From 1st Covid-19 patient, a call to dispel stigma
When Rohit Dutta landed at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on February 25, all he was looking forward to was his 12-year-old son’s birthday party in three days. A textile entrepreneur, Dutta had gone to Italy for a two-week trip with two male relatives, one of countless business trips he undertook over the years.
That night, the 45-year-old man felt a fever coming, but went back to sleep. The next morning, he popped a pill and went to the local doctor. He was prescribed medicines for the next three days and his symptoms improved quickly.
His course of pills ended on February 28. The same day, he threw a function for his son’s birthday at Hyatt Regency in south Delhi. At night, he felt the fever was back.
By then, Dutta had seen news flashes of Covid-19 ravaging northern Italy, where he had gone. He was worried. With his symptoms not subsiding, on February 29, Dutta went to Ram Manohar Lohia hospital for a Covid-19 test.
On March 2, his results came back positive — making him the first known patient in Delhi and one of only five people in India at the time.
“When I had the infection, I did not know much about the disease. Nobody did,” he said.
He was treated at Safdarjung hospital, one of the only two hospitals designated for treatment of Covid-19 at the time. He had mild symptoms — just fever and cough — and was given supportive care. “I had thought after a 14-day isolation I would go back to my life as usual, and after the lockdown, everything would go back to normal. I never imagined that so many people would get infected,” said Dutta.
His health didn’t deteriorate but he had another big challenge: A constant stream of abuse and stigma directed at his family after his personal details were leaked.
From his hospital bed, he saw his phone number, photographs, and even details about his two children put on the public domain. He had to block 1,500 phone numbers to stop anonymous callers abusing him.
“I even registered an online police complaint but nothing much happened. In fact, my discharge papers were in the news before my doctors or I got to see it,” he said.
A resident of Mayur Vihar, Dutta says Covid-19 changed his life in other, more common ways. He meets only one friend at a time instead of a minimum of five-people get-togethers. “I miss going to the mall. Also, I am a businessman and there are certain things for which I need to meet my clients face-to-face, but travelling has become very difficult now. God willing, this year will see the end of it,” he said.
He added: “It is still okay for us, but children are missing out on their childhood.”
In the first few months, he felt he was being shunned or judged by the people around him. “There was so much in the news about me – and at that time there was a lot of stigma about Covid-19 – so when people used to talk among themselves, I felt they were talking about me,” he said, before realising it wasn’t so.
“Too much information” about the virus also had him worried. “I used to tell anyone who would ask that it was a good thing that I got the infection early on and recovered. However, as I started reading more and more about the infection and found out there was a possibility of long-term lung damage, I was concerned.”
It was his doctors who put his mind at ease.
“It is like vaccinating a child, we do not really know about all the vaccines but we have faith in our doctors. My doctors have already taken the shot and I have faith in the vaccine,” he said. “I will take it when my turn comes.”