“How Could I Be Positive If I Don’t Have Any Symptoms?”

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Author’s Note: This is the story of my friend who chooses to remain anonymous. Like many others diagnosed with Coronavirus, he’s suffered too. Not physically, but definitely emotionally and mentally. His story raises a lot of valid questions—not just on the system but also on us. I’m just the messenger!

On 24th February 2020, around 4 pm, I was enjoying the sights of the Vatican with my wife when a tweet told me that Northern Italy had gone into a semi-lockdown, including the city of Venice. I was shocked, to say the least. Four days back, I was happily enjoying a Gondola ride in the canals of Venice. Everything was normal there. We didn’t see a soul wearing a mask. There wasn’t any paranoia or even information about a deadly virus spreading through the city. What changed in four days? How did it get so bad that they had to put an entire city in lockdown?

Anyway, we continued our trip. We felt thankful for not having the missed the Venice Carnival. (Stupid us! I know…) A little scared, but hopeful. We came back to India. Our flight landed on 26th February, at 2 am in Delhi. We went through immigration without a glitch. Most importantly, we weren’t screened or questioned at all. It was surprising, but we thought maybe that protocol was only for flights coming from China.

Life resumed as usual. Or so I thought. On March 1st, I woke up with some body pain. It was so mild that I ignored it, blaming it on a long trip or a bad sleeping posture maybe. March 2nd, the ache was still there. I ignored it again and went to the office. Things got a bit scary around lunch that day when I read on inShorts that an Indian man with travel history to Italy had tested positive for Coronavirus. I immediately started reading about the virus. I knew one of the symptoms was body ache, which follows after fever. The other prime symptom was cough. But I had none.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried. After consulting with my family doctor, I got myself tested at RML Hospital on the very same day. Being among the earliest cases in Delhi, the whole procedure took me around 15-20 minutes. I was asked to self-isolate myself at home for two days until the results came back, which took about 48 hours. I did as I was told.

March 3: I woke up feeling perfectly fine. No body ache.

March 4: Around 2 pm, I had a few missed calls from two unknown numbers. I tried calling them back. The mobile number was busy, and the landline number played an automated message. Now, an automated message usually is harmless. You’d think it’s some lame customer care number. But not this one. Three words stood out in that message: Delhi Ambulance Service. I knew something was not right. I started panicking.

The mobile number called back; it was the District Surveillance Officer. What happened next, my friends, turned my world over its head. I was informed that I had tested positive for coronavirus. An ambulance was en route to take me to the hospital. I was told of the protocol I had to follow until I reached Safdarjung Hospital. You might be wondering what was going on in my mind. Honestly, it drew a blank. I felt numb. How could I be positive if I don’t have any symptoms? I’m fine. I was fine. I felt fine. But, I wasn’t.

And then, another thought—a more grave one—hit me. How many people had I exposed to this virus? My family, my colleagues, my friends. But there was still a sense of calm knowing that I won’t be dying because I felt fine.

I was directly taken to the Super Specialty Ward in Safdarjung. I was put in a private room, away from everyone. I was kept there for 16 days; I was tested thrice for COVID-19 during this time. Here, I have to appreciate the doctors, nurses and other staff members. Top-notch, friends! My room and washroom were cleaned twice a day. The bedsheet was changed every day. I was not allowed to meet anyone. I was not allowed to step out of the room. I had access to my smartphone and all other belongings. All in all, I was well taken care of.

The room I was confined to.

But one thing I felt missing was access to psychologists or counsellors. Isolation is tough. Not being able to see another human being for such a long time. Not being able to meet my family, my wife, my friends. I felt caged in one room. This could very easily take a toll on someone’s mental health. Think about the man who jumped off the Safdarjung building. Just the mere thought of being kept in quarantine is scary, imagine being there. Thankfully, I had a strong support system of my family and friends who got me through it. And of course, there’s always Netflix and chill.

Like I said, I was tested thrice for the virus. First one was positive, but the other two were negative. Most importantly, I had no fever or cough or any other symptoms connected to Covid-19 in these 16 days. All my vitals were fine. Sixteen days later, I was discharged and advised to self-isolate myself at home for 14 days. I’m still in self-isolation. No one is allowed to enter my room. I have to adhere to the same protocol I followed in the hospital.

The real heroes

I am yet to hug my family. I am just extremely relieved and happy that we’re at least under the same roof. Just knowing that they’re in the room right to next mine is all I need right now to get through this tough time.

I am not sharing my story to gain sympathy from anyone, but to raise awareness. To ask questions that we haven’t been asking till now: How many more people, like me, are out there exhibiting no symptoms and yet carrying the virus? What about the people who were on the same flight as me? Why aren’t we testing enough? Why are we still following a wait-and-watch policy? We’re at the local transmission stage. We saw countries with better infrastructure suffering at the hands of this virus. Complete failures! China, Italy, Spain, Germany, USA, UK.

The state and central governments in our country have done a lot of rights to curb this epidemic. But is it enough? What measures are being taken to scale up healthcare? Why aren’t we locking down? Why aren’t we testing enough?

In the end, I have a small appeal to make to each one of you. Stay at home. If I could do it, you can too. And if you or anyone you know is exhibiting the symptoms, please…please…get yourself tested. Do not endanger your and others lives. Let’s all do better together!

Featured image only for representation purposes.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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