recalled the great words, I had involuntary slipped into much cherished sleep and when the sun rays pierced the curtains, I was already a late bird, getting ready for the day, declaring to my wife, the greatest thing in life is to have a good sound sleep and the best prayer for the night is “sleep well “.
Every day is a new day, less fearful and ghastly as the previous night. The day has this quality. It belittles the sorrow or makes it look bearable. But as the evening was approaching, the pain was there, hinting at the disastrous night of suffering. However, it started too early, not deep down the night but when the birds were yet to go to their nests. It all started with some heaviness around the chest, a mild feeling of being pricked. Then it reached to the throat. By the time, iftar was announced, the mouth was like a cave of tepidity and turbidity. It appeared as if the wind pipe was partially shut and an attempt to open it gave the feeling that you were drawing into it , a thorny stick at both ends, erasing a part of the flesh as would the dressing tape on a freshly wound. I took a cough sill, it worked wonders with the throat. However, the chest started burning.
Then, I was struggling to breathe in and out. It looked as if the chest was clouded or the air was miserly getting through the net. The rib cage was squeezing and reeling under the want of pressure. A pint of air is more precious than anything. I wish I could move plants to fan some air. Then I realized, I should turn to him who has this power and He heard it. Something not explicitly expressed or sought by crying unto his mercy, but wished tongue in cheek, deep within in your heart at a time of miserable hopelessness. The omnipotent sent a current of fresh air. The huge walnut tree and the little oak tree unfurled the leaves, sweeping a cold current as if the stream was on the flow in the background. I felt relieved, but the lack of air, despite having opened all the windows and doors, was getting over my nerves. I want a gallon of air to get inside to expand the balloon that seems to be tightening as the noose grapples the throat when cussed at the ends. Somehow, I felt I was breathing enough?
My wife helped me with some food and a little bit of water. I couldn’t believe I would suddenly go so unsure that I would be helped to that reluctant and repelling food for which I had lost my stomach. For almost a week, I was developing an unusual aversion for food. It looked ,the mouth was growing weeds and fungus that made it bitter sweet and sour. It had lost all tasting region and hormones. The food so deliciously prepared looked rebelling. Instead of inviting hunger, despite a daylong fasting, it sent shivers down the spine. I wish I had not lost the taste and no amount of spending could fetch it back. The love for food is universal and unanimously cherished but this kind of distemperedness of mouth, the most obnoxious thing the COVID had for me. I looked at the plate, stuffed with delicious dainties with repulsiveness that otherwise would run water in my mouth: with a detachment and disownment that I shall remember for rest of my life to truly honour any food and taste of a morsel. Even the universal elixir as water is called offered no solace.
Where does the taste exactly lie? In the food Persse, or between the buds and gums when you bite, crush and mash it. I had never thought about it before. But the best prayer for the evening would be, “get your tastes back”.
But the worst was yet to come. In the hell of the night, the sleep was consumed by fever and discomfiture in the chest region… a sort of brief breathlessness and all pervading suffocation , the audacity with which the air needed to be pumped coupled by the feeling that in the quietude of night, everything including the green forests and that majestic Chinnar near the graveyard at a short distance, from the window where I laid down flat, setting my eyes on the leaves of tall poplars and widely spread willows in near vicinity had come to a sudden standstill. Nothing that would be soothing was coming, until the uneasiness around my chest grew heavier. It looked; I would internally burst until a blessing in disguise happened. I belched and belched. My worried wife, holding and supporting me, killing all the social distancing, in the pique of emotions. Suddenly a melon coloured fluffy phlegm along with broken mash of little food including the chunks of finely pasted meat belched out, releasing the passage and gateway to, the best of little understanding, to heart and lungs. I was miraculously breathing. The wind surged up outside and it looked as if nature joined hands to keep me going with the best prayer I could wish would be,” get well soon”.
Ironically, the next day, after two consecutive tests, I tested positive to the relief of the doctor who had examined me a few days back. From the symptoms made an unerring guess work that I was COVID positive. Immediately, I was transported to level two hospital kept for this purpose where I ended up like from “fire to the frying pan “. There were some other patients seriously laid down on oxygen support, coughing, yelling and protesting to vacant doors and gloomy walls wondering why they were encaged here like the sick animals when there is none to look after them! The appalling thing was the disgusting bathrooms with tapes either broken or twisted without even a drop of water. The squalid nature of bathrooms was a greatest threat to a healthy existence. The rooms were spacious but the blankets and bed covers were infectious. How cold and cruel the administration had been with all this arrangement as if it was a conspiracy against those whose health was deteriorating under the impact of COVID. Had not some of my friends stepped up, and gotten me out of this COVID facility centre, where you were supplied poor food without water, I would have found my way to the ventilator. The best prayer for me would be “get home soon “.
The next evening I was back home, waited upon by a lovable family, who queued up, to receive me back to their care. I was feeling the warmth of the family, it’s meaning and significance in a highly objective, detached world… How ignorantly we spent wrong hours, imbued with the dead object like a mobile phone, even if it is the smartest device, at the cost of some wonderful little talk. The significance of that talk, off of every word that goes between brothers and sisters and little nudging with parents and leg pulling of younger ones, and centre of focus to children in family, is the real treasure of one’s life and reward of living together when things are falling apart. At home, I was isolated but this was more of solitude than isolation. Isolation is a dreadful feeling of castaway. The bouts of isolation cause depression and nowhere could it be more hitting than in a hospital bed like the one I was sent to. The only redeeming thing was the frequent call of friends and dear ones who had come to know about my illness. It all mattered, even a brief call asking for care left the effect of the medicine, and when people felt your absence and prayed for you, you would believe you had spent your life productively enough to embrace death quaintly. The fact is when you are dying or presuming to be dying, you have only identity as a patient. You are nothing more nor less and your only messiah is the physician or the staff who is attending you if at all you are lucky enough to get any. In a hospital you get a true levelling and trivialization of your power and prestige when nothing can help you either digest or respire. How lucky are the occasions when one is hale and haughty and purposelessly wandering in the fields or sauntering around the running brooks just to breathe wanton free air and play with currents, or retire on a beach and watch the waves retreat or catch in the balcony the glitter of the moon throwing delight in the chest of the lake, or loitering amidst the bulwark of trees on a health tip, or passing through woods to capture the solitariness that answers much of a sorrow. I am approaching Covid as a lover of nature and humanity in the moments of solitude as I was struggling back to normalcy with profuse coughing and suffocating. Slowly yet steadily,
I was winning this race with a renewal of tastes and pleasure of breathing fresh breeze breading from still diluted and polluted waters of Wular, asking myself my own indestructible role in my destruction on a planet where love and fellow feeling is the only joy and respite. I had decided to rest on an optimistic note that the worst times would pass away as the sun was about to set behind the serene mountains. Life has to move on irrespective of the disaster like COVID, yet the battle is half a way. And I am compelled to end on a sad note because I received with all heaviness of heart ,the news about the death of my beloved teacher Dr Fazili, associate professor at Kashmir university who succumbed to this fatal virus . Death drew curtains and closed all. Yet life will go. Only you don’t get the second occasion to live it.
COVID may live with us for some more time yet those who would live beyond it after survival should try and find a different meaning to life. They will probably go back to faith and find real value in the gifts granted by nature. Good health and good conditions will matter to them. Probably COVID will teach them the philosophy of simple happy life.
Naseer khan is an assistant professor at Department of Higher Education JK.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.