Worrying that I could have caught the infection after developing suspected symptoms, I sought help from the health control room. What followed was an ordeal filled with tense moments battling not only the fear but rumours and insinuations as well.
The medical staff at the control room responded immediately and asked me to remain at home, informing me that they would come to check my health condition and initiate further procedures based on that. Soon afterwards, the staff including local chief medical officer, nurses/midwives, assistant medical staff members from the Greater Chennai Corporation arrived at my doorstep in their body suits. They asked the neighbours to remain inside their homes while they checked my temperature, and noted down the travel and medical histories. The doctors then informed the 108 ambulance services to take me to the Omandurar Government Medical College for further tests.
As soon as the ambulance arrived, those living close by were on their terraces, looking at me as if I had committed a crime. The neighbours gathered to take a look as to how I was being taken in an ambulance. Next came the rumours, one too many. While a few of them said I had tested positive for COVID-19, some even said that the whole street was being blocked to contain the spread – all this before I could even be taken to the hospital to conduct the test.
Before the ambulance carrying me could reach the hospital, my house owner (who does not stay in the same building) called me after receiving numerous phone calls from my neighbours.
They told her about having heard that officials would mark my house with a notice and would not allow anyone in the building to go out. All because of me. I had to give detailed clarifications and tell them that I had not been tested positive yet.
As soon as I reached the hospital, came the next unpleasant surprise. The ambulance crew informed me that if my results returned negative, I should arrange a vehicle on my own to get back home, as there is no ambulance facility to drop off people who come for testing.
Finally, after the suspense and tension, the results came. It was negative. However, even before I could enjoy the wave of relief washing over me, there was another hurdle to cross: how to get back home without a vehicle on my own, or one for hire. Help came in the form of a colleague who came with her car. That is when we realised the next trouble. With the hospital failing to give any receipts for the tests, it turned out to be a herculean task as the police stopped us at every corner making it difficult to explain.
When I eventually managed to reach home, I learnt that few neighbours had locked their homes and went to their relatives’ places elsewhere in the city after hearing that I was taken for the test. I even heard a neighbour speaking to someone over the phone, saying how scared she was of being infected because her neighbour (me) had tested positive for COVID-19. Some of the neighbours climbed to their terrace and even to their water tanks to see if I looked normal.
A group of elderly people were discussing that I used to go to the supermarket nearby and that I should have not been allowed to go out because as a media person I am involved in field work. Some of them asked the other girls staying in the same building to not come out to even buy essentials. When I called the man supplying drinking water cans, he said he would only keep it in the ground floor and would not bring it to the first floor where I live.
Going through the disease is difficult. But what makes it worse are the rumours and stigma about the disease, and lack of mental and emotional support from the people around.