Published: 20th April 2020
Hospital hopping in the age of corona: How Ujjal Karmakar, the second COVID-19 survivor from Kolkata, made it through
We spoke to Ujjal Karmakar, the second Coronavirus positive patient to have recovered in Kolkata. He tells us how he won over the deadly virus with the help of healthcare workers and will power
While India fights the Corona war, Ujjal Karmakar has won his battle with the virus. The 49-year-old, a real estate developer from Kolkata was discharged from the AMRI Hospital on Friday, April 17 after he was treated there for over a span of two weeks. Doctors have directed him to stay in self-isolation for another 14 days, following which he will go through a thorough check-up again to find out if he has any other recurring issues pertaining to the virus.
Ujjal tells us he felt like a celebrity when he was escorted out of the hospital, "I have been watching myself on television after I came back. I do not wish to sound dramatic but people clapped for me at the hospital like I had emerged triumphant after fighting a deadly war," he quips, adding that all his friends, relatives and acquaintances have called up to make sure he is fine and that he feels eternally grateful to these people, especially the medical fraternity.
We spoke to Ujjal on Saturday, April 18, after he had completed 24 hours back home and was well-rested. He told us that he's been feeling better already except a backache, which the doctors told him is not a side effect of the virus and will go away eventually.
Ujjal, who is not yet certain where he could have contracted the Coronavirus, had recorded a mild temperature first on March 23. He did not have any other symptoms as such. "I had some amount of body ache but I took a paracetamol and went to sleep that day. I had gone out for work on March 22 just hours before the lockdown was imposed at midnight. I am guessing I could have come in contact with someone or some kind of surface which might have had the virus at my workplace that day. My fever kept on recurring from March 23 onwards," he explains.
At first, when he had spoken to his family doctor, Ujjal was advised to take paracetamol twice a day. However, when he realised that the fever hadn't receded in almost six days, he knew he had a reason to worry. "I was finally admitted to the Apollo Hospital on March 30. My doctor had asked me to go to Beliagha ID Hospital which is the dedicated medical facility in Kolkata for COVID-19 patients. I hesitated and had told him I would like to get admitted to a private hospital and as Apollo also has separate wards now for Corona patients, my doctor agreed. I wasn't immediately tested for COVID-19. They had first conducted a chest CT scan to check if I had developed any symptoms of pneumonia. I was diagnosed with mild pneumonia. I was too weak then and I don't remember the exact date when they finally got me tested for COVID-19. I was on drip medication, antibiotics, pneumonia-specific medication and was being given food regularly," says Ujjal.
He was tested for the Coronavirus on April 2 and his results came back as positive. "The results took some time. They had tested me twice, they conducted the swab test. I had waited for over 24 hours, as far as I can remember, for the final results to get back. After the news, I was a bit scared but then I was already being cared for by the medical staff. My family including my wife, children and my brother and his family were taken to the isolation wards in Rajarhat after my test results came in," he adds.
Ujjal tells us that he was utterly satisfied with the medical facilities and treatment at the hospital. He was being given four sumptuous meals per day, with the dinner being non-vegetarian. "I couldn't eat most of the time as I had a persisting cough and was quite weak. I had bananas, cornflakes or bread for breakfast and skipped lunch and the evening snacks on most of the days. I would drink tea in the evening sometime and then around 8-8.30pm I would be served dinner, I quite liked the chicken curry they gave me," he laughs.
Ujjal has no complaints about how he was taken care of at the private hospital. He tells us that the medical workers are extremely cordial, caring, cautious and they gave him hope and the strength to carry on the fight. "I am grateful to them for making me believe that I will recover from it, that they are always there beside the common people in these times of despair. The doctor came to observe the patients every day and gave us immense willpower to continue the battle," he says. He also added that the health workers followed all the protocols — wearing masks, using gloves, sanitising the rooms and themselves, covering themselves in protective gear every time they came near the patients and the beds were put at a distance following the guidelines by the World Health Organisation.
As he was recovering, on April 9, something strange happened that took him by surprise. "There were 18 COVID-19 positive patients at Apollo and we were all asked to get ready as the medical staff said we were being taken to the MR Bangur Hospital, which is Kolkata's first government COVID-19 dedicated facility. I asked them a few times why this sudden change of plans but no one really said anything. One of the workers told us that according to the Central and state government guidelines we have to be taken to the government facility and will be treated free of cost. We were taken there, no more questions asked," reveals Ujjal.
What he then observed was that the government facility was not as well-maintained or equipped as the private hospital he was kept at until now. "The beds were kept at one hand distance, not really too far away. And the doctor only came once in a day to ask if we were doing fine, the nurses placed the medicines from afar on a table kept in front of each patient. On the first day, they gave us seven tablets together in the afternoon. They were giving us antibiotics, pneumonia medicines, some gas medicines and Hydroxychloroquine. I was also being given the anti-malarial drug," explains the 49-year-old survivor. Ujjal wasn't too happy with the facilities at the government hospital, which he revealed to us clearly. He was asked to go to the washroom by himself when he was weak and couldn't get up from his bed for long hours. "They didn't provide me with a pot or help me with reaching the washroom and I didn't go till the next day," he adds. They were treated at the government facility free of cost.
On March 11, all the 18 patients were again transferred to AMRI hospital, part of another chain of private hospitals in Kolkata. "By evening we were taken to AMRI, we still didn't know why we were being transferred here and there. I still don't. My family was also not told anything, only that I was admitted to AMRI now," he adds. After five days of recuperation, Ujjal was finally released on April 17. He adds that in AMRI too they were taken care off pretty adequately and he's quite satisfied, however, at first he was told when they were being taken to AMRI that they would be treated free of cost but later on the hospital had prepared a bill and asked for money from his family. "I was told it would be free of cost but later when I was discharged they gave me a bill. I told them I had a medical policy and that would cover my expenses but it needs to availed cashless and the company needed to be informed within 24 hours of my admission, which was not done as we were told there is no charge. The hospital hasn't called me anymore, their staff escorted me back home on Friday and behaved quite cordially. I have told my insurance company to take it up with the hospital and assured AMRI that we will make the payment soon," says Ujjal.
Despite all the travel between hospitals, Ujjal seems quite content with the treatment he received. He urges people to not be afraid and apprise the health authorities if anyone experiences symptoms of COVID-19. "It is not something to be terrified of, it can be cured with proper treatment and timely diagnosis. For which people have to inform the medical fraternity as soon as they feel they have symptoms or are not sure why they might be sick. I have recovered and do not feel any kind of bodily disturbance. Now I am following what the doctors directed me to do. Let's hope for the best!" he concludes.