Our 70-year old, diabetic, cancer-surviving mom, ચિત્રા (Chitra), lives in Pune, India: a city near Mumbai that earned the moniker, India’s Covid Capital. On Monday, April 19, 2021, she sent us this message on our family’s WhatsApp group:
MOM Hey Guys, don’t worry but I have a temperature of 99.8 an hour back. I have taken paracetamol. I can smell everything. It is just exhaustion and lack of sleep. Going off to sleep now. Don’t worry please.
At the time, she was unvaccinated due to vaccine shortages in India, and the escalating and very real risks of contracting COVID-19 at vaccination sites. But she had been strictly quarantining in her apartment for 14 months: she’s one of those rare individuals who had not socialized in over a year. Aside from accepting deliveries at her door in an N95 mask, and the odd quick interaction, fully-masked, to sign a bank document brought to her home, she’d been waiting out the pandemic in her apartment.
So when we received this message from her, we didn’t think too much of it. We told her to get some rest, and check back in the morning. She’d had a couple of colds in the past year after all.
Over the next few tumultuous days, her symptoms slowly but surely mutated. A red eye, unrelenting fatigue, and eventually, anosmia: she lost her sense of smell. For our part, we became progressively more worried as our feeds and group threads filled up with horrifying stories playing out in India, many among our own family and friends, and we finally entertained the idea that she may have contracted COVID-19 without ever having left her home. We had a lab administer an RT-PCR test at her home, and the result confirmed our worst fears: she was COVID-positive. We can’t know for certain, but considering the timing, her geographic location, the nature of transmission, and how her case developed, we would be willing to bet that she had contracted the formidable Delta variant.
Since then we’ve spent almost every waking minute caring for our mom remotely from our homes in American cities of Kirkland (indeed, the very city where COVID-19 kicked off its U.S. tour), Portland, Charlotte, and New York. We learned much of what we share here the hard way, and at times under severe duress. We hope that by presenting it clearly and (as) concisely (as possible, but no more so), it might help someone else.
We can’t answer this question for you. But we implore you to not follow any advice you come across without triaging it yourself (including what’s in this guide). If there’s one thing we’ve learned going through this it’s that COVID-19 often acts very predictably, and at other times in entirely mysterious ways. Also, COVID-19 symptoms resemble the symptoms of other viruses and infections like sinusitis making it that much harder to diagnose and treat. It sometimes acts slowly, and at other times escalates in severity with dizzying and unforgiving speed. There is no set pattern for how this virus affects humans (this is not to say that there aren’t patterns). With that said, we will attempt to give you a clear picture of the medical and symptom profile of our mom as it may help you determine how similar or dissimilar her case is to your or your loved one’s. Here goes.
We, Chitra’s kids and the creators of this site, have the means, resources, tools, support, and good fortune not only to be able to help our mom from across the world, but also to take enough time off to create and maintain a site like this without it materially affecting our livelihood. So far, we’ve also had luck on our side: our mom had a “mild” case of COVID-19, and she recovered. So much of what we recommend in this guide isn’t available to the majority of the Indian population because of inequality. But inequality is hardly an Indian problem—here in the U.S. we have more than our fair share of it, and it grows each day. This is not lost on us, not just in this situation, but in our day-to-day lives as well. We are doing our best to contribute something here; the people who took the time out of their days and nights to help us did, too. In the best of moments, we feel a glimmer of hope that we may be helping someone with this site and content. But we’d be lying if we didn’t admit often being stuck in the purgatory between despair and anger over the completely avoidable suffering and loss of life this pandemic has brought with it, and also any role we’ve played, and continue to play, knowingly and unknowingly, in creating such an unfathomably unequal world.
Please wear a mask. And if you have access to vaccines, please go get vaccinated.