Even after a month has passed, Covid survivors in Chandigarh say most people are hostile to them, which is adversely impacting their mental health.(HT Photo)
Even after a month has passed, Covid survivors in Chandigarh say most people are hostile to them, which is adversely impacting their mental health.(HT Photo)

Defeated virus, unable to dodge stigma: Chandigarh Covid survivors

Survivors say they are greeted with hostile stares or shifty glances from those who were once friendly neighbours
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By Tanbir Dhaliwal, Chandigarh
PUBLISHED ON MAY 17, 2020 10:34 PM IST

After the coronavirus, a different battle awaits those who survived the deadly infection—stigma. A small microbe has managed to precipitate an alarming rift among the public, with Covid patients being the casualties, and undeservingly so. Those who have survived the virus and have come home are greeted to hostile stares or shifty glances from those who were once friendly neighbours.

A month on, Parul Kalia, a London-based doctor, has recovered from the virus, but she is not stepping out of her home. “I have seen people suffer the ill effects of this virus. I treated them for two months. I saw young, healthy and happy people crash and die in no time,” said Kalia, who developed symptoms—high fever, cough, mild breathlessness and chest pain—after she returned to India.

For her, the isolation period was the most traumatic, when she worried about her parents and wasn’t sure how her disease would run its course. Her details were shared on social media and people began stalking her, calling her names. “People didn’t respect my confidentiality which was most distressing,” she said.

The fight is not over, she said, as she is fatigued, sleeps long hours and has mild breathing issues. “These residual effects improve with time. It people’s response I can’t come to terms with. They look at me as if I am a thing to look at,” said Kalia, who has been writing articles for journals and shot a video for Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) amid the lockdown.

“The virus is here to stay and it going to impact mental health, too,” she warned.

Chandigarh’s first Covid-19 patient, Fiza Gupta, and her brother Arnav Gupta who is also a survivor, recently donated plasma to save lives. A month on, people still think they are ‘virus carriers’.

The 23-year-old Fiza said, “I have become more grateful about the good things in life. I had many plans, but this virus taught me to take life as it comes. I also realise now what it means to give back to society.”

“Life, as we know it, has been turned upside down by the virus,” she said, adding, “The good part is that we as a family have bonded even more, and the sad part is that people avoid us as they still think we are infected. Some don’t come home while others are reluctant. It will take its own time.”

Her brother, Arnav, 25, who tested positive a day after she did, was discharged on April 4. “People still look at me differently. I don’t blame them. If you see or hear about Covid 24x7, you are bound to panic. The ordeal gave me time to introspect and start meditation,” Arnav said, adding that he was grateful his family and friends stood by him.

Meanwhile, the first health worker to catch the Covid virus after he treated a patient in PGIMER said he was aghast that people in his community think he is still a carrier. “I recovered and completed the isolation period. But when, after a month, I stepped out for an evening walk, unfriendly stares from my neighbours compelled me to go back home. It’s disturbing.”

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