The year 2020 will always be remembered as the year of the pandemic known as Covid 19. I came to Abu Dhabi, UAE in January 3 2020 from Saint Paul, MN, USA for my mom's knee surgery. It's July 14 2020 and I'm still here right in the thick of the Coronavirus.
During the lockdown in Abu Dhabi, I realized the story of the Coronavirus needs to be told. I've decided to write a book of short stories focusing on different countries. Since this is a global pandemic, it right away made sense to point out how people from each country faced and dealt with the virus their own way.
Short Story 1 (Not finished yet)
It was a bright Sunday morning and Jack Brennan was doing his favorite thing; painting. It was a flower that he had taken a picture of with his phone during his daily walk with his wife Marianne and their dog Paula. They loved exploring the neighborhoods close by. They had recently moved to this picturesque suburb of Albany, New York where there were quite a few parks close to their place. Both Jack and Marianne were avid gardeners. Both of their favorite flowers were lilies and roses which they took care of almost like their children. They considered themselves the luckiest parents and grandparents to have all their children and grandchildren living in the same city. They couldn't be happier and their lives couldn't be more full. Jack and Marianne felt they were in a perfect place in their lives.
Jack wanted to branch out of the medium that he learned painting in – watercolor - to oil, but couldn’t gather enough courage towards making the transition. But he told himself he wasn’t in a hurry as he still had quite a bit to accomplish in the water-based medium. He first quickly did a sketching of the subject, mixed the colors and started his wet on wet work of art.
When he was more than half way done, Jack started to feel a slight irritation in his voice. It was like he had never experienced before followed by a little coughing. When Marianne heard that she quickly gave Jack his favorite fast-acting remedy, Ricola, and both thought the coughing would go away quickly. But unfortunately not only did it not stop but got much worse. When Paula came by Jack and started to lick his hand, he was convinced he was coming down with something bad. Paula had always acted as the forewarner of medical conditions in the household. It was when Jack was done with the painting that he realized for some reason his coughing had become much worse and his breathing became distinctly labored.
“Marianne, I don’t particularly feel good. Seems like I can’t breathe properly,” Jack told his wife.
Marianne immediately called 911 and told them what Jack said to her. The young lady on the phone asked her what Jack’s age was, if he was on any medications and if he had any fever.
“Let me go and feel his forehead for temperature. He is eighty six and does take the usual cholesterol drug as well for blood pressure along with Aspirin,” answered Marianne as she placed the palm of her right hand on Jack’s forehead.
“Oh my just by feeling his forehead I think he does have fever. Can I quickly check his temp with a thermometer?” said Marianne.
“Sure ma’am, go ahead. I’ll wait, “ replied the woman on the other side.
“Hon why don’t you open your mouth so I can place this below your tongue,” said Marianne to Jack who looked visibly concerned and somewhat weak.
It was 102.8 degrees to which the 911 operator told Marianne to take him to Emergency right away.
“By the way ma’am, please just stay put. I’ll send an ambulance to your facility, “ said the dispatcher.
The facility that was just referred to was a nursing home. Yes Jack and Marianne didn’t have any choice but to make this assisted living place their home. Both Jack and Marianne were having trouble even driving and didn’t want to rely on their children to drive or help them in any capacity. Both promised each other that as long as the two of them were still around, they were not going to take any help from anyone including their children.
The ambulance came and the paramedics right away handed Marianne a mask and asked her if she had heard of this new virus that was recently found in China. It was called Novel Corona. Marianne obviously didn’t hear about it.
“Do you think Jack has that virus?” asked Marianne.
“We don’t know yet. The symptoms that he has, lead us to believe he might be infected with the Coronavirus – which is also known as Covid 19,” said the young paramedic who identified himself as Gary.
Marianne was not allowed to go with them on the ambulance since it was likely that she was also infected even though she didn’t have any symptoms yet. In fact she was warned this virus was very contagious and that she had to go on self-quarantine for fourteen days in her house while her husband would go through a test and remain in the hospital at least until the test results were in.
“Can I also get the test just in case?” inquired Marianne.
“I’m afraid we would not be able to do that yet since there are a very limited number of test kits. We are administering them on people with symptoms, “ elaborated Gary.
When Marianne went to tell Jack she couldn’t go he looked even weaker and gave Marianne a look of utter confusion.
Once the ambulance reached the hospital, Jack was taken to get tested right away.
Meanwhile Marianne called the hospital to make sure Jack had reached therel sound and safe.
“My husband has just been taken there in an ambulance since he had high fever and was having trouble breathing. Can you please check if he made it there yet?” asked Marianne.
“We’ll let you know your husband’s test results no later than the day after tomorrow. If you get symptoms like high fever and/or shortness of breath please call 911 right away,” explained the attendant.
“Suppose I should call my son and daughter,” Marianne started to think out loud.
“I’m terribly sorry Ma’am but no one would be allowed to see your husband until we know for sure he doesn’t have the virus,” replied the front desk person.
Marianne told Jacob and Joyce not to come over even to see her since she would have to start her fourteen day self quarantine at home. She took a taxi and went back to the nursing home. Just after she entered the apartment she was gripped with utter fear of the unknown. During times like these Marianne’s favorite thing to do was to talk to her granddaughter Melissa, Jacob’s daughter. As soon as she Facetimed her, all of Marianne’s anxieties just went away like magic.
“How are you grandma?” asked Melissa.
“Just by talking to you I feel much better now. How are you doing sweetheart?” asked the loving grandmother.
“I’m doing alright. I heard grandpa might have this new virus?” Melissa wanted to know.
“It’s called Corona. We don’t know yet. He’ll be given the test today and we’ll find out within a couple of days if he’s positive or negative,” explained Marianne.
“We’ll pray that he doesn’t have it,” reassured Melissa.
“That’s why during stressful times you are the only person that I want to talk to sweetie,” added Marianne.
“Why don’t we come over there to be with you now or if you want we can pick you up and you can stay with us until grandpa comes back,” suggested the thoughtful granddaughter.
“It’s so sweet of you but I’m under self quarantine for fourteen days,” replied Marianne.
“Oh it’s too bad but don’t worry grandma just remember we’re only a Facetime call away,” reminded Melissa.
Jacob and his wife Lisa, have another child, John, who was ten. John was somewhat shy but if someone initiated a conversation he would take off like a rocket to a land of almost unending interesting facts. He loved to read. He was close to his grandpa, since it was Jack that had taught him how to throw a football as well as a baseball.
When Marianne reached home she found Paula going over to the single sofa where Jack always sat down to watch TV. That night Marianne couldn’t go to sleep. When she turned the TV on, it was all about COVID 19. Some nursing homes were hit the hardest. Marianne was worried if she got the virus from Jack and as was reported could she be just asymptomatic but positive. Then of course her prime concern was Jack. Since it was a brand new virus, no one knew what medication would help or how long a patient would need to be hospitalized.
She didn’t know when she fell asleep and was woken up by the alarm at seven and then finding Paula sitting over at Jack's pillow. It was very difficult for Marianne not to see Jack on the other side of the bed especially when they had been married for that long. Marianne, however, had this strong faith that everything happened for a reason and wasn’t going to question any moment that came by. She was the type that did see the glass half full and believed in a better tomorrow.
Everything she did that day was the first time ever – like having breakfast without Jack. He was quiet by nature but had a tremendous sense of presence. Also she never made coffee for one before as Jack was a coffee connoisseur and claimed his day couldn’t start without the brewed drink. Another first was when she sat down in the balcony with the Metro section of the newspaper with Paula looking on and couldn’t hand the rest to Jack.
Marianne couldn’t even remember the last time she had tears in her eyes and broke down crying. That’s exactly what happened. Others might have called loved ones during trying times like that but not Marianne. She was one of those private weepers who didn’t want people to see her crying and feel sorry for her. Also she didn’t think it was necessary to share her sadness with anyone else. The entire morning was spent reminiscing the past with Jack.
Jack always wanted to start painting when he was younger but couldn’t get to it due to work and obligations that never seemed to end. He started thinking about this idea of having to add colors to canvas when he was in grade school. He wanted to go to a summer camp where they had art classes but his parents couldn’t afford it. He once worked the entire summer mowing lawns for five homes but had to use the money to buy materials for his science class. Then of course Jack was the first in his family to volunteer to get in the army. He eventually got enlisted in the Air Force and ended up in France towards the end of the Second World War. He spent couple of years there before the plane he was flying got shot and he ejected out but got terribly injured when he landed on top of trees.
One trait that Jack had and everyone agreed was his patience and determination. Jack kept on trying to enroll in an art class even when he retired and thought he would finally have nothing but time in his hand and the money to indulge in this lifelong dream. It so happened even in retirement Jack became busier - baby-sitting his four grandchildren. Circumstances didn’t allow Jack to enjoy even some financial breathing room after retirement as both of his kids had been unemployed and were dealing with enormous student debts for an extended period of time.
Marianne’s favorite pastime was cooking. Even though she worked for close to sixty years (thirty five at the same company) before she retired, she didn’t miss any opportunity to spend time in her favorite place, kitchen. She was an accountant by profession and graduated from Indiana University about sixty four years earlier. Jack had met Marianne when he was stationed in Cary just before leaving for France. Before departing Jack had promised Marianne he would come back one day and marry her and wanted her to promise she would wait for him. It was one of the most difficult time in their young lives when they had to say goodbye to each other. Marianne still remembered her unstoppable crying bouts that she had when she found out about Jack’s upcoming deployment. But later on she used to tell others the following two years was the best character-building period of her life. Not only did she learn how to wait but also used the time to build a trusting relationship (albeit a long distance one) through letters. She could have sworn her skill in writing got a major boost during that time. When Jack finally returned he was a war-scarred man. Marianne’s extraordinary patience came in handy as she took it upon herself to make sure Jack became mentally well again. They both struggled with their relationship – sometimes to the point of almost no return until Jack came back to his senses and apologized. It was affecting Marianne’s psychological health as well. Her deep love for Jack was the only thing that saved the relationship. But even Marianne started to doubt if that bond could be sustained any further. In order to make their tie stronger Jack and Marianne decided to get married the following month. They just went to court and made it official as neither had much money to make it a social event. In couple of years their son Jacob was born. Having Jacob was the best thing that happened to their relationship. Both the parents became so involved in the upbringing of the child, Jacob didn’t have any shortage of attention and love. Jack decided to finish college and got a degree in electrical engineering. At that time they were living in Houston, Texas. Between Jack and Marianne, their friends circle grew quite a bit. After going on several interviews Jack finally received a job offer from an engineering firm. They were willing to offer a yearly salary of $25,000 with health benefits for him and his family, three weeks vacation annually and other perks here and there.
The Brenans were a happy family and had pretty much everything going for them. Jacob started growing up, Jack got a couple of promotions and Marianne decided to stay home for Jacob until the boy was older. From Christmas to birthdays, the Brennans kept enjoying all the parties. When you have everything working, why not share your success stories with your friends. Most of their friends were happy for them except for the Adlers, Martin and Michaela. They were the party poopers for their entire friends circle. It was like they were very helpful if needed but was probably the most negative couple there ever lived. For example, when Marianne was thinking about having a baby, Michaela started coming up with all the reasons she shouldn’t have a baby – like Marianne should kiss goodbye to building up a career or the Brennans’ fun part of the marriage would end with the arrival of the new baby. Thankfully nothing like that happened. In fact after Jacob was born, the Brennans luck opened up quite a bit with not only a job offer for Jack but also great health news for Marianne. Marianne had a cyst in her kidney that was diagnosed as cancerous. After delivering Jacob, Marianne’s nephrologist gave her the news she wanted to hear – her cyst had shrunk to the point it didn’t even appear on the scan.
Years went by quickly and Marianne became pregnant again. The Brennans were gifted with a baby girl that they called Joyce. She was about four years younger than her brother Jacob. Jacob was a very protective big brother. He came over to the room whenever mom happened to feed Joyce or was trying to make her sleep. It was cute to see Jacob pretending to sing with his mom to try to make sure Joyce was relaxed enough to fall asleep. He would also help in holding the spoon with his mom to feed his little sister. Jack kept doing really well in his job and was soon made the manager. The perfect family of four started going on vacations – at first they decided to explore all the National Parks in the US. Years later they made trips to Europe – from England and France to Italy, Germany and Greece. Marianne’s photo albums were getting filled up with memories that she treasured very much. She would patiently wait for both of her children’s birthdays every year with new themes but once they went she almost went into a depression. Both Jack and Marianne’s world then revolved around their kids. Even their friends started to notice and would tell them perhaps they were being a little bit too involved with their kids’ lives. They advised them to instead allow them to make certain little mistakes and learn from them rather than being told not to do so with every little thing that they were being exposed to.
When years turned into a decade (when Jacob turned ten that is), Jack decided to buy a bigger house as both kids outgrew their backyard and had trouble even kicking around balls. Marianne, the sentimental one, at first didn’t want to even entertain that idea but later was convinced they really needed a bigger house for the kids. The Brennans moved to a new home thirty miles from where they were and would stay their through Jack’s and Marianne’s retirement.
Marianne started to work when Joyce was around twelve and Jacob was sixteen. It took some time for her to get adjusted to this brand new activity that obviously to most people was as common as the sun. But she was determined to do well and she did. With two good incomes, the Brennans were doing really well financially. Few days after his seventeenth birthday Jacob started applying to colleges and Joyce got super busy with all her school activities and friends.
Just after Marianne was done with her lunch there was a call on her mobile. She wasn’t sure if it was better just to let the call go to voicemail or answer it. She had found out over the years that most of the time letting someone leave a message compelled them to be more detailed and accurate regarding the information that they are sharing. Marianne decided to answer it as she just couldn’t make herself patient enough for her to let it go to the voicemail and then wait for the recording and then listen to it.
“Hello this is Marianne, “ answered the nervous wife.
“Can I talk to Mrs. Brennan please,” asked the lady on the other line.
“This is she.”
“Hello Mrs. Brennan. Just wanted to let you know we have the results back for Covid 19 test we had administered on Mr Brennan yesterday. Unfortunately your husband has tested positive. We have started antibiotic and other meds for him and he will need to be here in the hospitals for an extended period of time,” said the caller.
“Do you know how long that might be?” asked the very concerned Marianne.
“This is such a new virus. We really don’t know anything about it. We’ll keep you posted. Also since we do know that this Coronavirus is very contagious, we are not allowing any guests, including family members.”
“Can I at least talk to him over the phone?”
“Sure once we assign him a cabin sometime this afternoon you may call him and talk to him then.”
“Please call me back and let me know what number I can call him at. Also he does have a cell phone that he left in the house. Is there any way I can get it to him?”
“Sure, you may drop it off at the front desk. We’ll make sure he gets it,” answered the kind sounding hospital employee.
“Sure I’ll have to ask my son or daughter to drive me over there. I’ll try to drop Jack’s cell phone this evening, but if I don’t make it today I’ll definitely drop it off tomorrow sometime.”
“Sure thing Mrs. Brennan. We are here twenty four seven. It’s just that you will not be able to see your husband when you come here as we don’t want you to get sick with this virus as well. “
“It’s okay, thanks.”
Marianne called Joyce first to see if she was available the following day to take her dad’s cell phone to the hospital.
“Hello Joyce,” said Marianne.
“Oh hi mom, did you hear anything about dad yet?” asked the concerned daughter.
“Yes I just spoke with the hospital. Your dad has the virus. So he will have to stay at the hospital till he gets better,” shared Marianne.
“Oh no. I was afraid that was the case. What’ll happen now mom?” said Joyce as she started to cry.
It didn’t take much for Joyce to start balling. Her Husband, Tim, refused to accompany her to the movies as she would invariably begin crying even if the movie wasn’t much of a tear jerker. Joyce was particularly close to her dad since she was a child. Jack always took her on his shoulders after coming home from work and walk over to a nearby park. The two would spend at least a couple of hours there with Jack pushing Joyce on the swing and then helping her climb up the slide. Then the two would stop by a Baskin Robbins to get their strawberry flavored ice cream. Joyce was gripped with memories of her dad with such intensity she, for a second, forgot she was on the phone with her mom.
“You have to stay strong Joyce. Since we don’t know much about this Coronavirus yet, let’s hope and pray this is not that serious and that your dad will come out of it in no time, “ added Marianne.
“I’ll pray that will be the case, mom,” replied Joyce.
“I’m praying for him as well. By the way Joyce, can you come over and get your dad’s cell phone from me and take it to the hospital. I need to give him his cell phone so he could talk and we could call him anytime? Or if you want you may take it from me and drop it off at the front desk,” added Marianne.
“I can come over during lunchtime. How about at twelve fifteen or so?” said Joyce.
“Sounds good. Unfortunately I just realized I wouldn’t be able to be even close to you now that your dad has tested positive. It’s a mandatory 14 day quarantine for me now. Make sure to wear a mask hon and also wear gloves and carry a hand sanitizer in your bag. I’ll keep your dad’s mobile on the kitchen counter.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll come over then and pick up the phone, “ responded Joyce.
“Thanks hon. Just wanted to let you know that I might call you more often since I seem to be anxious being alone in the apartment,” expressed Marianne.
“Don’t be silly mom. You don’t have to tell me beforehand that you’ll be calling me. I would hope that you call me even if it happens to be in the middle of the night,” added Joyce.
“Thanks hon. See you tomorrow then, for a flying kiss,” said Marianne.
“See you. Now relax and try and get some sleep. Call me anytime mom and don’t forget that,” reminded Joyce.
Again Joyce couldn’t go to sleep that night. She kept tossing and turning while thinking about Jack during different periods of their marriage. At one point she focused on their wedding day. Marianne started remembering even minute details of what Jack had told her and done before on and after their wedding. She started to think about the worst outcome of the ordeal. What if Jack didn’t make it? How could she go on being by herself? She also started to worry if Jack would suffer a lot and if he does Marianne couldn’t be there with him. That night Marianne thought was the most challenging one in decades. She had nothing but endless questions on her mind but with very few answers.
In the meantime at the hospital Jack’s oxygen saturation went down to around 87 and the doctors decided to administer oxygen. Since he was struggling quite a bit just to breathe he didn’t call Marianne from the hospital phone. Having served in the military Jack was a tough man in his core. His family members agreed his withstanding of so much pain and suffering sometimes gave others a false sense of security. When Jack had his first heart attack, he remembered feeling the pain in his chest but thought he could handle it and didn’t think much of it until the point came where he was having trouble breathing. That’s when he told Marianne who called 911 right away. He had three stents installed then. Jack had always been active throughout his life – swimming and playing tennis whenever he could. He did also jog on a regular basis until his right knee gave out. Then he started walking with Marianne – which he enjoyed the most. Jack always told family and friends Marianne was far better than he in pretty much everything. Whenever he talked about Marianne, everyone noticed his eyes would light up. Jack used to say his love and respect for Marianne grew even stronger over the years and would express that if Marianne went before he did, he wouldn’t even survive for a day. So both had made a serious plea with God that Jack’s life would end before Marianne’s.
Marianne didn’t know when she fell asleep but woke up at around eight. That morning seemed a little better than the previous one as she at least had the presence of mind to prepare herself breakfast. Marianne always treated herself and Jack to a very elaborate breakfast. She used to make bread with a bread-maker and then would heat up few veggie patties that she got from Costco. Finally she would make egg omelets that family and friends just couldn’t stay away from. She wanted to find out what was going on around the world so turned on the TV while enjoying her dark roasted coffee. Of course by now the World Health Organization had declared the Coronavirus a pandemic. It was spreading exponentially all across the world and people were dying in thousands. Marianne had to turn the TV off as she didn’t want to subject herself to more anxiety. She kept praying for Jack to recover from the deadly virus.
Joyce came over before lunch to get the cell phone for her dad. Marianne greeted her daughter from a noticeable distance with a wave. Joyce added a blowing kiss.
“You look pale mom. Do you feel okay?” asked Joyce.
“Yes I’m fine. I just have difficulty sleeping and that’s why my energy level is pretty low right now” explained Marianne.
“Sorry mom. Wish I could take you with me. The kids would have loved that. Understand the importance of quarantine though. Hope you feel better soon,” shared Joyce.
“I wish I could see James and the kids too but obviously for now I have to stay put right here,” said Marianne.
“You have to promise me mom that if you get any symptoms whatsoever please let me know right away,” pleaded Joyce.
“I’ll call you right after I call 911. You have kids and a husband to think of beside yourself. I’ll never let you come near me in case I test positive. Let’s all have positive thoughts though and pray that your dad gets well soon and that I don’t test positive,” advised Marianne.
“You know mom you are always right and I know that. Maybe I’ll be like you with my kids one day. I’ve always admired your motherly instincts,” complimented the daughter.
Joyce took the cell phone to the front desk at the hospital. To her surprise they asked her if she wanted to see her dad. She could see him from a glass window and they could talk to each other over their cell phones. She almost couldn’t recognize her own dad when the nurse pointed at him through the window of this nicely kept mid-sized room. Jack was almost done with his lunch when he saw her daughter and was pleasantly surprised. He looked at her like he hadn’t seen her in ages even though he saw Joyce and her family the Sunday before the previous one.
“Hello dad, how are you doing?” started Joyce after calling Jack on her cell phone.
“I’m still a little short on oxygen but other than that I feel okay. Thanks for bringing my cell phone to me,” said Jack.
“You’re very welcome. I just saw mom this morning. We maintained the distance when I went to your place to pick up the phone. Mom is hanging in there. We are obviously all worried about you but know that you’ll get better in no time,” continued Joyce.
“I’m not so worried about myself but I am worried about your mom. She has never been this alone. I know since she has to self quarantine herself for fourteen days she couldn’t go to your or Jacob’s place or you all cannot go to ours and spend quality time with your mom. It’s a very challenging test for sure. Let’s hope and pray Marianne doesn’t get it,” shared Jack.
“Don’t worry Dad. Just get better. Jacob and I will make sure mom doesn’t feel like she is all alone,” responded Joyce.
“Thanks, I know you two will do a really good job taking care of your mom. I’ll call her now that I have my mobile,” added Jack.
“Well Dad, have to head back to work now. If you need anything obviously let the nurses know first. Also call any one of us for anything else. I know it can be really lonely here so if you want to be on the phone all the time be my guest. Love you dad. Take care now. I’ll come again tomorrow with James and the kids. They were all asking about you and wanted to find out if they could see you from a distance, “ stated Joyce.
Right after Joyce left, Jack decided to call Marianne.
“Hi Jack, how are you feeling?” asked Marianne right after she answered her cellphone.
“Oh I feel a little weak and still need oxygen sometimes, but other than that I’m fine. How are you?” started Jack.
“I didn’t tell the kids yet, but I’ve had a sore throat for the last couple of days. After doing some steam inhalation and gurgling with salt water, I feel much better now,” confessed Marianne.
“Thank God. You should get a test though just to rule it out,” suggested the concerned husband.
“I’m really scared, Jack, even to find out if I’m positive or not. Although it wouldn’t make much of a difference in that I’m by myself here at home and if I were to be admitted at the hospital I’d be pretty much alone there as well. Although at the hospital there’ll be nurses and doctors in case I need them,” added Marianne.
“You are right but I still think to be forewarned is actually to be forearmed. You’re in a much better position knowing than not knowing,” Jack gave his opinion.
“I agree, I’d rather know than not. Maybe I’ll call the hospital tomorrow and set up an appointment for testing. Even the way the test is done is unsettling to say the least. I don’t like anything tickling my nose let alone an almost five foot test swab going way up there. But I guess a little bit of discomfort should be easily outweighed by either the knowledge that I’m fine or that I have Corona and it needs to be dealt with soon,” let out Marianne.
The following day, Marianne was woken up by Jacob’s phone call at around eight thirty.
“Hi Mom, just wanted to see how you were doing?” asked her son.
“I’m doing okay. How about you, Jessica and the kids?” started Marianne.
“We’re all doing fine. Both Jessica and I are lucky enough to be able to work from home. The kids are still distance learning. But listen mom, talked to dad and Joyce last night. We are worried about you possibly contracting the virus from dad even though it seems you are still asymptomatic,” continued Jacob.
“But I do have a little bit of a sore throat. That should be good enough for me to ask for a test,” replied Marianne.
She got an appointment for the day after. But for some reason she was gripped with total fear just after she got off the phone. She started thinking the worst again. What if she tested positive and were at the same hospital as Jack was but stayed away from each other for an extended period of time. What if Jack didn’t survive could he still have a normal funeral service? Then of course the thing that really scared her most was during the final moments how would she be able to handle being alone without her family.
She immediately called Joyce and told her how she was exactly feeling. Joyce conveyed to her mom she could be at her apartment in about fifteen minutes.
“No I don’t want you to come over right now since I haven’t tested yet for Covid 19. I just wanted to talk it over. I’m fine now but it can get a little overwhelming thinking of the future,” shared Marianne.
“Mom, dad is a fighter. I don’t have any doubt that he will beat this virus. You’ve been even stronger than dad over the years. You’ll be just fine as well,” reassured the daughter.
“I haven’t been tested this way before though. But you are right Joyce, we have to keep the faith and move forward. If for nothing else, we all have to be strong for Jack. As you know he keeps everything to himself – both joy and pain,” reminded Marianne.
“Let’s take one day at a time, Mom. Even in the pre-Covid era there were challenges and believe me there will still be challenges in the post,” added Joyce.
“Thanks Hon, your words always give me comfort that I need,” said Marianne.
Marianne went to the hospital for Covid testing. She wanted to ask Joyce to come over as she was really nervous as to how she would react with a long cotton swab going up her nasal cavity. But on the other hand Marianne took it as a challenge and wanted to see if she could handle it herself. And handle she did really well. After she was done with the testing procedure Marianne called Jack to see what he was doing.
“Hi Hon, since I’m at the hospital, was wondering if I can see you like Joyce did when she was here,” relayed Marianne.
“Sure, I’m on the fifth floor, room 502. You should probably ask a nurse there first,” suggested Jack.
“Okay I’ll be right up then,” said Marianne.
She asked a nurse on the first floor and she helped Marianne with directions to go to Jack’s room. Marianne took the elevator to the 5th floor and started heading to Room 502. Right after she found the room, she could see Jack through the window. Marianne was shocked to see how much weight Jack had lost already. But Jack gave her a big smile as he pointed to his cell phone and started dialing. Marianne answered her cell phone.
“Hi darling, how are you doing?” asked Marianne.
“Don’t like being here at all first of all and also not much of a fan when it comes to hospital food. Also don’t care for having to connect to an oxygen cylinder when my saturation level goes down to 90. But other than that I’m okay. How about you Hon?” asked Jack.
“Sorry to hear that but hang in there. It might take a little longer for you to come home but you are being well taken care of at the hospital. I just took the test. Crossing my fingers and hoping for the best,” added Marianne.
When a nurse saw Marianne, talking to Jack, standing, she brought a chair for her right away. Marianne always appreciated the most these little acts of kindness. She had been telling her kids and then her grandkids small things make up most of our lives and to focus on them even more than big ones. For example even holding a door for any person when going out of or getting into a building helps in building a little trust among fellow humans. People should at least count on that.
“That was nice of Amy to bring that chair to you,” said Jack.
“Yes it’s good to know people still care for others. Of course Amy is a nurse and it’s her duty to serve, but still that was a very nice gesture,” answered Marianne.
“So when did they say they’ll let you know about the test result?” asked Jack.
“I should know by day after tomorrow. You know what Jack, for some reason I’m not that worried about it. If I happen to test positive, I could be in this hospital close to you,” uttered Marianne.
Jack just smiled and realized they really haven’t been apart for this many days before. Being in the military Jack had learned early on to suppress his emotions but just realized age ends up softening you quite a bit.
“Are those tears in your eyes Jack,” asked Marianne.
“I’m not as strong as before Marianne. Must be my age. Even I’m surprised with the tears,” responded Jack.
“I’m sorry Hon. It is very rare to see you cry, but you are right we just cannot fight with age. It surely is a futile exercise,” expanded Marianne.
“It sure is. As they say if you can’t fight it, just join it. Joining in this case is surrendering. That’s what I’m trying to do. Don’t have any other choice though, “ uttered Jack.
“We all have to surrender now. Surrendering doesn’t mean giving up. It just means to accept what is internally but doing our best to get better for whatever it takes,” elaborated Marianne.
“You are right Hon. Let’s do whatever it takes to beat this virus. I have a lot more life left in me,” said Jack.
After Marianne arrived home from the hospital, she was a totally different person. She felt different that time because the person she loved the most had reassured her he’d do whatever it takes to beat the virus. She felt even closer to Jack at that moment. She started thinking of how much Jack had sacrificed all his life and how much he had done for his family. She also felt very sad next. What if he doesn’t make it, she asked herself over and over.
When she turned on the TV in the evening, she found out the grim news that the nation’s hospitals were overwhelmed with large number of Covid cases as well as deaths. Hospitals were renting huge freezer trucks and turning them into makeshift morgues. Nursing homes were hit most severely. Thousands started losing their lives and the end was absolutely horrific. No family could go and see the dying patient. The one eighty in Marianne’s mood took place at a very drastic level. From a purely blissful state of love and peace to absolute horror of the unknown is what Marianne started to experience almost instantaneously. Her mind was filled with more doubts and hopelessness than ever before. She was afraid of her test results and was even more scared of the idea of the possibility she might have to spend the most challenging phase of the recovery process alone. Different scenarios kept playing inside Marianne’s head over and over again. What if Jack went first - then she would be all alone. The thought of her own death, on the other hand, didn’t even arise as she knew she would at least become a centurion before even thinking of the transition to the other side. Even though the test result wasn’t ready yet, Marianne somehow thought she would end up testing positive.
She was right. The test result did show it was positive. Since she was leaning towards that outcome, it didn’t shock her as much. She called her son first.
“Hi mom, what’s up?” asked Jacob.
“I just found out I have the coronavirus,” shared Marianne.
“Oh no, I’m sorry. We kind of knew though since dad has it, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if you do too,” added Jacob.
“Since my symptoms are not severe yet, they have given me the option of either quarantining myself at home or staying at the hospital where your dad is,” expanded Marianne.
“Don’t you think staying at the hospital would provide an extra layer of safety in case...,” asked Jacob.
“Yes, I was thinking about staying at the hospital too. My reasoning was I’ll be closer to your dad. Of course I’ll be getting other benefits as well – like having a nurse anytime I need one and so on. So that’s it then. I’ll call the hospital first though and let them know I want to stay there until I’m Covid free,” relayed Marianne.
“I would have loved to come and pick you and drop you off at the hospital, but now that you have tested positive,” Jacob started to talk but was cut short by his mom’s interruption.
“Oh no, that won’t be necessary. I’ll take Uber,” replied Marinne.
Marianne did just that. She went to the hospital and was admitted and coincidentally her room was right next to Jack’s. She didn’t tell Jack beforehand but decided to let him know about her admission to the hospital after settling in her room. Her room had windows with a view of the front of the building. She used to joke in winter everywhere one looked there was only one subject as far as views were concerned - snow.
“Hi Hon, guess where I am?” Marianne surprised her husband.
“So first what happened with the test result?” Jack didn’t waste time to get to the most important point.
“I’ve tested positive and my room is right next to yours. Isn’t it interesting?” went on Marianne.
“What, you’ve tested positive. It means I must have given it to you. I feel terrible now,” reflected Jack.
“Oh come on, we both could have gotten from either the cleaners that came over to our place or the repair people,” suggested Marianne.
“You may be right but I feel terrible nevertheless. Any major symptoms with you?” asked the sympathizing husband.
“No, not really. Besides a little bit of sore throat and cough I’m alright,” responded Marianne.
“Let’s hope all you need is time to become Covid negative again,” added Jack.
“Yes, let’s hope so. Well, I’m right next to you. Just call if you need me Hon, okay?” expressed Marianne.
“Will do. You do the same now. I guess that makes me right next to you as well,” reminded Jack.
After hanging up, Marianne called the nurse to ask if they were going to come back for anything that afternoon. When she told her only the doctor would come to her room in the evening, Marianne decided to take a long nap.
As Marianne was sleeping, Jack’s condition suddenly took a turn for the worse. His saturation level went down to 85 and the nurse came and started him on nebulizer first. After that they hooked him up to the oxygen machine. His breathing started to stabilize somewhat and a little later he fell asleep. After Marianne woke up just before dusk she was confused first as to where she was. She hated feeling like that when her mind became so foggy that she just had a totally blank mind.
After going to the bathroom and gently spilling some water over her face and head, she started gaining back her composure. She just wanted to go outside the door to check on Jack but then realized that might not be a good idea. Instead she called Jack but didn’t get any answer. She thought Jack might be taking a nap. So she decided to call her daughter, Joyce.
“Hi Hon, this is your mom,” started Marianne.
“Oh hi mom, are you calling from the hospital then. Heard it from Jacob. Everything is happening so fast.,” said Joyce.
“I just woke from a long nap. Have you talked to your dad this afternoon? He isn’t picking up his phone. When he does that, you know, I always get nervous,” shared Marianne.
“No I didn’t talk to him this afternoon. I usually call him in the morning everyday,” said Joyce.
“I’ll have to ask the nurse whenever she stops by,” added Marianne.
“That sounds good Mom. So how are you feeling now?” asked Joyce.
“I’m not worried about me. It’s your dad that I’m always worried about,” expressed Marianne.
“Mom, you should get better first though. Only then can you take care of dad,” reminded Joyce.
“I want to help him out even now but this dang virus is getting in the way. You’re not allowed to see even your loved ones? This is ridiculous,” expressed Marianne.
“I know Mom, we are indeed dealt with a huge challenge that seems to get bigger every day,” said Joyce.
“You’re right. Have no idea when will this thing end or will it ever?” said Marianne.
“Don’t worry about the future too much. Let’s take one thing at a time. Try and get better first,” reminded Joyce.
“I needed that. Thanks,” responded Marianne.
“Now let me call dad first and see what’s going on. I’ll call you back even if I somehow don’t get to talk to him,” said Joyce.
“Sounds good Joyce. Call me either way then. Bye,” said Marianne.
With that Joyce called her dad’s cell. Since her dad was still not picking up the phone, she called the hospital and talked to the nurse who was taking care of her dad.
“Hello I was inquiring about my dad, Jack Brennan. We were trying to call on his cell phone but for some reason he isn’t answering,” explained Joyce.
“Yes we were trying to reach you,” started the nurse.
Joyce’s heart sank when she heard that. Any sentence that starts with that phrase usually ends up unfavorable she thought. What could it be? More than a thousand scenarios played in the back of her mind in seconds. The first one was obvious – was her dad dying. Another one would be if her dad was on a life support.
“How is my dad doing now?” asked Joyce.
“Unfortunately his breathing condition worsened to the point where we were going to ask his wife and/or his other family members for consent to have him connected to a ventilator. I was about to go to Marianne’s room for the permission,” elaborated the nurse.
“So how is my dad doing now?” Joyce asked her again.
“We have connected him to an oxygen cylinder but it looks like it wouldn’t be sufficient,” said the nurse.
“So are you going over to my mom’s room now to talk to her about it? Let me call her first and have this discussed if you don’t mind. Why don’t you give me about ten minutes, again if it’s okay with you,” said Joyce.
“Yes I was going over to Mrs. Brennan’s room. But I could go there in a little while instead I suppose. I just wanted to clarify one thing, though – having someone connected to a ventilator doesn’t necessarily mean something bad will happen,” expanded the nurse.
“Mom, listen I just talked to dad’s nurse and she told me that they wanted our consent to have dad hooked on to a ventilator,” said Joyce in one long breath.
“What, when did this happen? He seemed fine this afternoon when I talked to him,” added Mairanne.
“His oxygen saturation is very low. His breathing is supported by an oxygen cylinder but apparently it’s not enough,” continued Joyce.
“So what do you think, Joyce, should I give them the go-ahead to have your dad connected to a ventilator?” asked Marianne in a very helpless manner.
“You should talk to dad too and see what he thinks first. As far as I’m concerned I don’t see any harm in having dad connected to a ventilator. I know few people who were on a ventilator and now are doing fine,” expressed Joy.
“You’re right Hon, I should talk to your dad first and find out what he thinks. Then I’ll call you back before making any decision. In the meantime, please call Jacob and see what his opinion is,” advised Marianne.
“Ok Mom, talk to you in a little while then,” said Joyce.
“Hi Jacob, this is Joyce. Listen, dad is having a little trouble with his oxygen saturation. I just talked to his nurse. They want family’s consent to have him hooked on to a ventilator,” started Joyce.
“Oh no, is dad okay?” asked Jacob right away.
“His breathing is being helped with an oxygen cylinder now. But that is apparently not working fully for him,” explained Joyce.
Joyce realized Jacob was quiet for some time. Jacob had the softest heart within the family. He was the one who had anxiety attacks over watching a movie and couldn’t even handle watching his kids get any shot by the doctor. When he finally somehow got his composure back he started to speak.
“Will he come out of it after being hooked on to a ventilator. I heard many people don’t make it once a ventilator is involved,” expressed Jacob.
“Oh I know of many patients that are fine after being connected to a ventilator for weeks.,” reassured Joyce.
“That’s good to know. What does mom say about this,” said Jacob.
“We talked and she kind of wanted to know where we all stood when it comes to the ventilator,” explained Joyce.
“I guess we don’t have any choice though right? If dad needs to be connected to a ventilator, there must a reason,” expressed Jacob.
Right after Joyce got done talking to her brother, her mom called back.
“The nurse is here and she has reassured me that being connected to a ventilator is really not that big of a deal. Asking family is just a formality,” said Marianne.
“Jacob is okay with it as well. How is dad doing by the way? Also mom, can you please ask the nurse if we could come and visit at the hospital to see dad at least through the glass,” continued Joyce.
“I will ask her then. I’ll call you back a little later. Let me find out more about your dad from her,” went on Marianne.
When the nurse came back to Marianne’s room, Marianne's only question to her was if she could see Jack behind the glass window.
“Mrs. Brennan, our policy is not to allow COVID patients to go out of the room if they don’t absolutely have to. Let me still go and talk to my supervisor and I’ll get back to you soon then. I’ll be right back,” explained the nurse.
After the nurse left, Marianne called Jack and was surprised Jack answered. His voice was like she never heard before. It was weak to the point where Jack didn’t sound like Jack any more.
Even though Marianne just wanted to cry out, she had to stay strong for Jack.
“Hi Hon, how are you doing?” asked Marianne.
“Doing as well as I can even though lately I’m having trouble catching up with my breathing,” replied Jack.
“Don’t worry, after you get attached to the ventilator breathing will becoming much easier. Just hang in there darling. I promise you’ll get through this,” Marianne had some encouraging words for her husband. In truth she was terrified the way her husband was sounding. She was debating if it would be better for their kids to know about what’s going on with their dad. She decided to call Jacob.
“Hi mom, how is it going?”
“I’m doing fine but your dad is not. His voice doesn’t sound good. Just talked to him and I know you just talked to Joyce. I’m scared. I don’t know I just have this gut feeling that your dad may not pull through. I thought I wouldn’t tell you this but since this is getting serious, I better. Seems like your dad is really struggling with his breathing,” relayed Marianne.
“What do you mean mom? Did the nurse tell you what his oxygen saturation is?” queried Jacob.
“She did tell me earlier it was around 89 but I know it’s much lower after hearing your dad’s voice,” said Marianne.
“Oh no. What do you think will happen, Mom? “ asked Jacob in a very nervous tone.
“Let’s hope and pray your dad pulls through. But ventilator is the only option even though it sounds very scary,” said Marianne.
“I feel very scared for Dad, Mom. I can’t even think what I’d do without him in our lives,” started Jacob before he was cut off by his mom.
“Wait a minute, Jacob. Let’s not even go there. Many people have recovered very well after being on a ventilator,” reminded Marianne.
“I know Mom, but as you know very well being strong is not my forte. I easily break down if a loved one suffers,” admitted Jacob.
“Since you are so loving Jacob that’s why you have a very soft heart. Don’t think of it as something negative. Instead think of your vulnerabilities as a positive force to reckon with. You are better because you are more sensitive,” added Marianne.
“I know Mom but sometimes I really feel if I were a little stronger I would have a more peaceful existence,” responded Jacob.
“Let’s all pray for his quick recovery now,” reminded Marianne.
After hanging up, Marianne called the nurse to ask her again if she could see her husband through the large glass window. They usually have shades drawn for privacy of the patient. However if a family member requested and the patient was okay with it the shades were opened as long as the family and patient wanted to see each other and talked over their cell phone. The nurse told Marianne that Jack was taking a nap and told her when he is awake she could go and see and talk to him.
Marianne was woken up from a nap by a phone call. It was Jack. He was sounding even worse that time. Marianne felt like crying when she heard her husband’s weak and trembling voice.
“Hi Hon, how are you feeling?” asked Marianne.
“Unfortunately not that good, Hon. Really struggling with my breathing now. Looks like the virus really got me,” responded Jack.
“Hang in there, Hon. I know if anyone can pull through it’s you. You have always been the pillar of strength of our family,” reminded Marianne.
“When you cannot breathe though it really takes a toll on life’s perspective in its entirety,” said Jack.
Marianne was desperately trying not to break down while on the phone. When Jack complained about something everyone in his family and friends circle knew it had to be real. Marianne remembered even before going to war all Jack told her was the country wanted him and so he had no choice but give back to his country. For him it was nothing more than his duty. Also once when he had a major car accident and was unconscious for hours before waking up he didn’t even talk about any sort of pain anywhere. Only when his doctors at the VA showed Marianne xrays of multiple bone fractures and breakages did she realize the severity of the accident. But Jack was the opposite when it came to his family members. Marianne also shared with others about a time when Joyce was about four and she had Malaria that she had contracted on a family trip to Malaysia. She had lost appetite and couldn't eat for days. When Jack saw her precious daughter not eating, he stopped eating as well. There were countless other incidents that Marianne could think of when Jack acted totally selfless. Marianne wanted to make sure that whatever decision they made regarding Jack, it was absolutely the best for him.
"Well Hon, you have been such a good human being all your life, I'm sure God will give you a break. You will get better soon," said Marianne.
"I don't know if I had been that good of a human being. You might be a little biased Hon," answered Jack with a little laughter.
"There is that laughter we really like," added Marianne.
"Hope the kids and grand kids are not worrying about me too much. I hate to be a source of any stress or discomfort to anyone let alone the people I truly love," said Jack.
"No they are very hopeful of your full recovery.You have definitely rubbed off some of your positivity to the next couple of generations. As they say fruits usually don't fall far from the tree," Marianne gave her two cents.
"You are right, I am positive, but lately I'm starting to doubt if I'll ever recover from Covid 19 though, " Jack gave his honest shot.
"Just visualize you have already beaten the virus. You have a lot more to give to your family and others," Marianne tried to infuse some words of encouragement.
"Thanks Hon for your kind words, but I know my body. Just wanted to forewarn you that even if I pull through this ordeal the road ahead will be arduous," explained Jack.
"We are all behind you darling. You are our inspiration. Just keep fighting and you can beat this thing for sure," Marianne kept up the encouraging tone.
"I'll try my best, Hon. I think I'll take a nap now before the doctor comes in again. Talk to you a little later then. Love you," concluded Jack.
For the first time in their long relationship Marianne seemed to be shocked to have heard that negative of a remark from her best friend and husband. Even though the news was full of death and despair, she wasn't expecting this from her hero. It was one of the darkest moments in Marianne's life. She kept forgetting that even she had tested positive for Covid and worrying like that may affect her health in a negative way. The thought of Jack not being in her life anymore darkened her entire outlook on life.
Marianne was always grateful for one thing in her life. Whenever she was overwhelmed with sadness she had this uncanny ability to shut everything off and go to sleep. That's exactly what she did after talking to Jack. She was woken up again by a phone call. This time it was Joyce. She wanted to know if her mom talked to her dad. After Marianne told her everything Joyce was overcome with fear of the unknown. She wanted to just start driving and head to the hospital and give her dad a hug. She couldn't. Her two kids, who grew up with Grandpa being totally involved in their formative years, kept telling their parents they really wanted to see them at the hospital. This pandemic, that came after about one hundred years when the Spanish flu decimated fifty million people in the world, was teaching every generation patience and testing their faith in a critical way. Even though people couldn't gather in places of worship, some of them got closer to God - who was their only savior. When this Corona virus kept mutating quickly to another strain, the assumptions held about it by various experts, kept changing as well.
Jacob decided to call his dad in case he answered and was pleasantly surprised when he did.
"Hi dad, hope I didn't get you at a wrong time," said Jacob.
"No, I just got done with dinner. Your timing was perfect. So how are you, Linda and the kids doing?" asked Jack.
"We are all doing fine. Theresa keeps on drawing pictures for you and really want to come over to give them to you. But as you know.." Jacob didn't finish the sentence.
Jack couldn't say anything for a while as suddenly he was gripped with emotions like never before. For the first time ever in his eighty six years did Jack feel this vulnerable. He was afraid to let go not because of the end of his existence on earth but because he had to leave his loved ones behind. It was getting more apparent every day family members couldn't even attend funerals for Covid patients. Jack started to panic when he realized he hadn't made a will yet.
"Oh you know what Jacob, I just realized I still have to make a will. If you could check online and let me know what the format is for writing a will I'd really appreciate it," continued Jack.
"You'll be just fine dad. Don't think about writing a will now. Instead just rest up and get better," suggested Jacob.
"I'm serious Jacob. Perhaps it's an excuse for me to finally write one after avoiding it for this long," replied Jack.
"Ok I'll look into it online and tell you about it. But in the meantime try and relax and call me anytime, day or night," relayed Jacob.
Just after Jacob hung up the phone, Theresa came up to him and asked if it was Grandpa and then showed her dad another picture of Jack that she just had completed.
Meanwhile Marianne had a sudden panic attack after talking to Jack. That led to hyperventilating which led to shortness of breath. Obviously her doctors had to rule out it didn't happen due to Covid 19. Either way they had to hook her up to an oxygen tank. Marianne did not like when panic attacks occurred with others present. She felt really embarrassed by the scene that she was responsible for creating and had no control of. Even though everyone around her was very understanding of her condition, Marianne didn't like any attention given to her.
As the days progressed the number of Covid cases across the country and the world kept climbing steadily. Not being able to go out of the house put a significant strain on the entire household with depression being reported on the rise as well as suicide rate. Domestic violence too reared its ugly head during the lockdown. There was also this intense fear that many people faced not knowing when the virus would go away and when one can expect a vaccine for it. There were also reports of people not leaving their homes at all but getting infected anyway. This was truly once in a hundred years phenomenon. As many found out that it was not only a health issue but also a psychological, mental, emotional, financial and an economic one.
One morning Marianne got a call from Jack's doctor, David Peterson.
"Hello Mrs. Brennan. I'm really sorry to say that your husband Jack's condition has deteriorated overnight. He is in an induced coma. You know miracles do happen. Even though the situation is utterly dire today, it still might get better. Since this virus is so foreign to us, we know very little about it. I'm not going to even give you Jack's prognosis," started Dr. Peterson.
Marianne seemed like she was in total shock. She kept asking herself if that was it. The person that she knew and loved for over sixty years is fighting with death and she couldn't even hold him. Growing up Marianne heard people tell her life is unfair and just to deal with it. Or some would tell her to hope for the best but expect the worst. Why does one have to take whatever life gives you and be satisfied with it and not fight until the last moment to make sure life doesn't treat you unfairly and expect the best from it as well. All of a sudden though Marianne could feel that her inner strength was coming back. It was a gift from God that she received whenever conditions became unbearably bad.
"Mrs. Brennan are you still there?" asked Dr. Peterson after hearing a long silence on the phone.
"Yes, sorry, I'm still here. I'm a little shocked. One is never ready to hear something like this. One moment someone in great health is doing something that he is passionate about. And the next he is fighting for his life. So how long do you plan to keep him in an induced coma doctor?" said Marianne.
"Jack’s extreme trouble in breathing started to affect his other organs. We are currently monitoring them. You'll be the first one to know if anything changes. Just wanted to update you with your husband's condition and remind you there have been other patients in his condition who have recovered fully," explained the doctor.
Marianne was surprisingly calm when she heard that. She was now in her elements and nothing or no one could change that. Whenever the going got tough, Marianne began to pray for answers and started reading her little bible that she always carried in her bag wherever she went. Even if she didn't get her answers right away, she still felt a lot of comfort in asking for guidance and strength from God.
Right after she set aside the bible, her cell phone rang. It was Joyce.
"Hi Mom, how are you and dad doing?" asked the concerned daughter.
"I'm doing okay but your dad is not doing that well. Doctor Peterson called a few moments ago and informed me your dad is in an induced coma. They discovered swelling of your dad's brain. This is yet another mutation of the Covid 19 virus - it's attacking the neurological side now - after wreaking haovoc on the respiratory and cardiovascular portions," explained Marianne.
"Oh no, poor dad. He is in an induced coma?" Joyce wanted to make sure.
"Yes, he is. All we can do right now is pray.Your dad, I know, is a fighter. He'll come out of it even stronger," reassured Marianne.
"I don't know Mom, why I can't take news like this anymore. I thought I was much stronger. Obviously advancing in age doesn't help either. It takes a certain presence of mind even to pray. Don't know if I can even do that," said Joyce.
"We all have to pass these tests Hon. It's not going to be easy but we are all in it together and we'll come out of it together as well," reminded Mom.
"I just want to be near him even if I can't touch him," Joyce started saying that when she was totally gripped with so much sadness that she couldn't hold on to her emotions anymore and burst out sobbing.
Marianne let her daughter cry a little as she knew no matter what she told her daughter the weight of her emotions would always trump any words even if they are of positive and inspiring in nature. Only in crying one can lessen the burden of built up emotions that need to be dealt with. Marianne had always been somewhat of an ideal mom to her children. She never disciplined them with threats. Instead she talked about the good option as well as the bad one and pointed the benefits and drawbacks for both. She would then let the children decide which option to choose. After hearing about the pros and cons, most of the time the kids decided to go with the option endorsed by their mom.
"It's okay to cry Hon. The trial ahead of all of us is utterly dire no doubt. Also the dealing with your dad's loneliness during his most vulnerable time will be very painful, but you should never lose hope of him getting better," advised Marianne.
As mother daughter was on the phone, Jack was being connected to a ventilator again. His condition turned from stable to serious. However, a little later it became critical when Jack's blood pressure suddenly kept going lower and lower. It was dangerously hovering at around 70/40 when his doctor intervened and somewhat got it under control. Jack's pulse too was much lower than his normal reading. The doctor began monitoring Jack's other organs. Who would have thought that a virus initially described as one very similar to the common flu could end up such a destructive force.
Marianne got permission to see Jack from outside the glass window. She couldn't hold it together when she saw him much smaller than she had last seen him. Marianne had this ability to cry almost silently when her tears' floodgate would open suddenly. She just stood there and prayed silently while sobbing and thinking about the past and the future at the same time. She was afraid she would one day wake up from her sleep by a phone call telling her that Jack had passed on. Also the fact she wouldn't be able to even attend his funeral triggered a sense of total helplessness that she never felt before. What if he were to transition even without a doctor or nurse being with him.
For the most part, Marianne stayed asymptomatic with her Covid diagnosis. She just had two days until her fourteen day quarantine would run out and then she would be tested again. If it came out negative, Marianne would have to go back home. She really didn't want that. That would be like abandoning her husband. She kept asking for guidance, strength and patience from God.
Meanwhile Jacob had called the hospital and asked for permission so he and his entire family could come over to see Jack from the window. They granted the request only if they came to see him one or two at a time. The mask mandate was obviously explained to him. Jacob and his family didn't waste any time coming over. Jacob went first while the rest sat in their car. It was the first time that Jacob saw his dad after he was diagnosed with Covid 19. After seeing his dad motionless Jacob came down with a very heavy load of anxiety much more severe than his mom. He started to hyperventilate and became dizzy and felt acute shortness of breath. He quickly went to the lobby to sit down as he felt he would pass out any moment. After doing some breathing exercises that his doctor had recommended for him, Jacob's heart rate slowed down to a manageable level. He went back to see his dad. For no reason Jacob started thinking about the time his dad had taught him how to throw a football. Even though it took about a year for Jacob to finally throw the ball properly his dad didn't give up and was extraordinarily patient with him. Later on, Jacob asked his dad to teach the same technique to his son, Joe. Joe, being a gifted athlete, got it within a week or so. Jacob also started to think how his dad had also taught him and his kids fishing and also camping. Sometimes Jacob and his family were in awe with all the talents that Jack had.
Jacob wasn't allowed to see his mom, who obviously was in the next room. So he went back to his car and sent his wife, Linda. She was emotionally much stronger than her husband. But it was very difficult even for her when as she was looking at him through the window, she started thinking of the time during her wedding when Jack offered to dance with her as her dad had passed on when she was only ten. Linda also remembered when both she and Jacob had lost their jobs months apart, how Jack didn't even ask if they needed money. Instead he gave Linda (not Jacob) a blank check and told her if she wanted she could take out up to $25,000. Jack also shared with Marianne that he always thought women were better in managing money than men and hence were more reliable with it. As she kept looking at him, she thought she saw Jack's right hand move a little. She rushed to the nurses' station to inform them of what she had just seen. They told her that could be just his reflexes, but Jack's nurse wanted to make sure if by accident he didn't come out of the coma. The nurse was right everything indicated it was a reflexive move. Linda went back to the car to send her two kids to see their grandpa.
John, who was twelve and his sister Theresa, ten, both came upstairs to see their grandpa. They kept looking at him for a couple of minutes when Jack's nurse came and reassured them that things would be okay. The nurse couldn't help but think of her own kids and how much they would be upset if their grandfather was sick like that. The nurse told them to always believe in miracles. She reminded them that patients who were in much worse condition than their grandpa became well again. She advised them to send him well wishes by texting something nice about him, so when he finally comes out of the coma he could read them.
When Marianne got tested again, it came out negative. She was relieved and heartbroken at the same time. She did get infected with the weaker strain of the Covid virus and hence was fortunate not to get seriously ill. However, the thought of leaving Jack behind was unthinkable. But then again she didn't have any other choice either. Before leaving the hospital Marianne couldn't even look at him through the window as she couldn't even fathom that could be the last time she would ever see him. So she just left with the hope she'll see him again, healthy and vibrant.
Since both Jacob, Joyce and their family got tested for Covid and all were negative and Marianne was also Corona free, they all decided to stick together through these challenging times. Joyce decided to host first. She also happened to have the most sleeping bags and airbeds. Marianne decided to get groceries for all. Jacob opted for bringing plates and utensils along with drinks. Marianne didn't want to go back to the apartment so she called Joyce and asked her if she could borrow few of her clothes so she could wear them there.
When Marianne entered Joyce's house, she was surprised to find out the kids had set up a little party for her. Her son-in-law was the first one to give her a hug.
"We are really happy that you recovered fully and are now Covid free Ma," remarked Jason.
"Oh thank you, that's very kind of you. You know I'll be happier when Jack comes home. Let's all pray for his quick recovery now," said Marianne.
"Hi grandma, so nice to see you. See I knew you were going to beat this thing. I always told my parents if anyone can beat this Corona Virus it has to be grandma. I was totally right," expressed Melissa.
"Thanks sweetie, I already feel much better seeing and hearing you. It's your grandpa I'm worried about. But I'm sure with all our prayers the virus will finally call it quits on him," shared Marianne.
"Hi grandma, how are you doing? Why don't you stay here with us from now on," said Julian, Melissa's younger brother, as he gave Marianne a big hug.
Finally Joyce came from the bathroom after taking a shower and gave her mom a hug and told her dinner was ready. Marianne expressed she wasn't that hungry.
"Mom, you just recovered from Covid. You have to replenish your body quite a bit. Besides it's lasagna - your favorite dish," shared Joyce.
It was unusual for them all to have a meal without Jack, but by being with each other, they could somehow find a little bit of peace of mind. But everyone knew without Jack their lives wouldn't be the same in many ways. Joyce decided to call the hospital to find out the latest about her dad. The nurse told her nothing had changed and if anything does, she would call her right away. After dinner they all decided to watch news and found out the pandemic was getting much worse all over the world and lives were being lost at an alarming level. Marianne felt blessed when she saw people in poorer countries couldn't even get any medical help. At least she and her family can count on Jack getting an exceptional healthcare. Also that they were able to see him albeit through a window was also another blessing. There was a sense of peace that suddenly settled in within Marianne's heart. She still didn't know how she would react if Jack didn't make it but became a little more certain that whatever she would have to face in the future keeping God and family close by will help in a big way. Marianne decided to go back home. She wanted to face whatever destiny had written for her. She was praying and hoping that Jack would come and join her eventually in their apartment. She asked herself why she wasn't confident that Jack would get well again. And that's when she knew she had to get back to her own way of living and not let the pandemic dictate every aspect of her life. When she expressed exactly how she felt to her family members, no one objected to her going back and living her life in the most normal way possible. Jack had faced many adversities himself before and he not only overcame them but also thrived after that and came out better than he was before.
Paula, who was staying over at Joyce's place, got excited when Marianne asked her to get in Joyce's car. She jumped in without any hesitation. Joyce decided to drive her mom to her apartment.
"Mom, so before we head over to the apartment, I wanted to make sure you'll be fine by yourself over there," said Joyce,
"I'll be perfectly fine. I have this strong belief your dad will be coming home soon," reminded Marianne.
"Okay, but promise me if you ever feel like you are alone and are not liking being by yourself that you'd allow either me or Jacob to come over and pick you up and bring you back to either of our homes," stated Joyce.
"I promise even if I get an iota of doubt when it comes to my ability to be alone by myself, I will come over right back here," replied Marianne.
Marianne was woken up by a phone call. It was Dr Peterson.
"Mrs. Brennan, I'm afraid your husband's condition has deteriorated. We did bring him out of induced coma, but he ended up going back into a coma. The functioning of some of his organs is running at a very dangerously low levels. At this point in time, there really isn't much we can do except hope and pray that he comes out of it somehow," said the doctor.
"Can you be totally honest with me doctor and tell me what the prognosis is for my husband," asked Marianne in a very sombre fashion.
"If you really want my opinion on it, I'm afraid I'll give it just about thirty percent that he survives. You know miracles do happen though," opened up the doctor.
"If it's still thirty percent I want you to do whatever it takes to bring him back doctor. Let me know if it ever goes below ten percent. Then I might I have to think of other options," added Marianne.
"Mrs. Brennan, rest assured that we will do whatever it takes to make sure that your husband makes a full recovery," reminded Dr Peterson.
Every minute seemed like an hour and every hour like a day for Marianne. Paula was extra loving to Marianne and she showed her appreciation by giving her treats much more often than usual. Joyce came over next morning and both mother and daughter for the first time cried together for a long time. They needed to do this as both felt the burden of the grief that they were holding had to be lightened whatever it took. They felt a little better after that. Joyce decided to make them both coffee with the help of Keurig. Marianne took both cream and sugar with her coffee but Joyce drank just black. They started hearing a little bit of rumblings in the distance. When they both looked outside sure enough they could see the dark horizon being lit up completely with this majestic display of lightnings. For few moments both could get away from it all and immersed themselves amidst the glory of nature. A few moments later though Marianne started thinking about how Jack just loved thunderstorms and how he would open all the windows instead of shutting them close.
Jack's condition remained the same for over a week. Marianne decided to invite over family and friends on Zoom for a night of prayer , reflection and remembrance. Marianne had always been talking about celebrating one's life (yes even prior to Covid) before they die and not wait for their death to say few things nice about them. Everyone agreed to join her online. In fact some canceled plans that they had made before receiving calls from Marianne. Yes that is how highly most of Jack's friends and relatives thought of him. In fact lot of his friends heard about his battle with Covid 19 for the first time and were shocked.
Marianne had texted pertinent information (with id and password) to all her virtual guests to be able to connect via Zoom. First to come online was Jerry, Jack's friend from the time he was in the military. He looked worn out and much older than the last time Marianne saw him which was about two years earlier.
"Hey Marianne. Nice to see you. How are you holding up?" asked Jerry
"I'm doing the best I can under the current circumstance," replied Marianne.
"You know what Jack will make it. I haven't forgotten when both he and I were in the Air Force, I was flying next to him and all of a sudden I see his plane hit badly by Japanese torpedoes. I could see flames spreading all across this little plane. Jack still was able to land that thing on this carrier that was thankfully nearby," started Jerry.
Gary, who was Jack's neighbor when he lived on Johston Street, recalled Jack wouldn't even tell him that he mowed his lawn once when Gary and his wife Nancy had to go out of town for a funeral. Gary continued that Jack later told him he really didn't think he was helping anyone but was just doing something that needed to be done. Jack also told Gary from time to time neighbors were literally nearer than even family members and hence they always should be treated with utmost care. Gary was visibly upset as he was talking and had to wipe his eyes periodically.
The next Zoom participant was Melissa. She started out by saying she was praying for all the people in the world that were suffering from the pandemic. When she began talking about her grandpa she couldn't hold back tears and started to cry uncontrollably. Marianne had to step in.
"Sweetheart, take your time. We know how much you love Grandpa," interjected Marianne.
"I love him a lot. That's why it's not easy for me to even talk about him. But I'm determined to do that. I'm fine now," reassured Melissa.
She talked about a particular incident when she was only four years old. Jack took Melissa to a park on a summer day. They were both enjoying ice cream when all of a sudden they heard a loud growling of a pit bull. Instinctively Jack went in front of Melissa to protect her and the dog was about to attack Jack in a vicious manner only to be saved by the voice of the pit bull's owner calling out his name. Even though most don't remember anything when they are four, Melissa said she could recall it very clearly and from that point onward thought of her grandpa as a hero. Before David, another of Jack's neighbor, was about to talk, Marianne reminded them if they dug deep inside everyone would be a hero for someone. She also kept reminding others not to wait for someone to die or get really sick to be saying something nice about them.
"I've realized how fragile and temporary life can be. Who knew with all the technology of artificial intelligence and machine learning of today we are no match to a virus. I feel for the families of thousands who have died of Covid," started David.
"My most memorable period in time with Jack was when I slipped and fell in literally thin ice during an ice storm one winter. When I saw the amount of blood that kept gushing from the back of my head, I knew I was in trouble. Fortunately there was Jack trying to get the ice off of his sidewalks. He threw the shovel on the snow and ran towards me without even thinking he could have fallen himself. Of course he called 911 first and then looked at the back of my head. Even though the gush was pretty bad he didn't want to alarm me by telling me about it. Instead he tried to comfort me with his well known calming voice. To this day I remember very distinctly him telling me, "David you'll be alright. You just have a cut on the lower right corner of the back of your head. It didn't take that long for the paramedics to come over. Obviously by that time my wife came out and she and I ended up going to the hospital in the ambulance. But Jack did the heavy lifting first with his reassurance, " said David.
Next it was Muhammad's turn. He was an immigrant from Iraq. He shared he had first met Jack when he was working as a cashier at a grocery store right after coming over to the US on a political asylum visa. For some reason Muhammad felt comfortable enough to ask Jack for help as he assisted with bagging his groceries. Muhammad was looking for an apartment as his year's lease was about to run out. He said he needed a bigger one than what he had at that time. His wife and two kids were living in a one bedroom apartment. Jack took his name and number and promised to call him back. Muhammad continued Jack didn't forget and called him in couple of days to inform him that he had talked to a military buddy of his who was doing well in real estate and owned quite a few apartment buildings. Muhammad wiped his eyes and said that Jack didn't have to call him back but he cared enough about people to help ones like him. He did sign a year's lease for a three bedroom apartment for a little bit more than he was paying then. The Zoom talk went on for more than four hours with his friends and family not even trying to shorten their conversation in saying nice things about Jack. In fact it seemed like they were trying to compete with each other.
Jacob was trying to reach both his mom and sister while the Zoom call was going on. When he couldn't reach any of them, he decided to drive over his parents' place. The doctor too tried to call Marianne first. He then called Jacob. He first asked Jacob to have a seat before continuing. Obviously Jacob didn't want to know about it before his mom did. So he asked the doctor to say whatever he had to directly to Marianne. The Zoom call just got over when he reached his parents'. Jacob asked Marianne to give the doctor a call. Marianne did and asked the doctor if she could have the speaker on so that her son and daughter could hear it as well. Dr. Peterson didn't object.
((("We tried everything we could Marianne. All of Jack's major organs started to give in. His pressure kept going down to the point where it was irreversible," started Dr Peterson before he was cut off by Marianne.)))
"Doctor can you please tell me one thing before you continue - did he suffer? After you inform me of that, could you please continue with my daughter and son. I'm giving you the permission to talk to them. The reason I'm saying that is I need to lay down since I'm feeling really dizzy and might pass out any moment," expressed Marianne.
Both Jacob and Joyce told Dr Peterson they weren't also feeling that well and asked him if they could call back a little later. The doctor didn't have any objection to that.
(((("It's like Jack didn't even wake up from the coma. So as far as I could tell he didn't suffer much. Sure I could talk to your son and daughter, but if you all need some time I can call back. Or if you like you may call me," responded Dr Peterson with utmost sensitivity.)))
(((All three responded at the same time with an unanimous decision that they would call the doctor later.))) They all knew it was very unusual to be asking a doctor not to tell them what exactly had happened to their loved one, but they were just not ready to hear the worst albeit the inevitable yet. Instead all three held each other and closed their eyes for a moment or two. They wanted to prepare themselves for the worst even though they had a hunch they still wanted to make sure that they could handle the final piece of the news. Death is such a final phenomenon, there is no turning back even if someone were to just hear about it.
The three asked the kids to come and sit with them in the living room. The children did just that. They could have asked questions but displayed a sense of maturity way beyond their ages and quietly sat down.
"You all heard the news is most probably not good for Dad, Grandpa, but we cannot fight with reality. The more we try to fight it the stronger it will get and eventually break us," said Marianne.
"You're right mom, let's pray to God for strength and call back Dr Peterson," added Jacob.
"I agree, it won't be easy but we have to just do it - that is find out about dad," said Joyce.
"Let us all still take a little more time to take all this in. Then we'll come back here say in about an hour and call back Dr Peterson," advised Marianne.
"Do we have to know what happened to Grandpa right away?" asked Melissa.
"Hon, you mean it can wait till tomorrow. But then can we sleep tonight thinking about what happened to Grandpa?" asked her mom.
He took his last breath at two forty five this afternoon. This pandemic unfortunately will keep on taking more lives until we have a vaccine, " started Dr Peterson.
Marianne couldn't even talk for a minute or two. But then all of a sudden she could feel this deep strength coming from somewhere within, which later she was convinced had to come from Jack. She asked about the next steps as far as funeral went. Dr Peterson told Marianne even the funeral protocol at hospitals had changed quite a bit because of Covid. The doctor advised her not to rush anything for now. He told her that someone from the hospital would be contacting her soon. Jacob and Joyce came over to their mom and both gave her a hug and started crying.
Mohammad "Ronny" Islam and his sister Shampa "Jolsha" Islam lived in Uttara, Dhaka, with their parents Kabir and Jahanara Islam. They all lived on the sixth floor of a twelve storey building on sector 4 of this sprawling city on the outskirts of this capital of Bangladesh. Ronny got done with his Bachelors a year earlier with a degree in accounting and started a job in the beginning of the year as an accountant for a financial company. Jolsha was finishing off her final year at Northeast University with a major in finance. She started interning at an advertising company in Bonani the past September. Their dad, Kabir, had worked his way up to VP at a life insurance company that had been his employer for the last thirty five years. Even though Kabir was totally immersed in every decision making instances and enjoyed them thoroughly, he was looking forward to his retirement in five years. Jahanara had been working as a principal for a reputable school for twenty years and also enjoyed her work greatly.
The Islams were a very close knit family. They had every meal together and were all huge fans of the Bangladesh cricket team. During a World Cricket Cup held in Australia they had all nighters whenever Bangladesh played even if it meant going to work or school in the morning. They all went on vacations together like the year earlier they had made a trip to Malaysia.
Jahanara never failed to go for a walk every morning by a lake nearby. Other morning walkers in the neighborhood made sure to motivate each other. One of them was Munira Alam, a businesswoman who lived about a a block from Jahanara. She was one of the first ones to have started this walking routine and has been the most consistent one. Since she had to go to the lake passing Jahanara's building, she waited for him to come down and then the two headed towards the popular man made enclosure. There they would meet up with five others and go around the lake three four times while discussing their family affairs and politics. After the walk they all would stop by a tea stall and enjoy the freshly brewed chai while continuing on with their conversation.
Kabir, on the other hand, was a home body. He put their treadmill into full use every morning when Jahanara was out with his neighborhood friends. Kabir brisk-walked for about forty five minutes and then did his yoga routine before hitting the shower and then getting ready for work.
Ronny, however, wasn't much into exercise and didn't have to go to work until ten. The young man, who was significantly overweight according to even his parents, joined a gym near his work. However, after going there few times didn't have any motivation to continue. Instead he started going to restaurants more days of the week. Jolsha was the most motivated one of the family as far as working out and diet go. She had joined a women's only gym during her first year of college and had managed not only to continue but was impressively consistent in her maintaining a strict schedule. She was also the only vegetarian of the family. Jolsha was also a movie buff. She loved going to movies with friends on Thursday nights.
It had become a tradition in the Islam family to have dinner together every Friday evening. Friday was mostly a family day when Jolsha helped her mom cook and Ronny and Kabir went for Jummah together at a mosque that was a block away. Before prayer both Kabir and Ronny socialized with their neighbors and talked about current events and politics. After prayers father and son would buy fruits from vendors just outside the mosque. They would then have lunch with visitors who happened to be Ronny and Jolsha's uncles and aunts who didn't want to miss Jahanara's cooking. In fact Jahanara's certain dishes, like her biryani and halwa, were well known in the neighborhood. After lunch they would all take a couple of hours nap and wake up and have hot cups of chai, brewed by none other than Jahanara.
The Islams, who were considered a model family by others, couldn't be happier. No one ever even heard any family member arguing with another and their home was always filled with laughter and jokes. So when news of this unheard virus by the name of Corona started to spread, the Islams worry about it. They never worried about anything. In fact Kabir always told his family not to sweat anything and that thinking about something too much only makes one even more anxious. So even in the face of a would be pandemic that would eventually grip the entire world the Islams played it cool and composed.
It was a Sunday and Jahanara started her morning walk. However on the way to the lake she was feeling a little tired which was very unusual.
"You are tired Jahanara? That's news," said Munira as she for the first time was walking slightly ahead of Jahanara.
"Yes friend, for some reason I'm running out of breath. Must be coming down with the flu or something," replied Jahanara.
"Let's have a seat over there," said Munira as she pointed to a bench.
"That sounds like a good idea. I need to catch my breath a little."
As she sat down, Jahanara wasn't feeling better. In fact she could feel a little shiver running down her body. When she placed her hand on her forehead, it was incredibly hot. Munira too placed her hand on Jahanara's forehead and was very concerned.
"You have a high fever Jahanara. Just sit here while I'll go home quickly and come back in my car to drive you home," said Munira.
"Let's see if I can walk back home. If you don't mind, just walk with me slowly. I'd really appreciate it."
"Are you sure you can walk that much distance Jahanara?"
"I think I can do it."
"Okay but if at any point you think you are having trouble walking please let me know. You know we can also take a rickshaw. Sounds good?" said Munira.
"I promise I will let you know if I start feeling dizzy or out of breath," replied Jahanara.
The two were pretty quiet while heading back home. Obviously Jahanara couldn't talk as she was trying to literally catch her breath while Munira was just focused on making sure her walking partner reach home to be with her family. The silence was getting somewhat deafening even for Jahanara.
"I really appreciate you walking slowly with me home," expressed Jahanara.
"Don't worry about it Jahanara. It really is not a big deal. What's important right now is that you get better soon," responded Munira.
Jahanara finally reached home. Munira accompanied her on the elevator and left only after making sure Jahanara entered her apartment.
"How was your walk this morning?" asked Kabir, while making himself eggwhites.
"Not feeling well. I do have fever. Could you please get me the thermometer?" asked Jahanara.
After hearing his wife, Kabir almost ran to get the thermometer. He placed his hand of Jahanar's forehead and found it to be extremely hot. Jahanara placed the thermometer under her tongue and started the timer on her phone. It was 102.8 F. Kabir right away went to fill up a bucket of water. He then asked Jahanara who was already lying down on the bed to move her head near the edge of the bed. He then placed a towel below her neck. Then Kabir started to pour the cold water over Jahanara's head. It's supposed to lower very high temperatures to moderate.
"Does this feel good?" Kabir asked his wife.
"You know I also feel dizzy. The cold water does feel good though," said Jahanara.
After the cooling down process, Kabir checked Jahanara's temperature again. It did go down but not by that much. It was still 101. 9.
Ronny and Jolsha got up for work but when they saw their mom laying down, both became very concerned. According to them their mom was the last person to lay down on a bed and the first to get off it. When their dad told them ther mom's current temp, they both wanted to take her to hospital.
"Ma let's take you to the hospital. You laying down is like the sun not rising. You have to be looked at by a doctor," said Jolsha.
"I don't know if I have the energy to go to the hospital now. Let me rest for a while and see if the conditions improve. Can you please call my school and let them know I won't be able to make it today," said Jahanra as she kept her eyes closed.
"Sure Ma, but let us know if you feel worse. We can always call an ambulance," responded her loving daughter.
Jolsha called her Mom's school to let them know she was sick. She also called her work and told them she would have to stay home to take care of her mom. Both of the employers were very understanding and wished her well.
Neither Jolsha or Ronny was much of a cook. Easy access to restaurants near work and home didn't help either in helping with their cooking skills. Their dad belonged to the "if I have to I would" cooking category. The passion and total love that Jahanara had while cooking made her so good in her endeavor no one in the family dared to be creative in the kitchen and in the process make a fool of themselves.
"Let me call work too and tell them I won't be able to make it today either," said Kabir as he was heading to the kitchen.
"Let me help you Baba. Maybe I'll break the eggs for you or something," added Jolsha.
Ronny too wanted to help and went to the kitchen.
"Ronny, why don't you make tea and Jolsha take the bread out and put few slices in toaster while I take care of the eggs," advised Kabir.
"I'm really worried about Ma. I don't even remember the last time she skipped a day at work," said Ronny as he filled up the kettle with water and started to heat it up on the stove.
"Me too. I remember her having fever and coughs but still continuing her daily affairs," added Jolsha.
"Let's see if her conditions improve soon. If not I'll take her to Crescent Hospital," said Kabir.
After the father son daughter crew was done preparing the breakfast, they decided to all have it where Jahanara was laying down. Jahanara was awake and sat down on the edge of the bed. Jolsha helped her mom have her breakfast.
"You know Jahanara, let me take you to Crescent after your breakfast just to make sure you don't have anything to worry about," said Kabir.
"Don't be silly Kabir. I know I don't usually get sick like this. But whatever virus it is I know by resting up and taking meds I'll get better in no time," stated Jahanara in her usual brave and confident manner.
"Okay if you say so Mom. But if it turns for the worse we are going to the hospital. Promise me then you'll go," said Jolsha.
"Let's cross that bridge when we get there," uttered Jahanara as she laid down again.
Later that evening it was Jahanara herself who asked her family to take her to the hospital. It became very difficult for her to breathe and her temperature was running above 103 F. All three decided to go with Jahanara to Crescent Hospital which is very close to their place. In fact whenever Jahanara had to go there earlier she just walked. Kabir drove them all to Crescent. Jahanara was having trouble even in walking towards the wheel chair once they reached the hospital emergency.
'Salam Alaikum. What's her name and age?" asked the front desk receptionist to Ronny who gave her all of his mom's pertinent information.
Jahanara was then immediately taken to a cabin and connected to an oxygen cylinder. A nurse came over and drew blood and took blood pressure reading as well as Jahanara's temperature. It was still very high - 103.1.
While Kabir stayed with Jahanara, Jolsha and Ronny went over to the cafetaria to get coffee.They brought four cups and shigaras, their mom's favorite snack. Jahanara didn't care for the coffee but couldn't resist the shingara. In fact her assistant at work made sure she bought fresh shigaras so Jahanara and some of her colleagues could have them during morning and afternoon breaks.
"How do you feel now Ma," asked Ronny.
"Unfortunately not that well since I still have trouble breathing. I've never felt like this before," explained Jahanara.
"What could it be I wonder. You don't have asthma, emphysema or any other respiratory issues, so why the trouble breathing? We should ask the doctor if it has something to do with your heart, said Kabir.
"I had Echo done six months ago. The cardiologist told me there weren't any major issues with my arteries or valves, " expanded Jahanara.
"Let's see what they say today after they draw your blood and do the Echo and x-rays again," said Jolsha.
With that the nurse came to the room and got Jahanara's blood and then took her to get her Echo and x-rays done. Jolsha went with her mom while Ronny stayed with his dad in the room.
It took about an hour to complete the tests. When she came back to her cabin Jahanara's oxygen saturation fell to 85 and so was immediately hooked on to the oxygen cylinder again. Her temperature was still high. The family hunkered down in the room as Jahanara fell asleep. They all waited for the test results. When the Magrib adhan started Kabir and Ronny went to pray at the mosque in the hospital while Jolsha stayed with her mom and prayed in the room. They all asked Allah one thing - to make Jahanara well.
The test results finally came. Unfortunately they weren't that good. Her lungs especially got hit the hardest with multiple white spots that weren't there before. The echo indicated that some of Jahanara's heart muscle tissues were damaged.The doctor was baffled and referred Jahanara to a pulmonologist and an oncologist. Both were seeing patients then, so Jahanara and her family had to wait for a while again. Finally their turn came.
"As Salaam Alaikum. How are you?" asked the lung specialist, Qaisar Uddin.
"Walaikum As-Salaam, I've never felt this bad before Doctor. I am literally struggling to breathe," started Jahanara.
The doctor placed his stethoscope on Jahnara's chest and asked her to take a deep breath and hold and then to exhale again. He kept on placing the most famous doctor's instrument on different positions including Jahanara's back. She was struggling to do even that.
"I do hear major congestion. The strange thing is you don't have any cough. I wouldn't be surprised if we have some new virus in the air. I'll prescribe antibiotics for you. Just take them for seven days," uttered Dr Uddin.
"So have you heard of any virus anywhere doctor?" asked Kabir.
"No not yet. But in this age of information - I'll say too much information - I'm sure if there is we'll know about it very soon," answered the doctor.
That is exactly what the Islams found out that evening after going back home and turning on the television. A new virus known as Corona was found in China and has most probably spread to other countries. The new virus is very contagious and much more deadly than the common flu. After hearing that the family's demeanor underwent a major transformation - from hopeful and cheerful to fearful and worried. They were all glued to CNN for hours.
The following day Jahanara's conditions worsenened and she had to be admitted to hospital. This time it was Ronny who had to first quickly buy a mask and then take his mom to Crescent. Her oxygen saturation fell to 80 percent. Ronny couldn't even stay with Jahanara as no one who was not a patient was allowed to be in a hospital.
More countries starteed reporting to have Corona transmissions in their neck of the wood. More people with the virus started getting very sick and some were dying. There was panic everywhere and hospitals were filling up rapidly. Countries were seriously contemplating total lockdowns and some started implementing them almost immediately.
Everything was happening so quickly there wasn't even much time for family members to figure out how to face the pandemic. People who were already infected with the virus, didn't know if they should go to the hospital or stay home and quarantine themselves. The family members of the infected ones weren't allowed to visit their loved ones in the hospital. This had a terrible effect on the psychological and mental conditions of the patient recovering from the virus.
"Salaam Alaikum Apa", said a nurse called Sharmin to Jahanara as she entered the room that Jahanara was admitted in.
"Walaikum As Salaam," replied Jahanara still trying to catch her breath.
The nurse checked Jahanara's vitals first and relized that she still had high fever - 102.2 for exact. This time her blood pressure rose up to 160/87. Her oxygen saturation was 86.
"So do you know more about this new virus," asked Jahanara.
"No Apa. I was just told to start you on a 10 day anti-biotic course," responded Sharmin.
Just then Jahanara received a call from Jolsha.
"Amma, how are you doing now?" asked the worried daughter.
"Doing the same. Still have trouble breathing even though they did inform me they'll hook me up to an oxygen cycinder soon," said Jahanara.
"We are glued to the tv now. This new virus Corona is spreading like wildfire now. I'm sure we'll go into a lockdown here soon. Get well soon Ma," added Jolsha.
"Thank you. You three have to help each other with cooking and taking care of the house," advised Jahanara.
"Don't worry about us Ma. Just get better," responded Jolsha.
Kabir decided to do the cooking that evening while Ronny and Jolsha did the dishes. The wife and mother not being there in the kitchen was too much for the three to bare. They quietly finished their dinner and went to their rooms. Kabir then called his wife.
"How are you doing now?" asked Kabir.
"I'm doing a little better. Since I'm now connected to the oxygen cylinder I can breathe better and my oxygen saturation is 94 now," said Jahanara.
"Alhumdulillah!" exclaimed Kabir.
"How are you and the kids doing?" asked Jahanara
"Both Ronny and Jolsha are very quiet. They are in their rooms now. I'm sure they'll be calling you soon," added Kabir.
"I'm on anti-biotics now and insheAllah I'll get better with time. You should all be very careful and wear a mask if you have to go out. The doctor told me there'll be a national lockdown starting from the day after tomorrow. We need that for sure," shared Jahanara.
"Thanks for letting me know. We didn't even turn on the tv the entire day," expressed Kabir.
"The nurse came here just before you called and said she'll be bringing dinner soon. Let me rest up a few minutes before she comes back again with dinner," said Jahanara.
"Okay take care. Talk to you later," responded Kabir hurriedly.
After hanging up Jahanara closed her eyes and tried to enter the land of slumber but unfortunately couldn't as the nurse entered the room pushing a cart full of plates, bowls and glasses. There were also food that smelled really good. The timing, however, was perfect since Jahanara was literally starving and could smell biryani without even looking at the food. It was biryani and Jahanara could for a moment forget about Corona and all. All's forgiven and forgotten when Jahanara's favorite dish was served. But after she had her first bite she realized it was not what she was hoping for but couldn't complain as the spices and ingredients were geared towards hospital food guidelines. Jahanara was however still thankful and grateful for the food.
After the meal Jahanara did get a chance to take a relatively long nap. However when she woke up she was nauseous and had chills. So she pressed the button to call the nurse. The nurse gave her couple of bags in case she needed to throw up. Her temperature rose to 103.2. The nurse wanted to call Kabir right then. Jahanara told her she would call him. That's what she did.
"Kabir, my condition has deteriorated somehow. After enjoying dinner I took a nap but when I got up I felt really bad," started Jahanara.
"Could it be the food that you ate?" asked Kabir.
"If I get sick eating hospital food then I should stop eating food anywhere," joked Jahanara.
"It's a good thing that you haven't lost your sense of humor," responded Kabir.
"No seriously I don't know why I feel this terrible. I know this Corona virus that is wreaking havoc all across the globe is very unpredictable," added Jahanara.
"So how are you feeling. Is it your breathing or are you feeling lightheaded or dizzy?" Kabir wanted to know.
"It's pretty much all of the above. I can't explain exactly but I have never felt this bad before ever," said Jahanara.
"We'll talk to your doctor and find out more what the plan of action is as far as your treatment is concerned," shared Kabir.
"I know I have to just get through this. The antibiotic should take care of the virus eventually," stated Jahanara.
"It's great that you are still positive and strong about this. Inshe Allah you'll get better soon," reassured Kabir.
Meanwhile Ronny and Jolsha were super busy talking to their grandparents, uncles and aunts about their mom. They were very worried and frustrated that they wouldn't be able to see her in person. Some of their aunts offered to bring cooked food for them. When one of them, Anwara, Jahanara's youngest sister, who was considered by the family to be the best cook, offered to cook, all three - Kabir, Ronny and Jolsha were really excited.
"How is Apa doing now?" asked Anwara.
"Ma is requiring oxygen support. She is really not feeling that well," replied Jolsha.
"The most frustrating part is that I wouldn't be even able to go to the hospital to see her. I'll call her," said Anwara.
'She'll be very happy," said Ronny.
The following day Ronny started to feel a little sore throat. Of course the first thing that came to his mind was Covid. Then Jolsha complained about getting chills and she too started to worry about Corona.Testing for it though wasn't that easy. Even if you could get the test, you still had to wait for about five six days to get the result. They both decided to quarantine themselves from your dad. That however left Kabir to do all the cooking, washing and cleaning. The entire family all of a sudden was left with very few options and a lot of uncertainties. What the Islam family was experiencing was nothing but a microcosm of what was to come in the entire world. Race, gender, geography, economic status and most other factors didn't matter to the virus. All were equal enough for it to attack in a vicious manner. The number of cases started to rise all across in all of the continents followed by record hospitalizations and deaths. Entire countries were closing off for businesses.
Both Ronny and Jolsha decided they'd give it a day or two and if then the symptoms that they had still lingered then they would go and find a way to get tested. But in the meantime they decided to just stay away from each other as much as they could. They all decided to wear masks even when they were inside the apartment. Kabir told his children it wouldn't be a big deal for him to taking care of the household chores for few days. They decided not to tell Jahanara these new developments.
Ronny, however, decided to call his mother before going to bed just to find out how she was doing.
"How are you feeling now Amma?" asked Ronny.
"Don't know why I still have trouble breathing without the oxygen support. Also, my fever has really not gone down either," replied Jahanara.
"InsheAllah you'll feel better soon once the antibiotic starts to kick in in time," reassured Ronny.
The next day both Ronny and Jolsha felt worse and went together to the hospital to see where they could get a test for Covid. The first clinic they went they were told to go to a hospital that was quite far from where they were. They were also told they needed to make an appointment first. They wanted to take a chance and just go. That's what they did. They started their trip in a CNG that they found close to the clinic. On the way there however they felt worse and Jolsha almost passed out. When they reached the hospital the CNG driver had to go inside and inform the emergency crew there that he had a couple of passengers who couldn't even walk in the hospital and that they would need wheelchairs. Both were helped to sit on a wheelchair first which were then pushed to the emergency. They were quickly admitted in and were immediately connected to an oxygen cylinder. They were then tested for Covid and the doctors started them on antibiotics. After his breathing stabilized a bit, Ronny called his dad to let him know.
"Abba, just wanted to let you know, Jolsha and I just wanted to get tested for Covid at Uttara Diagnostics but since they didn't test there they suggested Eastern Hospital. We headed there on a CNG and started to feel really bad on the way there. Now we are both admitted here at Eastern," blurted out Ronny.
"First your Amma and now you and Jolsha. Maybe I should find another hospital to complete the cycle," joked Kabir.
"I'm happy that you are maintaining your sense of humor even now Abba," responded Ronny.
"All joking aside, what did the doctor say?" asked Kabir.
"We are still waiting for the test result but are on antibiotics now," said Ronny.
"Rest up. I'll call again and talk to Jolsha also. InsheAllah you all will get better soon," added Kabir.
Kabir decided not to tell Jahanara that their kids were also in the hospital even though he knew she would probably have given him invaluable advice as what to do with them. That night Kabir, being all alone in the apartment, felt very fortunate and helpless at the same time. He felt blessed to have a wonderful family but also understood everything could be wiped out with this new virus. Kabir thought that night must have been the most fearful one in his life. He didn't even know how to respond or react. He spent most of the night on a prayer mat for his Tahajjud offering. He just had one prayer for Allah - make his family well. Just when he wanted to get some sleep Kabir heard the Fajr call for prayer. After his Fajr prayer, he turned on the television. To his horror he found out the Corona virus was now a Pandemic. It was catching on every single country of the world. Could he be next? Since Kabir just turned sixty three, he was well aware of the risks posed by the virus. However, fear hardly touched him as his faith in Allah kept him from questioning any hardship he had to face in life. That also made him see the glass half full. Not only did he always see things getting better for himself but also for his family and friends. They could also count on him when it came to any help they needed as Kabir was always the first to volunteer. But he was determined not to fall prey to the virus and was willing to do whatever it took for that.
The following day Kabir and his family started to get calls from their friends that they were also starting to get affected by the virus. It was a scary moment not only for them but their friends circle and their city, country and yes the entire world. Obviously whatever happened in the world the entire family knew about it instantaneously on their cell phones. All of a sudden everyone was almost forced to be isolated from each other. Their only tool for communication was their phone.
Kabir's phone started to ring when he was about to heat up water for his tea. It was Jahanara.
"How are you doing this morning?" asked Kabir.
"I'm doing a little better. Haven't heard from the kids lately. How are they doing?" asked Jahanara. Kabir was convinced Jahanara was equipped with mother's instinct that never failed.
"Didn't want to tell you this but again you seem to always know if your children are facing any sort of challenges. Both of them have been admitted at Bardem Hospital for observation. They are waiting for Covid test result," Kabir let Jahanara know.
"Honestly it was easy to figure out something was wrong when I didn't hear anything from the kids yesterday," shared Jahanara.
"Everything is happening so fast that I have lost track of time. Sometimes losing track of time is the only way to find some sanity in this chaotic world," said Kabir.
"Sorry that you are alone in the apartment. InsheAllah both of the kids' tests will turn up negative and they'll come back home soon," relayed Jahanara.
"InsheAllah that is what will happen," agreed Kabir.
Later in the morning Jolsha called her dad to tell him she and Ronny got their Covid test results.
"Abba, unfortunately the results came positive. They'll keep us at the hospital until our symptoms improve and then will send us back home since they don't want to take any chances with people working there," informed Jolsha.
"Since you both are still so young, insheAllah you'll recover soon from it. I really wish now that I could go and see you all," exchanged Kabir.
"Just make sure you stay home all the time. If you need any grocery just call me. I'll order it online for you," responded Jolsha.
"I will Mamoni. You two get better soon," said Kabir.
Some of Kabir's morning walking buddies still maintained their regimen wearing a mask and keeping some distance between them. They asked Kabir if he wanted to join them. But Jolsha's strict order that her dad doesn't step outside at any instance kept Kabir from accepting their offrer. Just couple of days being home by himself Kabir started to feel somewhat trapped. He started to wonder how long he would have to be cooped inside.
Jahanara too started to get anxious about the future. When can she see her husband and kids was the question she kept asking herself over and over again. Even though she could talk to her family anytime she wanted to, she felt this loneliness that she never had felt before. Also her level of anxiety was shooting up every time she started to think about how long she may have to stay in the hospital. However, Jahanara decided in order to get stronger mentally and spiritually she needed to start reading and perhaps memorizing the Quran.
Meanwhile Ronny's condition deteriorated to the point where he had to be connected to an oxygen cylinder. His oxygen saturation level remained low at 88. Jolsha however started to feel better and was about to be discharged. The hospital they were both at was getting filled up with seriously sick Covid patients and they couldn't afford to keep anyone most likely on the way to recovery stay there much longer. Their doctors started to visit less and less in their cabins as they were overwhelmed with patients.
Jahanara had lost her dad four years earlier and her mom lived in her village home of Jessore. The virus hadn't spread as much in the villages so far. So lot of people were heading back home to wait out the pandemic. Kabir, who lost both his mother and father a year apart about seven years earlier, was tempted to head back to his place of birth in Chittagong to ride out Covid. But later thought if he were to go there and get stuck he wouldn't be able to see his family for a long time. So he started counting the days instead for his family members to come back home.
Kabir's wish started to come true when Jolsha returned home after getting another Covid test that came out negative. Both father and daughter decided to wear mask at home. Jolsha had to catch up with her sleep. So she pretty much slept for the next couple of days. Kabir, however, made sure that his daughter was fed well so she didn't get too weak to recover fully and start to live a normal life. Kabir realized the difference of not having anyone at home versus having someone even if that person spent hours sleeping.
Covid cases increased by tens of thousands all over the world and lockdowns were implemented in almost every country on the planet. Depression, suicide rate and other form of mental and psychological issues within the younger population were on the rise. Prices of cleaning products jumped and were in limited supply. There was a shortage even of masks and other personal protective wears. The world was entering into a period of great uncertainty and no one had a clue as to when this virus would peak and then go away eventually.
The following morning Kabir received a call from Ronny’s doctor.
“As Salaam Alaikum Kobir Shaheb. I was calling about your son Ronny. Unfortunately he’s not doing that well. We had to put him on a ventilator this morning. He was struggling breathing even with oxygen support,” shared Doctor Aziz.
“What are you saying doctor. He is so young. I thought this virus is serious only for older people,” responded Kabir.
“Currently we are seeing more and more younger people getting critically ill,” revealed the pulmonologist.
“So what is the treatment plan for Ronny doctor?” asked the greatly concerned father.
"Unfortunately we don't have any therapeutics for Covid yet. The only treatment is administering antibiotics," said Dr Aziz.
"You mean to tell me my poor boy doesn't have any other options?" inquired Kabir.
"I'm afraid not sir. Let's hope and pray to Allah that his condition improves as he is still very young," uttered the doctor.
"Everything is happening so fast. I don't even know how to react. Just make son better doctor....make my son better," said Kabir as he started to cry without control.
"Have faith in Allah Kabir Shaheb. InsheAllah he will come out of it. Remember age is on his side," comforted Dr Aziz.
Right after talking to Ronny's doctor, Kabir got a call from Jahanara.
"You must have been on the phone as it was busy. Have you heard from Ronny. I had called him few times to find out how he is doing. His phone is turned off," said Jahanara.
Kabir didn't want to alarm Jahanara during her recovery period - so he decided not to share with her regarding Ronny being connected to a ventilator. He thought it wouldn't do any good for Jahanara to know it at that moment.
"Yes I was on the phone. I'll call the hospital and find out about Ronny. How are you doing?" said Kabir - carefully choosing his words in what to share.
"I was told I was doing better by my doctor and also feel better. So how is Jolsha doing now that she has gone back home?" said Jahanara.
"Alhumdulillah you are doing better. Jolsha is sleeping a lot but tells me she is feeling a lot better now," Kabir told his worried wife.
"For some reason I am really concerned about Ronny. Maybe it's a mother's instincts," relayed Jahanara.
"InsheAllah whatever it is Ronny will get better soon. Have faith in Allah. You know ultimately it's He who has all the answers," advised Kabir.
"Of course, but as you know it's not easy to be a parent. There is nothing like knowing your child might be going through tough times and you are not there with him," explained Jahanara.
It was getting tougher for Kabir to withhold how Ronny was actually doing. He knew if Jahanara found out about it eventually (which she most probably would) she'd never forgive him. But then again Kabir was caught between a super thick rock and a very hard place. Could Jahanara handle the news of Ronny's deteriorating conditions? But then again if Jahanara was told about Ronny and his conditions kept getting worse she would want to be by his side which would never be allowed during a pandemic.
Certain countries, especially in the west, were adapting quite well with remote work but developing countries like Bangladesh was struggling with maintaining balance between containing the virus and making sure people's livelihood was also intact. Kabir's company didn't have the infrastructure to allow employees like himself to be able to work from home. So Kabir would have to eventually go back to work after the initial lockdown. As far Jahanara's work went all the family could do was to inform the school that she was recovering from Covid in the hospital.
The following day Ronny's condition took a turn for much worse as he had a heart attack for which he had to have an open heart surgery. Again Kabir was the one who was informed by Ronny's cardiologist.
"Covid is mutating and now attacking heart muscle that is responsible for Ronny's heart attack. We'll have to get blood ready tomorrow and go with the surgery the day after," said Dr Choudhury.
"Oh no, you know what Dr. Choudhury I'm running out of excuses that I have to give to my wife, who is also in the hospital for Covid, as to why my son is not picking up his phone," said Kabir.
"Being a parent myself and having a son around Ronny's age I totally understand where you are coming from. But his mother needs to know about your son's condition now than later. You know Islam Shaheb telling a loved one about a patient's deteriorating condition is the toughest part of my job. With Covid cases rising by the hour seems like I'm having to do this much more often than I would like," let out Dr Choudhury.
Meanwhile Jolsha started feeling much better. She was determined to be supportive of her dad as much as she could. She found out that US had developed a therapeutic drug for Covid and hence wanted to know if that could be somehow obtained and administered to her brother. She also stayed on the phone with her mom for most of the day as Jahanara began to recover drastically. Her doctor told her she'd be discharged within couple of days. Kabir and Jolsha decided they'd tell Jahanara about Ronny once she is comes home. But Jahanara didn't want to wait.
"So can you please tell me where your brother is since your dad is not," asked Jahanara.
Jolsha signaled her dad to come over so both she and Kabir could together tell Jahanar about Ronny.
"We wanted to tell you after you came back home. But since you do have the mother's instinct, we couldn't hide it any more," started Kabir.
"What happened to my baby?" Jahanara wanted to get to the point.
"Let me tell you first the doctor told us that many patients who are in situation that Ronny is in now recovered fully," added Jolsha.
"So what are you saying? Please tell me what happened to my Ronny Babu," cried out Jahanara. It was very rare for Jahanara to display any emotion. But it was none other than her son that she could feel was in some sort of medical danger. She always had a soft spot for Ronny since he was born prematurely. When Ronny was about three he was diagnosed with encephalitis and almost died from it. Unlike his sister, Ronny always thought twice or even more to even make an ordinary decision.
"Bhaiya has been hooked to a ventilator!" started to say Jolsha when she was interrupted by her mom with a wail.
"When did this happen? I not Ronny should be on a ventilator. This is not fair. What is his doctor saying?" said Jahanara.
"His doctor is hopeful as he is still very young. Being on a ventilator is serious but doesn't mean it's irreversible," relayed Kabir.
"I feel like going to see him right this moment but know I can't because of this stupid virus. When would this nightmare end?" interjected Jahanara.
Jolsha advised her dad to shop online for groceries and that is exactly what he did. She joined few Covid groups on Facebook where she kept asking questions about Ronny - like how long does one usually need to be on a ventilator and what's the percentage of people who are on a ventilator eventually survive. It was the toughest time for the Islam family but they not only learned to rely on each other for support but also started to rely heavily on their fresh spiritual awakening.
Jolsha, whose new year's resolution every year was to start praying five times a day, just couldn't get it started and waited for the following year to go at it again. After hearing about Ronny's condition, however, she started praying right away and continued with all her daily prayers - Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghreb and Aisha prayers. Whenever she couldn't sleep - thinking about Ronny - she sat on the prayer rug to ask Allah to bring Ronny out of the ventilator fully recovered. That did give her some comfort.
Jahanara was released the following day. She was tested and was Covid negative before being let go. When Kabir, who also tested negative, went to pick Jahanara up from the hospital, he was shocked to see her. Her complexion was pale and he could have sworn that she lost at least thirty to forty pounds. Jahanara was having trouble just to walk towards a wheelchair. When Kabir started to push the wheelchair the first thing Jahanara asked was how Ronny was doing. Kabir, obviously, didn't have anything new to say. After that both were silent and remained so in the car as they headed home. When they reached home, Jahanara gave her mom a big hug and started to cry like a baby after many years. Jahanara too, who was known among friends and family for her bulletproof composure, broke down as well. Both mother and daughter had Ronny on their mind. Jahanara called Dr. Choudhury to find out how her son was doing.
"Salaamu Alaikum Apa. Ronny's condition is the same - which could be a good thing as it's not getting worse," shared the doctor.
"Walaikum Salaam Dr. Choudhury. First of all thanks for taking care of my boy, Ronny. You know he has been very delicate since he was born. Is there any therapeutic medicine out there that you may administer to Ronny that could help him?" expanded Jahanara.
"I have two sons (around Ronny's age) and a dughter myself. Whenever I go and see Ronny I feel like I'm visiting my own son. As far as therapeutic is concerned, one is coming out in the US. Let's see if we can get hold of it soon. Like I had mentioned before again age is definitely on Ronny's side," said the doctor.
After hearing about Ronny, his maternal uncle Mushtaq "Mama", who was living in Rajshahi, got tested for Covid and after finding out it was negative, decided to visit Dhaka to support his sister and her family during their trying time. Mushtaq was very close to Ronny and his favorite nephew too always wanted to visit him on Eid. Just last Eid he took a train to Rajshahi to be with his "Mama" and his family. Ronny loved their house - especially the huge field where he, his uncle and his cousins Sujon and Milon spent almost an entire day playing cricket. Ronny kept working on his fast bowling skills. Aslo in Rajshahi couple of years earlier he had met Monica, whose father knew Mushtaq very well and whose mother was a close friend of his aunt Nishat. Ronny and Monica met at a music concert by James. The two were a huge fan of sweets and had gone to a sweet store "Premier" after the concert.They exchanged their mobile numbers as well as Facebook ids and had kept in touch. The relationshipboth were moving towards getting married soon.
After hearing about Ronny, Monica was devastated to say the least. Just like others Monica badly wanted to come over to Dhaka to see Ronny but the virus had the upper hand and was the king for the moment. Obviously no one knew how long this would go on including lockdown. Both Kabir and Jahanara were encouraged by their employers to look into learning more about a newer video chat app known as Zoom. Jolsha still felt very weak and some days couldn't get out of bed.
Ronny's conditions remained critical for over a month by then. Thankfully a new drug - a therapeutic - came in the market. The giant Bangladesh drug company Beximco decided to manufacture a generic for it. Right after the hospital received their first dose, Dr Choudhury gave it to Ronny. After couple of days Ronny's oxygen saturation started to improve somewhat but not enough for him to off the ventilator. Kabir, Jahanara and Jolsha started spending their nights praying for Ronny.
"You know Abba Ma, Allah is testing our resolve. We have to be patient as you know the Almighty is our ultimate protector. We have to believe Bhaiya will get better soon," reminded Jolsha.
"You are right Mamoni, even though it's very difficult, we cannot lose focus on the bigger picture - which is Allah is testing our patience and faith and we have to stay focused," replied Kabir.
"I'll keep asking Allah to make Ronny Babu better and then I promised him I'll go to visit Mecca," added Jahanara.
Ronny's Facebook friends added up to over three thousand. His best friend, Habib, started a page "Prayers for Ronny". It got about hundred posts per day. They were all overwhelmed with sadness and concern for their friend who never said no when asked for help. According to them even if Ronny couldn't help it was due to his lack of resource and never his efforts. All of his friends agreed his best feature was his laughter. Few of them posted prayers for him to get better soon almost everyday.
The following day Kabir woke up with a headache which was very unusual as he never had a headache. During the pandemic any symptom out of the ordinary rang alarm bells especially for someone like Kabir who didn't belong to the category of brave patients and instead literally started to feel sick worrying. He also developed a little cough that felt out of place as well. Both Jolsha and Jahanara asked him to get a Covid test and start self quarantine in Ronny's bedroom.
The following day Kabir did go for a Covid test that turned up positive. It was his turn to be hospitalized. Jahanara and Jolsha were so upset with the news they both burst into tears and held each other.
"Why is everything falling apart like this Amma?" whispered Josha while desperately trying to slow down on her sobbing.
"I know Ammuji, even though this does look like an ocean now, I promise in actuality it's just a little pond. We'll cross it together and reach the other side soon," reassured Jahanara.
Meanwhile Ronny's doctor gave Jahanara a call to let her know Ronny's condition was finally starting to improve.
"As Salaamu Aaikum Apa. This is Dr Choudhury. Alhumdulillah, Ronny's oxygen saturation has improved enough for him to be off of the ventilator. The therapeutic that we had started to give him has most likely brought this result," said the doctor.
"Alhumdulillah. Thank you very much doctor for giving us this truly Godsent good news. How could we ever thank you enough for taking excellent of my baby" responded Jahanara as her voice started to quiver and she then began to cry loudly.
Jahanara found herself crying more the last few days than she did the previous twenty years. She was somehow convinced that the virus did it even though she didn't have any hard evidence to prove her point. She believed when she was recovering at the hospital she started having to have brain fog on quite a few days and that kept her emotions at a heightened state ever since. However, her husband kept on telling her emotional meltdown was obviously because of their son getting critically ill.
Covid cases around the world kept rising at an alarming level. Who would have thought that a virus could be bringing families together a little more literally and yet at the same time push them apart as they couldn't get any break from each other. They were forced to have breakfast, lunch and dinner together and get exposed to each other's anger and frustration. Mask wearing and social distancing became a political mud sling fest. At the end of the day people seemed to have become more divided during the pandemic.
The seesaw of good and bad news continued as it was Kabir's turn to go through the uncertain phase of the Coronavirus. His fever rose significantly and he was having trouble breathing as well. On top of that Kabir was developing a very serious case of vertigo as his head kept spinning even when laying down on bed. That he was asked to lay on his stomach for easing of his breathing didn't help with the dizziness. Looked like the pandemic made sure not to spare suffering on any member of the Islam family.
"Amma, I was thinking when Ronny Bhaiya and Abbu are well, let's go to visit Nana/Nanu's place in Sylhet," Jolsha told her mom when they were having breakfast while taking a sip of chai.
"Sure Ammu, that's very tempting. To even think about going somewhere sounds really good at this point in time," reflected Jahanara while taking a bite of the paratha with aloo bhaji.
"I could go swimming in the "pukur" with the ducks. It'll be so much fun. We just have to pray to Allah that he helps make Abbu and Ronny Bhaiya well again soon," expanded Jolsha.
As the Covid death rate kept rising Jahanara felt she was the luckiest person in the world to have survived it. She was turning to her religion, Islam, like never before. Jahanara started to read the Quran from the beginning to try and understand God's take on suffering. She was looking for the answer to the classic question why - that is why some had to suffer more than others. She found some comfort in knowing that in Islam one had to bring "Akhira" (eternal life) with "Duniya" (earthly life). She decided to create a Facebook page called Islam in Trying Times. Almost instantaneously about seventy of her friends joined it. Jahanara's best friend, Rukeya - a gynecologist by profession and a devout Muslim living in Virginia, US - started to post her take on the subject right away. She was one of those who was always ready with quotes from the Quran and others if required. Another friend, Rupa, a younger friend from Sydney, Australia, was also very active on Facebook. Rupa mostly posted her personal happenings and on occasions included links on politics. Of late her passion was Covid based. Any news on the latest theraputics or development of vaccine for Covid were fair game to be on Facebook. Another friend, Renu from Malaysia, shared her brother had succumbed to the virus and her husband was recovering from it. Jahanara's Facebook buddies all decided to join on Zoom every Saturday at 7 pm to stay updated on each other.
The following day Kabir's doctor, Enamul Rashid, called Jahanara and gave her almost a heart attack. Kabir had a mild stroke in the morning and was going through other tests to determine further damage to the brain.
"Your husband seems little confused now and having trouble understanding directions, but we are hopeful it'll get better with time," shared the doctor.
"Doctor, so you are saying Kabir has lost his ability to speak?" inquired the very concerned Jahanara.
"Unfortunately yes. But we are hopeful he'll be able to speak again," elaborated Dr Rashid.
Jahanara just hung up the phone and went to her room and laid down. She kept staring at the ceiling and thinking what other terrible news she might have to face next. She was questioning everything from her faith to the practical struggle with finances. She was just downright tired of thinking of endless scenarios. She was definitely at the lowest point of her life and was just lost when it came to finding solutions. So many things were totally out of her hand and so she started to think through things that she could still control. She knew she could definitely control the process of finding out from Kabir's doctor if he was a good candidate for the Covid therapeutic or not. If he was then the doctor should give that to him right away. Also she could control the option of calling Ronny's doctor and ask him what the next steps were in Ronny's road to recovery. Jahanara found out just by becoming a little more focused she not only became less anxious but also came up with multiple solutions.
Jahanara did exactly that - that is she called both of the doctors. She found out that Kabir was the perfect candidate for the therapeutic, Bemsivir and the next step for Ronny as he was making remarkable improvement was doing nothing and allow himself to beat the virus. Jahanara haven't felt this optimistic and well in a long time. She realized she couldn't hide away in her sleep or feel sorry for herself. She would have to take the bull by its horn and become a leader in her effort to design her life her own way.
The following morning Jahanara decided to make her life as normal as possible by calling her neighborhood walking buddies to join her - with masks on of course - to catch up on their walking around the lake. Jolsha too wanted to join them and asked some of her Uttara friends to come along. While walking, Jahanara and Jolsha found out they weren't alone suffering from the pandemic. There were other fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and dauthers who became Covid positive and their family members were facing similar challenges.
"Sorry to hear about your husband. So he has been in the hospital for couple of months now after being dagnosed with Covid?" Jahanara asked Bilkis, one of the most consistent and dedicated walkers in Uttara.
"Yes Jahanara. Habib is still connected to a ventilator. It's up to Allah now. I'm asking everyone to please pray for him as he is a diabetic and that makes him very vulnerable to complications," said Bilkis.
"Very sorry to hear that. InsheAllah Habib will come out it soon. He is well known in the neighborhood for his helping nature," added Jahanara.
Jolsha too heard from her friend, Nilufer, how her favorite uncle, Chondon Mama, died within two three days after being diagnosed with the virus. Jolsha could tell how much Nilufer was missing him as she couldn't stop crying talking about him. The worst thing for her was that she couldn't go to his Janazah. She also felt really guilty about not being able to see him in the hospital. After hearing Nilufer, Jolsha's load of desapir lightened quite a bit as she felt fortunate that at least she didn't have to face any death. There were about twelve people who joined the walk around the lake. Even though they were all wearing masks and maintained a good distance among them, they all enjoyed being outside and the air seemed a little more fresh that day. They could forget about their worries connecting with nature. Just staring at the water for a little while triggered a tremendous sense of hope and reassured everyone things will be okay. They all agreed they should continue this on a daily basis.
When Jahanara and Jolsha reached home after the walk, they both just felt better than they have in weeks. Jahanara didn't waste any time calling Dr Choudhury to see how Ronny was doing and wanted to know if she could talk to him.
"As Salaam Alaikum Mrs. Islam. Ronny is doing better every day. First let me tell you he could be discharged in days. Now let me give my cell phone to him.
"Hello, is this Amma?" asked Ronny - his voice still sounding somewhat weak.
"Ha Abba, how are you doing?" responded the mom, her voice quivering with emotions after hearing her son in more than two weeks.
"I was trying to figure out how long I have been at the hospital as I don't have any memory of a certain period," shared Ronny.
"You have been there for two and a half weeks. You were in a coma for a period of time when you're connected to a ventilator. Obviously that is the time you didn't have consciousness," explained the mother.
"Ammu, I really would like to thank you, Abbu and Jolsha for all your prayers to Allah and that is the reason I have come out of this scary period alive," expressed the grateful son and brother.
"That goes without saying. IsheAllah when you have children of your own, you'll know prayers for your children don't require any effort. They come automatically. You get better soon, and now talk to your sister," said the mother.
"Hi bhaiya," started Jolsha but couldn't continue as she also became overwhelmed with emotions and started sobbing without much control. Jolsha's friends would often joke that she would start to cry even if she saw an insect getting injured. Aslo they avoided going to the movies for a tear jerker.
"Why are you crying now that I'm doing much better," continued Ronny, trying to make the moment a little lighter.
"You know me bhaiya how I am. I'm just glad that you are doing wel now," Jolsha finally could carry on with the conversation.
"Hope you didn't take over my room with your books and paintings?" teased Ronny.
"No I was thinking about it but then thought you might need some prvacy when you get back home to talk to your girlfriend," responded Jolsha with a quick one two punch combo.
"There you go - my sister is back. I will see you soon. The nurse just came in to take my vitals," relayed Ronny.
Jolsha let her brother go. She felt much better after the phone call and decided to try to call her dad next. She thought she'd try her dad's cell phone first and then call his doctor. To her surprise her dad answered the phone right away.
"Abbu As Salam Walaikum. How are you feeling today. Just taked to bhaiya. He sounded really good and can't wait to come back home," said Jolsha.
"Alhumdulillah, great to know that Ronny is doing well," expressed Kabir.
"How are you Abbu?" Jolsha asked again.
"The therapeutic drug is apparently working. I feel much better than I felt a week ago," answered Kabir.
"That is excellent news. Alhumdulillah, Allah has listened to our prayers. Can't wait until you get home. Take care now, Abbu, and talk to you soon," concluded Jolsha.
That evening Jahanara received a sad news that the husband of Shanta, one of Jahanara's walking buddies, had died that day from Covid. The two met on this new video app called Zoom. They were also joined by other friends.
"As Salaam Walaikum everyone, hope everyone is doing well and are keeping safe," Jahanara started the Zoom meeting.
"I'll go next. Walaikum As Salaam. I don't know if you have noticed there are many people who are not wearing masks or even maintaining social distance. Was wondering if some of us could take up this issue with the mayor to enforce compliance," shared Jameela.
"Excellent point. Talking to the mayor definitely makes sense. I can go. Anyone else interested going with me?" asked Jahanara.
"I can go," responded Jyostna who was the youngest among Jahanara's walking club.
"Ok, thank you Jyostna. We need more of your younger crowd to get involved in public service, " added Jahanara.
"I can also go but it has to be on a Friday or Saturday as I'm working during the week," volunteered Marina, a registered nurse who was working seventy hour weeks.
"Thank you Marina. You being the hardest worker among us and still making this effrort is admirable," said Jahanara.
"I should do much more Apa. When I tell my kids to always think of others first before taking a step, I feel I should lead by example," said the very fast talking Marina.
The Zoom call lasted for about an hour and a half and they had an agenda to carry out that time. In total seven of the morning walkers decided they would go to the mayor's office. They set the date for the following week. Jahanara all of a sudden felt like she had an unflappable purpose in life however small it may be.
In the meantime Ronny's doctor set a date for him to be discharged. When Dr Choudhury called Jahanara she was already in the ready to go mode. Hearing the good news abou her son made her even more supercharged.
"As Salaam Walaikum Apa. I have a really good news for you. InsheAllah Ronny is being discharged the day after tomorrow. We feel he is good enough now to be able to go home, " shared the doctor.
"Thank you doctor for this really great news. This virus is definitely terrifying but at the same time has taught me already to appreciate life and my family even more," voiced Jahanara.
"I've been practicing medicine for the last thirty five years and I've never heard anyone say anything like this before - especially after what you have gone through just in the last couple of months," epressed Dr Choudhury.
"I think I have enough material - that life has given me since the start of the pandemic - for me to write a thousand page book. The more I'm facing these incredible medical challenges the more I'm finding out the power of the mind and how it's instrumental when it comes to healing," explained Jahanara.
"Please do write that book as I'll definitely buy it. We physicians only focus on the body and forget that a lot happens in the mind," encouraged the doctor.
"Thank you so much Dr Choudhury. I don't know if I'll ever get the opportunity or even if I have the talent for writing or not. Just to have that dream will keep me going," said Jahanara.
Kabir's condition stayed the same. His doctor was getting worried that he still couldn't speak. Obviously with a new virus there was very little knowledge as to how much it affected the brain. The hospital where Kabir was staying at didn't have the right devices to look deeper into Kabir's brain. Hence Dr Rashid decided to transfer him to a bigger hospital in Gulshan.
Ronny was released from the hospital after being tested again for Covid that came out negative. Both Jahanara and Jolsha also decided to take a Covid and also were Covid free. They were waiting for Ronny outside the hospitial. However, right after stepping outside of the hospital Ronny experienced almost total loss of memory. The brain fog made him very confused and fearful. It was like he didn't even know where he was let alone find out the car that he was very familiar with. Fortunately Jolsha could spot her brother and came out and ran towards him. When Ronny saw his sister, he had a blank stare initially but then smiled before being hugged. Next came Jahanara out of the car and couldn't hold back her tears after hugging her son. After sitting in the car, Ronny continued to be quiet and still displayed signs of confusion that his family didn't see before. When they reached home, however, he appeared to be more responsive and even started to smile and laugh a little.
When the elevator reached their floor is when Ronny suddenly came back. The first thing he asked for was his iPhone and Jolsha gladly complied and handed back to him his prized possession. Ronny then went to the kitchen and made himself coffee and while doing that called his best friend, Rakib. After telling Rakib all about his stay in the hospital and asking about his other friends Ronny told him he'd talk to him later as he was really tired and just wanted to crash on his bed. He did sleep straight for more than twelve hours and woke up in the middle of the night hungry. Being a very light sleeper when Jahanara heard little noises in the kitchen she woke up and headed right there. She saw Ronny trying to get few things out of the refrigerator.
"What would you like to have Ronny?" asked the mom.
"I'm really craving rice and lentil, maybe with chicken," laid out Ronny.
"Okay Abbu, just let me cook fresh for you. Give me about forty minutes. In the meantime we have few "chatthas" in the pantry that you may have as appetizers," advised Jahanara.
Jahanara didn't feel this good cooking before. She was cooking for her child who came home after being at the ICU for weeks and who is longing for his mom's cooking. While him mom was making food for him, Ronny went to the pantry and ripped open a "Chanachoor" pack and started enjoying a Bengali's favorite snack. He was loving experiencing food after being fed intravenously for that long. Right after Ronny finished with his snack Jahanara told him the food was ready.
"So what's the latest on Abbu's condition?" asked Ronny as he cut the chicken into a bite size and was about to eat it with rice.
"He will be moved to another hospital tomorrow morning where they will be looking into his brain closely and try to figure out why he has forgotten to speak," shared mom.
"When everything goes well we forget to tell our loved ones how much we appreciate for what they are doing and have done for years, It's during times like these that we get reminded how much they have done for their family for decades," shared Ronny.
"You know what Abbu I've never felt like this before. Even though I was hospitalized I recovered fairly quickly but I've realized this life of ours can easily be taken away from us any moment. I haven't told this to anyone yet but when I was resting at the hospital I had a very short dream when I saw my hand being held and led to a place called Helping Hands. When I entered it I saw so many people listening to others' concerns and then trying to come up with answers for them," disclosed Jahanara.
Meanwhile Kabir was transferred to United Hospital. There his brain was scanned right away. Dr Nurul Alam was the neurologist who was in charge of overseeing his treatment. When he saw the xrays he wasn't happy. The part of the brain that is responsible for speech has been significantly affected. The question was could it be reversed somehow but unfortunately Dr Alam didn't have any answers for Kabir's family. Again Jahanara was surprised with herself as to how well she handled the news.
"Hello Dr. Alam, so is there even a little chance that Kabir will get better and speak again? If there is please don't spare any effort in doing everything you can to make him better. I know it sounds obvious since doctors already do their best but what I'm saying is you have my permission to carry out even critical procedures to help him gain back his speech," advised Jahanara.
"Of course apa. Thanks for giving me the most important tool, which is the tool of a family member's consent. to help your husband gain back his speech," responded the doctor.
Jolsha started working from home and was loving every minute of it. She always complained the worst part of working for her was getting ready for it. Jolsha lucked out in that she just had two office meetings every month when she would have to wear makeup and Zoom in for work. She also liked not having to catch two buses to reach her work although she somewhat missed her daily stop close to where she got off bus to have her daily Chai fix. She called that place the best Chai shop in the world. She was still willing to give that up temporarily and make chai herself at home to be able to sleep in a little longer.
Jahanara too was really enjoying working from home. For her being able to be with her family members throughout the day was the most important reason she loved being at home. Jahanara also loved being able to cook for her family. Since she had to interact with her students throughout the day Jahanara had to be on Zoom. One thing she wasn't thrilled with was having to put on makeup but overall life under lockdown was okay and manageable.
Ronny's brain fog somewhat improved over the next few days but fatigue took over and he couldn't even get out of bed for few days. Also he started to feel dizzy when walking or even sitting down. He knew he had a long road to recovery but he was a fighter and wasn't going to give up that easily. He was thinking about joining work but felt he needed a little more time. He felt lucky to have a very understanding boss who was like a big brother to him. Even under his current difficult circumstances Ronny felt grateful to have such a supportive family and a great boss.
The following day Ronny realized in order to start healing perhaps he needed to take a drastic step. He decided to join his mother and sister for the morning walk. Jahanara warned him the entire walk was about four and a half miles. Jolsha too tried to talk to him out of it but Ronny was determined to get and feel better. Ronny was fine for about twenty five minutes and then started to get really tired and dizzy at the same time. He decided to sit down on one of many benches lined up close to the lake. That decision was the best Ronny had taken in a while. He kept looking at the lake's water where the bright morning light hit and suddenly he noticed a plethora of warm colors - from bright yellow to orange and burgundy along with cadmium red. Ronny's perspective on life changed from that moment onward. He never saw things in a negative light again. Ronny didn't consider himself to be religious or even spiritual until that moment. That experience forced him to think about Allah. After he came back home struggling almost every step not to fall over as his vertigo increased to an unbearable point, Ronny took out his prayer rug and offered Asr prayer. He couldn't even remember the last time he prayed Asr. The reflection of the sunlight that he saw on the lake, Ronny was convinced was a signal for him to turn towards its Creator in order to turn things around for him. He was convinced Allah had given him a second chance to life and he promised himself he was going to take full advantage of it.
The following morning Jahanara received a call from Dr Alam concerning Kabir. He informed her that her husband would need months of treatment and medication in order to get his speech back. Covid has expanded its territory as far as its newer ways to attack different parts of the human body. That time it was the brain that was attacked. There was nothing simple about the brain but Dr Alam was hopeful that time along with some stimulation and high doses of meds for improving memory would start the healing process.
While the pandemic was ravaging the world with billions of people living in fear and uncertainty, Jahanara, Jolsha and Ronny were living in relative peace as all three found spirituality in their own way. Having had to face the virus themselves they all knew its seriousness and unpredictability but once they recovered the three got the gift of positivity. Where most people remained in the sphere of despair and hopelessness the three members of the Islam family remained steadfast and hopeful.
Ronny, who had stopped calling Monica, for a while, decided to rekindle their relationship and called her back.
"Hello Monica. How are you doing?" started Ronny.
"So you haven't forgotten me?" responded the fiance.
"It was a mistake on my part to stop talking to you. The reason I did that was I wasn't sure if I could ever recover from Covid. Since Allah helped me through this difficult period and made me healthy again I want to make my life a little more complete by having you back in it," expressed Ronny.
Jolsha, who was very tight lipped when it came to her love life, started to share a little more - first with her big brother and then her mom. She started talking about Farouk, a young doctor who was just hired recently at Crescent. After the pandemic hit, Farouk was so busy with taking care of Covid patients he didn't have any time to even call Jolsha on a regular basis let alone meet her for coffee at Coffee World. Unfortunately Farouq too tested positive with the virus recently and could finally talk to Jolsha for longer than couple of minutes during his quarantine.
Ramadan was approaching fast and Kabir, who pretty much took care of all of its preparations and shopping, was missed the most. He also loved to cook and arrange the Iftar plates for everyone in the family and more if needed every evening. Kabir also went to the mosque where the Imam lead 20 raka Tarawi prayers. Unlike most, Kabir made sure to make the month a spiritual retreat like it should be instead of just refraining from food and then stuffing it all night long. Reading the Quran and discussing the Surahs with Jahanara and the children was his favorite routine during this month.
By Allah's grace Kabir began responding well to the latest Covid Cocktail of therapeutics. He was going through speech therapy three to four hours every day. His speech therapist, Dr Munira Khan, informed Jahanara, the first name he had no issue pronouncing was Jolsha. Even though he was thinking the correct way to pronounce a word, his speech impediment was not allowing to properly say it. However, with certain words, just like his daughter's name, he didn't have any problems whatsoever saying them.
When historians will be writing about this pandemic maybe hundred years from now, they would probably rightfully write about the horrific statistics regarding the number of deaths as well as economic disasters. They will however miss writing about a family living in Bangladesh who all tested positive with the Corona Virus and who not only beat it but also ended by thriving. They ended up transforming their lives for the better through their love of the family as well as their unwavering faith.
Ajay Malhotra came to Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE, some forty five years earlier. He came from a small town in Maharashtra, India. Since Ajay was the oldest of the siblings, his father, Prasad Malhotra, decided to take a big chunk of money from his savings and send him to this middle eastern country with huge oil reseves so that Prasad could get established there and help out his three brothers and two sisters financially. He started working as a mechanic at a body shop but advanced very quickly to being a manager and then became a partial owner.
In the meantime he went back to India and married the girl that his parents had already picked for him. He then came back to the Emirates and applied for his wife, Priya's residence visa. Priya came over the following year and moved to a bigger apartment. As you might guess, the next big event was the arrival of their first born, Sunil. Then came Rekha and Anil. As Ajay's income increased, he and Priya decided to enroll their kids to one of the top schools in the country. Life was nothing short of perfect for the Malhotras.
For the next thirty years, Ajay ended up not only owning a car repair company but a supermarket chain, a restaurant and even a money exchange company. He had become a billionaire by fifty. Ajay made sure he followed his dad's advice in making sure never to be selfish and always to share one's fortune. So Ajay didn't waste any time after amassing his wealth and started staying in India for a longer periods of time. The reason for his longer stay in his home country was to build three schools (one specifically for girls), one hospital and a glass factory employing mostly with people with disabilities.
His children too progressed really well with their studies first, their career and also family life. Sunil ended up at Harvard Business School and finished his MBA there before coming back to UAE and starting his own software company. Rekha chose Cornell University to study medicine. She did her internship at Mount Sinai Hospital in Bronx. She met her future husband, Kunal, there who just started his full time position as a cardiologist. Rekha's specialty was oncology and she too was offered a fulltime job there. The two dated for about a couple of years before deciding to get married.
Fast forward to 2020. Ajay and Priya were now proud grandparents of eight from their now three established children. Rekha and Anil opted staying in the US with their families while Sunil decided to take care of his parents and remain in Abu Dhabi with his family. Sunil decided to take his wife, Lata, and his three kids, Jaya, Sita, and Maya to India on vacation in the middle of February. While in India Sunil started hearing about a virus called Corona in the news. He, just like many other people, didn't even pay much attentions to it thinking it will eventually go away. However, after few days, when they heard in the news that a couple of people in China had died of the virus, they took a little more time to follow it more closely. When in the pursuing days they started to hear about more deaths, Sunil seriously started to think about cutting short his family's vacation and returning back to the UAE with them. In fact the following day, it had spread to more countries and Sunil thought he would wait for one more day to find out if the virus would spread to even more countries. They following day it was the WHO that announced the start of a pandemic.
That very day many countries announced total lockdowns and with that canceled flights flying in and out. UAE too canceled every route across the world immediately. That obviously forced Sunil and his family to be stuck in India without knowing when they would be able to head back to the UAE. His parents felt they were stuck in the UAE without the option of flying over to any of their children's places. Rekha and her family were stuck too in their home with New York enforcing complete lockdown. Anil and his family faced similar uncertainties in Doha.
Most people who were asked to work from home during a lockdown grew very anxious with the possibility of losing their jobs eventually. Anxiety level also rose as even most experts didn't know how long the pandemic would last as they had no clue how long it would take for any country to develop a vaccine. Even simple chores like buying groceries became a major source of stress in people's lives. They also started to worry about their children's schoolwork even though some of the schools were thinking of going fully online. The level of tension between family members rose significantly since they had to remain with each other 24/7.
One morning Ajay woke up in cold sweat with his anxiety elevated to a level he had never experienced before. The first thing he did was go to the balcony to get some fresh air as he for the first time felt very fearful of the unknown. Not being able to fly to his children also contributed to this feeling of hopelessness. His biggest worry was what if he got really sick and was then taken to the hospital but none of his family members were there. He also was terrified not being able to recover as he already had asthma to start with.
Ajay started to wake up later than before and went to bed late at night as well. Priya was so concerned with this drastic of a change in Ajay's behavior that she told her children to Skype their dad often. While talking to a friend on Skype, Sunil first heard of Zoom. He decided to Zoom his dad instead and hence became a part of the Zoom revolution during the pandemic. His dad too started to enjoy and hence use Zoom not only with his children and relatives but also with his business partners and friends. It seemed like his new app did help Ajay cope with lockdown a little better.
Anil and his wife Urmila were both concerned when they were caught off guard and didn't happen to have their masks on when they opened their home door for the grocery delivery guy from Carrefour. For some reason the delivery person too didn't have his mask on. It's one of those incidents you know that you cannot undo but it never goes away from your mind and keeps bugging you without end. The classic questions that frequented their mind over and over again were "could I get infected with that little exposure" and "how could I let my guard down like that".
Fortunately the couple got a false alarm as they tested negative for Covid. People's level of fear in general skyrocketed during the pandemic. It was pretty much always in the back of their mind what if they get the virus going to the grocery store or just by tearing the delivery box and touching the items there without washing them extensively. Life became very challenging even without transmission of the virus. The unknowns kept getting more and more and the answers became more confusing as everyone had more questions.
Few days later Ajay got a call from his best friend's wife, Devi, telling him that Jay tested positive for the Covid virus and has been admitted to Sultan Hospital. She also informed Ajay that he was having considerable problem breathing. Being his best friend Ajay's initial reaction was to get ready to see Jay at the hospital. When Devi told him even she couldn't go to visit him and communicates with him via Facetime, Ajay's hopelessness took a turn for the worse. He thought if Jay who never left the house could test positive for Covid then anyone could get it.
Ajay's fear now turned into a phobia. He was consumed with anxieties regarding the possibility of him somehow becoming sick with the Corona virus. He even refused to open the door to get grocery delivered to his house. Instead he requested the store to have the delivery person leave his groceries near his door which he later picked up after the person was long gone. Even though Rekha always offered to help, Ajay took it upon himself to make sure no stone was left unturned after picking up the grocery items and making sure to wipe the bags and boxes with Clorox wipes before placing fruits and vegetables inside a large bowl of hot water.
The dreaded three am call woke Ajay and Rekha up. Ajay's sister, Sushmita, called from Bangalore to tell him his older brother, Suresh, was taken to the hospital after complaining of extreme shortness of breath and very high fever. She told him after the ambulance came over she was stopped by the police to enter the vehicle. Instead she along with their grown children were taken separately to the hospital for testing and then were dropped off to their home and asked to wait for the test results and if infected start a fourteen day quarantine in their home. Every house with Covid patients had police stationed outside it to make sure people inside complete their quarantine.
Even though the Malhotras had bought a really good treadmill five years earlier, it wasn't used much until during the pandemic when Rekha finally inaugurated it with a daily routine of walking for an hour every morning. Ajay followed suit by using it in the evening for an hour. Ajay also restarted his older hobby of painting. He was thrilled when he could order his art materials from online. Rekha noticed her husband's face lit up as he began putting paint on a blank canvas. Ajay decided to work on an abstraction of the colorful Corona virus itself.
Even though Covid death continued to rise and the unknown factors were still adding tremendous stress to billions of people all around the world, some people started to bring more and more routine in their daily lives to cope better. Ajay decided to continue to pay his employees, which totaled around six thousand, while they remained home for lockdown. Additionally he also decided to pay for their groceries as well. Ajay didn't stop there but instead started to connect with his business partners around the world to see how he can assist under-served people around the world. His company's global revenue obviously fell significantly in the second quarter with both the employees and even the customers ordered to stay home. This sense of shared sacrifice however helped business leaders like Ajay to still be engaged in taking care of their workers and even going beyond their company and lending a helping hand for local causes. Just like he got involved in helping his fellow Indians who lost their jobs and still didn't receive any financial help from government. He decided to donate a significant chunk from his annual philanthropic budget.
The following day Sushmita called and told Ajay that Jay's condition worsened and had to have support of a ventilator. His oxygen saturation level dipped to 67. Even though Ajay was very well connected he rarely wanted to take any advantage with his perks. But when he heard about his brother's deteriorating conditions, he called a friend, Suresh, who was the brother of Mumbai's largest hospital chain. Even though Ajay knew no one could personally go and visit Covid patients, Suresh could at least tell his brother to ask the doctor overseeing Jay's treatment to take good care of him.
The Malhotra family decided they would all Zoom on Saturdays and maintain that even beyond Covid. Hence started a tradition.
"Hello Papa and Mama. How are you doing?" asked Sunil sitting on a huge sofa with his entire family.
"We are doing okay. How about you all? You all are looking good. My only request to you is not to forget about your neighbor and always try to find out how they are doing," reminded the concerned dad.
"You are absolutely right Papa. We still feel so blessed that we have the luxury of being able to work from home. There are so many who don't have that choice," added Anil with his wife and kids sitting next to him at their home office.
"Hello everyone. Really nice to see you all. I'm having a blast as I can now finally have some time to binge watch some of the Netflix shows that were on the back of my mind but couldn't get to them somehow," started off Kunal as Rekha and the kids waved at the camera.
"I'm so happy that you all look so healthy," shared Priya with a relaxed smile that she claimed was a result of years of practicing meditation.
"Hello Dada, Dadi, great to see you. I'll email you a story that I started to write during lockdown. Please tell me how it could be improved. Thanks," added Maya, the writer in the family.
"We are so proud of you, Mayou. You are so talented. Your Dada always keeps saying Maya could write about this and that when she grows up all the time. Take advantage of this lockdown to further your writing skills," said Priya while Ajay kept nodding his head and adding phrases like "I totally agree" and "I'm very proud of you too".
"How are you two doing, Dada, Dadi. Wish we could visit you now," reminded Jaya, who with her mom, stayed over at her grandparents for three years after being born. His dad was in the US completing his Phd.
"We would have been even better if you all were here. Let's hunker down till this pandemic goes away," said Ajay.
"Namaste Papa Mama. Great to see you in good health. Seems like finally the entire world has united in this struggle against a common virus," spoke up Urmila as Ajay looked on.
"You aways speak like a wise sage, Urmila. How is your work going? You can work from home right?" asked Priya.
"Yes of course we are both working from home. However both of us are finding working from home definitely has its perks but also has negative points like our regular meetings seem to be more intense for some reason," said Anil.
After being on Zoom for more than two hours, the Malhotra family members decided to to wrap their meeting up until next time. All of them expressed how excited they were for their weekly meeting as it would give them something to look forward to at a time of so many uncertainties. Ajay bought himself a hair trimmer on Amazon to look good not only for his business partners but also his family. The first time he tried it on himself, Priya gave the haircut a C plus. The next time Priya insisted that she trim Ajay's hair. Ajay gave her haircut an A plus.
The "new normals" started becoming more normal as the days kept rolling by. Like wearing masks before going outside and avoiding large crowd became second nature. Also buying groceries online was the new way to fill up the refrigerator. Sunil, Anil and Rekha used an online delivery company called Zomato to order and have delivered to his parents for their fifty eighth wedding anniversary. They also ordered tulips for their mom's birthday and an iPad for mother's day. Their dad got a golf club set as well an iPhone from their children.
Ajay was thrilled when after calling the Abu Dhabi Golf Club he found that he would be able to use their driving range as long as he wore a mask and maintained a significant distance with other golfers. Rekha was the best golfer of the family and she's the one who introduced it to her dad. She started competing in high school and kept maintaining it at a competitive level through college. She was so good she could have turned pro with a little more work if she wanted to but decided to just enjoy it as a serious hobby. Her dad was now hooked on to the game and headed to the course every weekend.
Priya went with Ajay to the range. She decided to take a flask of tea along with samosas, dalpuris and other snacks. While Ajay started working on his swings, Priya sat down on the grass with a book. She was a bookworm and recently started to read "The History of Pandemics". As Ajay went from drivers and hybrids to iron clubs his mind kept drifting to his businesses. Ajay always maintained sometimes it's okay to multitask even when it comes to doing things for relaxation. Being out in the open the mind opened up even more for the overachieving businessman.
After Ajay was done working on his golf swings, he and Priya sat on the grass and enjoyed their teatime outside for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Ajay surprised his children with a quick Zoom call to show them where they were. The grand kids enjoyed the grandparents' little pandemic adventure more thatn the adults did. The children's response was "wow, it's beautiful over there" while the adults' were "be careful and make sure your you wear a mask all the time while outside". They were all glad that at least some Malhotras were still having some fun during Covid.
Weeks turned into months and the pandemic based normal established itself to be a productive normal for many including Sunil. While in lockdown, Sunil decided to devote more time with online stock trading. Companies like Amazon and even Clorox became the ideal stay-at-home stocks. Sunil developed a method where he started to become very proficient in making pretty good money on an almost daily basis. He shared his methods with his siblings and even his parents and encouraged them to give it a try as he told them it was a great way to supplement one's income.
Almost everyone in the Malhotra clan decided to work on their hobbies during lockdown. Anil's passion in learning the tabla became his sole focus of the pandemic. His Saturday online class was extended to Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. He was really happy with the progress he was making. Rekha's love for painting led to her buy quite a few canvases of different sizes and paints. She was good enough to be able to get a spot to exhibit her artworks at Boston Open Air Art Exhibition three years in running. She started working on producing enough materials for an online exhibition. Priya spent most of her retirement years going back to pursue her passion - playing classical compositions on the violin. Multiple lockdowns gave her the time to improve on her techniques to the point where she could then get ready for hosting online concerts. That would take her closer to playing real live ones. She told everyone when she played morning ragas in the morning or evening ones in the evening, her state of consciousness was so pure that no ill thoughts or wishes could stain it in any shapes or forms. Priya however felt very guilty about living such a comfortable life while in her home country of India so many people were living in utter despair and losing their lives.
Ajay's stock portfolio gained new highs as his wealth increased significantly. He felt compelled to share some of it with his country folks who weren't that fortunate. He decided to donate couple of million dollars to a hospital of his boyhood hometown of Bangalore. Its director almost started to cry when thanking Ajay for his significant philanthropic endeavor. One of the reasons Ajay chose that particular hospital was because it was overwhelmed with patients who were severely ill and lot of them were dying because there weren't enough ventilators. Ajay also decided to have a Zoom meeting every week with few of his doctor friends to continue to look for and find ways to help more people suffering from Covid. He also suggested to create funds for family members whose bread earner tested positive and hospitalized and/or died of the virus. The Indian government was struggling with managing lockdowns and providing food and other benefits for the masses. Ajay, who had struggled for ages to find meaning in what he was doing in life, felt very fulfilled and grateful in a long time.
Meanwhile Rekha along with her husband were asked to see Covid patients as New York's hospitals started to get overwhelmed with very sick . They both started with couple of hours of overtime that eventually turned to ten to twelve hours of working extra. Little did they realize they were about to enter the worst period of the pandemic. From having to be excessively careful in making sure to properly wear the n95 masks when treating patients to making sure they were absolutely virus free when they went back home, most doctors' lives were turned upside down. Patients had to wait outside the hospital with some of them passing out and even dying before they had a chance to see any doctor. Hospitals were so understaffed they were begging doctors and nurses from other states to join them with a higher salary. Personal protection equipments were starting to run out to the point where emergency healthcare professionals, like Rekha and Mukesh had to use the same mask for three four days instead of wearing them just once and tossing them. Quite a few doctors started to get sick themselves.
Unfortunately it didn't take long for Rekha to get symptoms of Covid. She woke up one morning with chills and a cough that wasn't going away. It was a good thing that both she and Mukesh decided to keep a distance from their children after they started going to care for Covid patients. They would only communicate with them via Zoom and bought groceries for the kids online while they would eat out. Rekha, however, started to worry about Mukesh. They both had to get tested for Covid while starting a fourteen day quarantine in a hotel.
Their fear turned into reality as they both tested positive for Covid. Between the two, Rekha started to feel worse. She had a very high fever with a big headache and her breathing was getter more labored. Mukesh, on the other hand, was more or less assymptomatic. He advised Rekha to go to a hospital but his fiesty spouse decided to fight it out as long as she could. Rekha also knew she wouldn't be abe to facetime or Zoom her kids any time she wanetd if she was admitted to a hospital. Mukesh was the type of dad with lots of love for his kids but also believed they should learn to face adversities and come up with solutions accordingly with their parents' help obviously.
Rekha and Mukesh decided not to tell their family about their Covid diagnosis. They knew how much of worriers each and every of their family members were to start with. On top that the fact that they wouldn't be able to do anything about it would make things much worse. Besides the husband wife team with their type A personality believed in themselves enough not to even worry too much about their ordeal. They thought of themselves to be problem solvers and treated their situation as a problem that just needed to be taken care of.
Unfortunately Rekha's condition worsened to the point where she didn't have a choice but get admitted to hospital. Her temperature was well over 103 F and she was starting to struggle with her breathing which she had never experienced before Covid was turning everything upside down as for the first time Rekha went to her hospital as a patient rather than a doctor. As she was being taken to her room at the hospital she saw many of her colleagues but couldn't even talk to them as her condition kept deteriorating. Mukesh obviosuly couldn't accompany her.
It didn't take long for Ajay and Priya to find out about Rekha. The giveaway was when Priya Zoomed her daughter she immediately recognized the change in the background. After Rekha got busted she had to give it a positive spin by telling her mom she got herself admitted to her place of work so that she could be monitored better there. As they say no one even comes close in figuring out how a child is doing than a mother. Priya could pick up the struggle Rekha had in maintaining the conversation. Rekha had to tell her mom how she was feeling.
"You always find out Momma. No use hiding from you even though our intention was not to worry you and Papa," said the daughter, struggling even more with her breaths.
"Priya beti, please don't worry. You'll be fine soon. I know you being a doctor you would obviously know but don't you think you need support of oxygen now?" asked the really concerned mom.
"I'm trying to delay it as long as I can. But you are right Momma, I think it's time for me to ask my doctor for oxygen," replied Rekha after she saw her oxygen saturation reading fell below 85 and was then really having difficulty taking.
"Rekha Beti, just hang up the call and ask the doctor immediately. I'll call Mukesh later to find out about you," advised Priya.
"Okay Momma I'll talk to you later. Love you," replied Rekha and then right away called her doctor for oxygen support.
Meanwhile Mukesh started to feel worse but not bad enough to get in the hospital. Another reason he wanted to stay put where he was, was because he would then be able to at least take care of things for the children, Chhaya and Rupak. The two had to face such big challenges in a very short period of time and yet displayed a sense of calm belying their years.
Ajay and Priya had already gone to sleep when they received a phone call. It was Shushmita calling to let them know that unfortunately Jay couldn't pull through and died of Covid an hour earlier. He was on a ventilator for six weeks and became well enough for his doctor to get him off of it but a week later his condition became critically worse and after that he collapsed into a coma from which he never recovered. Priya never heard Ajay cry that loud before and kept telling Shushmita he wished he could be there right away. The virus dealt a serious blow to the Malhotras. One of their own was taken by this unforgivable killer that didn't care about race, gender, creed, or even one's economic status. All it did was enter one's vulnerable lungs and kept destroying it until the infected literally couldn't breathe anymore and died. When the rest of the family heard about Jay's passing, it hit home. For the first time they felt vulnerable as their family wasn't spared the worst outcome. They were all even more focused on being fully protected to avoid potential exposure to the virus.
The younger generation definitely felt the brunt of the pandemic. They had to adjust to so many situations at such an impressionable age, it did take a major toll on their mental and emotional health. Even before the pandemic Maya was focused on being the best in her class and that sometimes took her stress level to very very high. The pandemic routine made things much worse. Her Zoom class sessions didn't do much for her. She was a people person and watching her friends on a Zoom box felt very strange and impersonal. The length of this experience made it even more stressful. Maya was also a very accomplished athlete. That year she was aiming to reach the finals of the annual high school intramural soccer championship. She was also worried she wasn't getting enough exercise for her to maintain the level of physical fitness required in order to compete in the tournament. How could a virus, she thought, could be so powerful to be able to disrupt pretty much every single person in the world. Kids like Maya felt like they were stuck with no end in sight. The parents too didn't have any answers and were totally incapable of helping their children psychologically.
Meanwhile Ajay's outlook on life in general took a turn for the worse. It was like all of a sudden the most positive person in the world turned into someone who lost interest in most things in life. He couldn't accept the fact that his much younger brother died of the virus that didn't even allow him to attend his funeral. Right after Jay's passing, Ajay pretty much stopped eating, couldn't sleep and for the first time faced so much pain he couldn't even function as a businessman. The unexpected death of his dear brother made Ajay look at life in a way that made everything irrelevant. In fact he kept saying he would give all his wealth up if he could get his brother back even for a day. Ajay who considered himself an atheist started to read Bhagawat Geeta from the beginning. He remembered when he was growing up in Maharashtra his mom used to read to him her favorite verses from the Geeta. He was more interested to find out what happened to the sould after death. All his life he wanted to avoid exploring death. He strongly felt death was just the end of life and that was the end of everything without a heaven or hell. But after Jay died, Ajay wanted to believe in heaven. In fact he searched for online courses on Hinduism and signed up for the course "What do Hinduism teach us about death". He spent most of the day immersed in reading various books related to the course. He was looking for ways to justify his firm belief that Jay will be peaceful in the afterlife. As he was reading up for his class, Ajay started thinking of his own mortality and for the first time ever was petrified thinking about death. He kept thinking about and playing out the various scenarios that Jay had to go through before his passing.
Meanwhile Mukesh started feeling worse as his shortness of breath became almost unbearable and had no choice but to admit himself in the hospital. Before doing so however he had asked his unmarried brother, Suresh, first if he always wore a mask and maintained social distance. Once he got an acceptable answer he also asked him if it would be okay for his children to stay over at his place while both Mukesh and Rekha were recovering at the hospital. When Suresh heard that all he did was ask Mukesh when he could come over to pick his nieces up. Mukesh knew his brother was a free spirit and didn't allow himeself to be bound by either a 9 to 5 job or for that matter a marriage where he would end up always being asked questions by his spouse. He also knew Suresh had a good heart and would give up his life for his family if need be. Mukesh was an avid student of Eckhart Tolle, who propagated to live in the Now and advised everyone to stop their stream of thoughts by focusing on one's sensory perceptions. That's exactly what he did. He got very good at being able to "go into his body" and stay there for at least few minutes if not more.
In the weekly family Zoom call, which was on the day Mukesh had to admit himself at the hospital, he decided to share with everyone his ordeal. The main reason was again his concern for his children. When Ajay heard about it he couldn't help but ask himself when would all this end. He was certain if he didn't talk to a psychiatrist soon he would definitely lose his mind. He also thought perhaps talking to his grandkids more often would take care of his issue. Ajay always thought kids provided a fresh perspective on life that adults tended to miss out on. Ajay reassured Mukesh that he would talk to and find out about his grandkids every hour of the day if he had to but also told his son-in-law to fully put all his efforts in getting better and healthy again. Both Ajay and Priya felt good that someone within the family (especially an in-law) thought of them in time of crisis. After the Zoom Mukesh felt a huge sense of relief as far his children were concerned. When Mukesh informed Rekha about the Zoom call, she literally let out a big sigh of relief. Mukesh couldn't wait any longer as his breathing was becoming more labored.
Mukesh got admitted to a room close to Rekha. Even though the nurses that worked on that unit knew the couple very well, both Mukesh and Rekha had told them not to give them any special treatment. They insisted that the nurses see other patients first before coming to tend to the husband-wife patients' needs. In fact even when once Rekha woke up with a little tightness in her chest and found that her nurse had to see an emergency patient she waited patiently until the nurse got done taking care of her. At first Mukesh didn't think much of these little "perks" as he would call them. But later became conviced by his spouse that practising favoritism - either providing others or receiving it - is the worst form of abuse any professional could carry out. However that was the main reason why their colleagues of doctors and nurses were giving the husband wife doctors turned patients extra special attention knowing very well they would always be the last ones to be asking for help with any concerns. Rekha's boss, Dr Jamie Henderson, had already instructed the doctors and nurses responsible for taking care of Covid patients not to overlook Rekha and Mukesh just because they were doctors.
Sunil and his family remained stuck in India for over two months with no sign of any easing of travel restrictions. The kids who were missing school in the UAE did somehow catch up some of their schoolwork via Zoom. When they saw their friends on Zoom all were so overjoyed they started to cry. When they learned from one of their classmates that their math teacher, Mr. Desouza, had passed due to Covid the week earlier, they were so heartbroken they couldn't even finish their dinner that evening. The airbnb house that they booked and were still staying at (at a much recuded price), was big enough for each of the kids to be by themselves if they so wished.
Families were definitely the best support system during these challenging times but they also became sources of growing tension especially between spouses as well as parents and children. They were seeing each other all the time with nowhere to get away to when some of them started to get on each other's nerves. Unfortunately a lot of unguided kids somehow lost their ways and had entered a very dark hole of depression that they couldn't get out of and succumbed to not the virus but to overdosing of deadly drugs of their choice.
Obviously losing lives was the worst outcome one could experience but there were people who were also losing their hopes and dreams. Anil and Urmila, for example, had applied for Canadian visa three years earlier and were expecting to get a call for their final immigration interview the following year. Instead they found out their visa application was put on hold indefintely. That would not only affect the parents' future plans but also their kids' education and much more. Like their son, Shashi, who was a gifted strudent, always wanted to go to McGill. Missing a Fall semester could potentially mean missing an entire year. Even though Shashi didn't have to study that hard, he still maintained a straight A average. His sister, Sabrina, two years older, on the other hand had to go through her revisions at least three times to feel ready any exam. Being home didn't allow either Shashi to stay stimulated by engaging with his friends socially or Sabrina to get together with her friends to go over mock exams. Even children realized the limits of technology and the importance of social interactions.
Meanwhile Ajay's first Zoom call with Aditya and Priyanka went really well. Instead of Ajay lifting the spirits of the kids, they both lifted his. They started to ask him how he was coping with his brother's death. For the first time, Ajay opened up to his relationship with his deceased brother.
"When I was ten years old, Jay was eight. We were visiting our grandparents' village one summer and went out to swim on the river," started Ajay.
"Do you have pictures of you and your brother from that time that we can see Nana?" asked Priyanka.
"In fact I do as I was looking at them yesterday. I'll take a pic of them and then send them to you," responded the grandfather.
"That goes to show how much close you were to him and also how much love you had for him. Sorry to have interrupted you earlier Nana. Please continue what you were saying about Jay Nana," said Aditya.
"That's okay. As I was saying my brother, Jay, and I were visiting this beautiful village when we were young children. At that time I just learned how to swim and Jay was a very strong swimmer. When we got in the river, our intention was just to cross its width first without stopping as it was quite a small and reasonable distance. Right after we started our swim, I realized that I couldn't stand up if I wanted since the water became very deep suddenly. Just when i realized that I started to panic and started to feel really tired to the point when I felt I was drowning. I did start to drown but then I could feel very strong arms pulling me out of the water. It was Jay. When I somewhat regained my senses I panicked and started to pull at Jay with such intensity that he himself began to drown. He had to do both - prevent me from drowning him and also saving me from drowning. He did both in his usual excellent way and without doubt it was his calm demeanor that saved my life that day. I've always ben grateful for that and reminded and thanked him from time to time," relayed Ajay this beautiful account as he was wiping his tears.
"He was a true hero. We totally understand why you would be upset like that Nana. You know though death is not in any of our hands. I've heard that birth, marriage and death are pre-determined," said Priyanka in her usual adult-like wise perspective.
"Yes my dear, Jay was not only my hero but the hero of the community where he belonged. He didn't even hesitate to jump into trouble himself in order to help others. Found out he got infected with Covid after taking his neighbor to the hospital as he was a recent widower and there was no body to take care of him. But just like you said Jay always thought when death came knocking no could avoid it," expressed Ajay.
"Aww, that is such a beautiful recount Nana. You are a great storyteller and I'm sure Jay Nana would have really appreciated the way you think of him," continued Priyanka.
"I wish I told him more how I felt about him. You may also want to learn from my mistake here to always express to your loved ones how you feel about them," reminded the wise grandpa.
Lockdowns finally started to produce positive results for some countries. The UAE was one of them. They also decided to have their friendliest country India to be the first from where people would be allowed to travel from if they choose to. Sunil and his family didn't waste any time to take full advantage of this opportunity. He bought four tickets right away and got ready to head back to his place of residence, the UAE. His kids too were super excited to be going back and see their Nana and Nani again after a long time.
The happiest person to see them come back in the UAE was Ajay. He always told his friends he felt like whenever he had any of his children close to him, a great weight fell off his shoulder. Sunil took to his dad when it came to having a good sense of business. His other children, on the other hand, joked that they wouldn't be able to sell even a single item if they had a business. In fact they themselves suggested to Sunil that he should follow their dad's footsteps and do really well. They all thought that Sunil would end up becoming a millionaire before any one of the siblings would even come close to being one.
That little bit of positive news went a long way in reviving some hope in the Malhotra homes. Sunil didn't exactly know how life would be during the pandemic in the UAE as opposed to being in India. He kept paying his employees for about six months and then just couldn't afford anymore as his grocery store and restaurant weren't generating much income in order for him stay afloat with the businesses. Ironically his going back to the UAE forced him to decide what to do with his pandemic stricken businesses. Suddenly the joy of going back to the UAE turned into a fear of the unknown.
Unfortunately that good news was followed by a not so good one. Mukesh informed everyone that Rekha's Covid condition has deteriorated the last few days and her oxygen saturation was hovering around higher 80s. When Priya heard about it, she seemed to have lost her overall balance and almost fell down and then she started to hyperventilate. Ajay, who was right behind her, made sure Priya sat down at first. Then he called 999 to which Priya told him it wasn't necessary.
"Just to make sure that your vitals are stable," expressed Ajay.
"...but I feel fine now. For some reason I just lost balance," said Priya.
"You know me though, I don't take any chances especially on health issues. Besides I'll go with you to the hospital and you have nothing to worry about dear" reminded the concerned husband.
"If you say so. You're right though I haven't felt this bad in a long time," agreed Priya.
When they went to the hospital, Ajay wasn't allowed to go in. Since the Malhotras were major donors for that hospital, the administrators and the doctors always made sure that the rich and generous family was always taken care of as much as possible. That was the the reason even though Ajay wasn't allowed in because of Covid, he was however promised if Priya did test positive she would get the best treatment the hospital could provide. Ajay, on the other hand, didn't like favoritism and always refused any favors he was offered. However sometimes he was swept into situations where he ended up needing and getting others help without even being conscious about it. Priya ended up getting admitted in the hospital for observation. When Ajay went back home he was overwhelmed with such loneliness that it started affecting him mentally.First his brother's death and now his wife, his best friend, was in the hospital. Ajay's another passion in life was listening to ghazals. His favorite ghazal singer, the late Jagjit Singh, always gave him this sense of getting away that he didn't get from anything else. He used to describe this genre of Indian music as one with couplets where just a couple of lines shed light on life's every twists and turns. Ajay, who bought quite a few albums of Jagjit and his wife Chitra Singh on LPs started listening to them on his Sansui player that he had bought close to forty years earlier. As he kept listening to each and every one of the ghazals, he became overwhelmed with emotions and couldn't help but had teary eyes. Ajay used to joke with his friends the sadness that ghazals addressed actually brought out a joy that only this music could bring out. He didn't even realize that he had been listening to the music till sunrise. He was about to make himself a cup of coffee when he heard his mobile phone ring. It was Sunil. He wanted to know how hos mom was doing and then said he and his family had to wait for a little while before they could come back to the UAE as they had to wait their turn on limited arrivals of flights from the UAE.
Meanwhile Priya's doctor called and let Ajay know that her breast cancer that was in remission for years had unfortunately come back and it had to be treated right away. Ajay. who was sleep deprived for days, just lost it and almost passed out before he could somehow hold himself together. Before then Ajay would never ask a friend or for that matter a family member for any help during challenging times. But that day he couldn't help but call his good friend of years, Ramesh Mishra. He just wanted to talk to someone and share everything that was happening to him.
"You know me Ramesh that I have always been very strong and didn't need any physical, mental, psychological or even spiritual support ever. But of late I've started feeling very weak and helpless with this pandemic. By the way thanks for agreeing to hear me out," said Ajay.
"No problem Ajay. You know pandemics are very rare and your reaction to this is very normal. Don't overthink," added Ramesh.
"No but it just doesn't feel right. Priya was always there for me and now with her being in the hospital I'm at a total loss," continued Ajay.
"You know Ajay you have reached heights of success that most of us could only dream of. You did everything right not only financially but also when it came to your family," reminded Ramesh.
But those successes are still very common. What I lacked in life and even now is the spiritual part. I know I'm not religious but I'm also not spiritual. That's why during times like these I collapse. I have to start believing in something," expanded Ajay.
"One good thing about this is you can start it anytime. My advice to your is to start reading on this to even find out if this is for you or not," continued Ramesh.
"You are right Ramesh I was once a voracious reader but unfortunately not anymore. I have to go back to that passion. I have a Kindle that I haven't used in years. Will have to do a search on inspirational and spiritual books," agreed Ajay.
"Another quality you have is humility. You still are willing to get advice from someone like me," said Ramesh chuckling.
"What are you saying Ramesh, you are such a successful person. You do everything your own way and not follow others. I wish I could do that," interjected Ajay.
"Thank you my friend. It means a lot coming from someone like you," commented Ramesh.
Priya's oncologist called and informed Ajay that her cancer had returned in an extremely aggressive manner and she had to start chemo in couple of days. It was stage 4 now and the prognosis didn't look good. Ajay became so hopeless that suddenly he was filled with some hope for no good reason. He did reach the bottom most of the bottom. There wasn't any way to go but up. He decided feeling sad would not help Priya whatsoever. Instead he was going to fight for Priya in any way he could and make sure that however long she lived, she lived with her dignity and purpose in life intact.
The following day Ajay brought Priya home and promised her he would help her any way he could to beat the cancer. Priya was pleasantly surprised to see her husband sincerely trying to help her. Even though Ajay sincerely loved Priya over the years, he had always been unable to show affection towards her, which Priya really didn't mind as she knew what was in Ajay's heart. As Priya wasn't the type craving for affection, she was perfectly happy without the outward display of love that most women expect from their husbands. In the afternoon Ajay decided he would cook himself even though their chef and his two helpers made them dishes very few people got to taste on a daily basis. Ajay also out of the blue decided he would start taking Indian classical flute that he wanted to do for a long time. He also convinced Priya to go back to Hindustani classical singing. Priya did appear on Indian TV when she was much younger but like many she had to give it up after her family got bigger. Even though during Covid getting a music teacher come home and teach was a very difficult task but not for Ajay. He helped build a music school that was part of the Indian School of Abu Dhabi. All Ajay had to do was call the principal who agreed to send a flute and a vocal teacher after they were done with their classes.
The next thirty days was one of the most beautiful month for the couple. Even though Ajay kept struggling to even get a single note out of the flute, he was thrilled just to be close to Priya and listen to her singing. Ajay knew he didn't have the talent for music but was a devout patron of music - especially classical. Priya was the talent of the family. She sang well enough to become a regular radio artist when she was much younger. It all came back for her as she went through the scales. Her instructor was very impressed with her talent.
One day while Priya was practicing her scales, she felt seriously dizzy and couldn't balance herself and fell on the floor. She cried out loud "Ajay, Ajay". Ajay, who was finishing off reading Gulf News, ran towards the scream and found Priya laying unconscious on the kitchen floor. He called 999 right away. The ambulance arrived within minutes and took her to the hospital. After regaining consciousness, Priya wanted to see Ajay to tell him she was doing okay as she knew her husband was the greatest worrier of the family. As Ajay was going to see Priya he got a call from Mukesh telling him Rekha was put on a ventilator. Because of her young age the doctor gave her fifty fifty chances. When Ajay went over to see Priya, she right away knew there was something wrong. Ajay was adamant not to tell Priya about Rekha.
"What's wrong Ajay? Is everyone okay?" asked Priya without hesitation.
"Yes Priya everything is okay?" responded Ajay in a haphazard way.
"I didn't ask if everything was okay," pressed Priya.
"I don't know Priya our world is falling apart. For the first time ever I feel totally defeated. Really don't know what to do about anything anymore," let out Ajay.
"Don't forget when we took the vow quite a few years ago, we took it not only to carry us through good times. That's easy," reminded Priya.
"You definitely have a gift to make things easier for people so that they have no choice other than to divulge the truth," relayed Ajay.
"Truth always sets us free," reminded Priya
"I didn't want to tell you this but Mukesh called and said Rekha...," started Ajay.
"She is on a ventilator now?" Priya interrupted Ajay and wanted a confirmation.
"A mother's instinct is truly remarkable. You have the best one for sure," said Ajay.
"Did Mukesh tell you what her oxygen saturation is?" asked Priya right away.
"No I was so distraught I couldn't even speak after that," reminded Ajay.
"Poor child of mine. Why couldn't I get Covid and spare her. She has been so fragile since she was born. Life is so unfair," shared Priya why crying uncontrollably.
"Maybe I haven't done enough when it comes to helping others. Why is God unpleased with us I wonder," Ajay did some self assessment.
”If you say you haven’t done enough even God will be upset with you for not being totally honest,” responded Priya.
“Then why are we being tested so much at this point in time? What have we done to deserve this,” questioned Ajay.
”If we understood what God really wants for and from us all the time we would have become spiritual leaders. Always know sometimes what we think is good for us can end up being very bad and vice versa, “ Priya enlightened Ajay.
”You are something else Priya. You are so much wiser than I am,” said Ajay with so much love and respect for his spouse.
“I just have a feeling Rekha will come out of it soon. Call it another one of a mother’s instinct,” went on Priya.
”Now when you come out of your own struggling test victorious we’ll have to celebrate by taking a long family vacation. Do you think the kids will agree to come with us? “ added Ajay.
”I don’t know if they will or not since some of them would also have to think about their kids school,” remarked Priya.
Just like Priya had predicted Rekha did come out of ventilator support the following week but her oxygen saturation level was still very much on the lower side. Ajay, Priya and the rest of the family were also really worried about Mukesh since he was hardly getting any sleep.
The biggest lesson that Ajay learned from the challenges of a pandemic is that having money couldn’t solve all the problems that he had previously thought would. In fact some of his wealthy friends who contracted the virus told him they were ready to give away all their money if they could get well again. Unfortunately a couple of them didn’t make it. Ajay decided to promise God that if he and his family were spared further pain from the pandemic he would dedicate the rest of his life doing whatever He wanted him to do. One thing that Ajay’s friends and family can truly rely on is his promise. When Priya heard Ajay’s promise to God, she was truly delighted. She was certain that was Ajay’s turning point as far as spirituality was concerned. She asked Ajay if God didn’t fulfill all his wished if he would still hold on to his part of the bargain. He replied it would be difficult but he would try his best.
Seemed like God was indeed giving His blessings to Ajay and his family as Rekha’s condition started to improve in a significant way. Her oxygen saturation level was now excellent and she was on the way to a full recovery. Priya’ a scans too looked much better as to the size of the tumor became smaller after few sessions of chemo. Ajay tried to keep his end of the promise by waking up one day and actually going over to the prayer room that they had for years but he was nowhere to be found near it. Upon entering it Ajay started to thank God for his immeasurable blessings that were bestowed upon them within hours. In fact the following day Ajay spent there a little bit longer. It was like all of a sudden a very huge weight that he was unknowingly carrying all these years over his shoulders suddenly were removed and Ajay felt very light. It was almost like he had just started to breathe after decades. Ajay felt peace! He not only started reading more religious books but also attended prayers regularly at the temple and also started to encourage his friends to come more often to find much peace that really doesn’t arise from anything else. Ajay always asserted that his wealth building had been based on a belief that if a business was sincere in helping (and not just do business with) clients and customers, it would be successful eventually. That’s how he felt about his relationship with God. He was convinced his short journey to the spiritual side had successes here and there due to his sincere devotion in his attempt to understand and please God.
Rekha recovered fully and went back home to Mukesh and their kids. She kept telling friends and family it was like she had a new lease on life. When you come back from life support in the form of a ventilator you know that it was too close. It easily could’ve gone the other way but didn’t. Since then Rekha began to desperately search for answers as to why her life was spared whereas hundreds of thousands couldn’t make it. Like her dad she too started to look inward to find answers but unlike him she stayed away from the religious perspective. Instead she just kept with her spiritual side.
Of course Covid had been a period of great sufferings and challenges for the entire world but even then if one wanted to find something good come out it one could as proven by the Malhotra family. Everyone in the family thought about another member first before thinking about themselves. Practically they displayed a caring nature that worked miracles in the end and hence could also come out of this nightmare known as Covid.