By Runa Mukherjee Parikh Apr. 10, 2020
Sumiti Singh, a young entrepreneur, was among the first few confirmed Covid-19 positive cases in Ahmedabad. She is also the first to have returned home to a loud cheer from her friends and neighbours – and wants everyone to know that even if they are diagnosed with the infection, they should stay calm.
Times have never been as uncertain as this. With a pandemic in our midst and a lockdown that has literally arrested us within our own homes, fear and anxiety are at an all-time high. But can you imagine being one of the first few in the country and the world to be diagnosed with a highly infectious disease that is yet to find a cure or a vaccine?
Sumiti Singh, a 34-year-old entrepreneur, was the first few suspected Covid-19 patients in Ahmedabad. She was among the first two to be confirmed Covid-19 positive. And she is also the first to have returned home to a loud cheer from her family, friends, and neighbours.
Singh, who runs 7 Violettes, a thriving bakery in the heart of the city, has had a roller-coaster journey in the last few weeks. She started the year by gifting herself a trip to Finland to see the Northern Lights, even though she’d been tracking the coronavirus since January, when Wuhan was at the apex. While she knew that the world was in for an unprecedented event, it all felt too far from her. “I’ll take necessary precautions… I know better… I’ve read so much… And of all the people, it won’t be me!” she had told me during an interview.
She did take a lot of precautions. Early in March, as Singh flew domestic as well as international, she wore an N99 mask, sanitised her hands multiple times, each time for over 30 seconds, put the air vents on in her seat, sanitised her tray table and arm rests. “I felt awkward wearing a mask when 90 per cent people didn’t and for the looks I got. I fancied my chances cause there were fewer than 10 cases in Finland when I started my journey,” she said.
Early in March, as Singh flew domestic as well as international, she wore an N99 mask, sanitised her hands multiple times, each time for over 30 seconds, put the air vents on in her seat, sanitised her tray table and arm rests.. Sumiti Singh
Early in March, as Singh flew domestic as well as international, she wore an N99 mask, sanitised her hands multiple times, each time for over 30 seconds, put the air vents on in her seat, sanitised her tray table and arm rests..
By the time she returned from her trip on the 12th of March, Covid-19 had turned into a pandemic but India still had a low number of cases. As she had no symptoms, she was sent home with a 14-day self-isolation advisory after filling a form at the airport. Still she took no chances and she got home to no hugs from the family, kept her distance from them, sprayed PeeSafe sanitiser on her bags, removed only the essentials and left the bags in one bathroom of her house.
A few days later, working on her laptop, Singh developed a slight fever and she isolated herself completely. Her parents spoke to their general physician about her low-grade fever (99-100.7) and he advised her to have some antibiotics for the flu considering she had just got back from -15 degrees in Finland.
“There was a small table placed outside my room to hand over things I needed. I washed my utensils in my bathroom sink with soap and very hot water. Before leaving my utensils out, I would open the door, wash my hands, carry the utensils and place them on the table just outside, to make sure that if I had any infection, it wasn’t on the vessels. My mom then rewashed the utensils. This was a process we followed for all days I was in self-isolation. I would wash my own clothes in Dettol and hot water and send them outside, sanitising the bucket handle with Dettol water and then leaving it outside,” explained Singh.
When her doctor called her in for a further check-up, she went alone, wore a mask, and sat far away from everyone at the clinic. As the fever still persisted, she was diagnosed with a mild upper respiratory infection and was asked to continue her medicines. But Singh had herself tested for Covid-19, and on March 20, she was confirmed Covid-19 positive.
While she had prepared herself to hear the worst, the news still shocked her. But she soon found her calm and braced herself for a fight. Her family who had been FaceTiming with her even while she had been home under self-isolation now had to face a longer, more uncertain ordeal.
The authorities were prompt. They were at her house within an hour of her diagnosis, checking her family for symptoms. “They also gave them a snack pack and a kit which contained masks and sanitiser, which would help with the sudden quarantine. Simultaneously, all details regarding my travel, flights, seats, airlines everything was being taken from me. Our building got fumigated thrice since that day. Everything happened so fast, it left very little time to really feel, but it was reassuring to see the concerned people working so swiftly,” she said.
The authorities were at Singh’s house within an hour of her diagnosis, checking her family for symptoms and gave them a snack pack and a kit which contained masks and sanitiser to help with the sudden quarantine. Sumiti Singh
The authorities were at Singh’s house within an hour of her diagnosis, checking her family for symptoms and gave them a snack pack and a kit which contained masks and sanitiser to help with the sudden quarantine.
It was during this time that WhatsApp reared its ugly head and the family began to receive vitriolic messages about their daughter’s sickness. The message carried the video of the fumigation in her building with names of her sister and her bakery brand, though they got the name of the country she visited wrong. Singh decided to start posting her health status on Facebook and Instagram, instead of WhatsApp forming the narrative of her journey.
The prognosis of the disease is not a linear one: Singh had fairly calm days and then suddenly suffered from shallow breathing and a little strain in her throat when she attempted to talk. Ten days from her first symptoms, she took another Covid-19 test and was positive again. But her true fear was for her family who she might have infected. In late March, Singh posted, “And now my watch ends…” as the 14 days of quarantine for her family had passed. “The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation had put a green sticker on our door which enables them to move out but I have, obviously, forbidden them from doing so. Despite everything that I did, I was petrified for my family at home and I prayed that they didn’t get it from me,” she said.
Singh had been smart and taken precautions just in case she was infected – from not going to collect the Times Food Award that her bakery won, to not visiting her workplace, she was glad her steps ensured that no one else contracted the virus from her.
Singh told me the health officers are the real heroes at this hour. Sumiti Singh
Singh told me the health officers are the real heroes at this hour.
A few days ago, Singh was discharged from the civic hospital after getting two consecutive negative results for the disease. “The hospital was clean and well-equipped and an entire floor was dedicated to Covid positives. I can’t thank the teams enough for meticulously making sure that my vitals were stable (every two hours) and that I was being administered the right treatment at all times. There was also constant assurance and reaffirmation from the doctors which helped me deal with anxiety. And it was all free of charge,” she elaborated.
Singh told me the health officers are the real heroes at this hour. “In the first hour of my getting a positive, I asked a nurse, who was in the isolation room with me, if she was scared of being around me. She replied, absolutely not, it was her job to be there and assist me. If she could help me and make me better, it would add to her karma and her maker would be happy and look after her,” she said.
Singh had decided to quietly slip into her home after discharge but her entire society, friends and family stood at safe distances applauding her recovery and return. She is currently under another 14-day rest period and the AMC continues to take her health updates. Back with her family, Singh advises people to stay home and not burden the health system at this crucial juncture. “If you know of a family with a positive case, reach out to them via messages, it adds to the strength at a fearful time. Do not spread fake messages. And if you have been tested positive, stay calm so that your mental health is fit enough to handle the stress your physical health is in. Now more than ever, it is time to keep your spirits up.”
A freelance journalist by day and a sitcom addict rest of the time, Runa believes that animals come first. When not petting or feeding dogs, she is reporting on their state in the country among other things. Movies, ramen and reading up on Game of Thrones theories make her feel complete.