September 26, 2021

KITAAB

Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Essay: Lessons from nearly dying by Abhishek Anicca

6 min read

This personal essay by Abhishek Annica explores his experiences when became critically ill with the Covid 19 virus in May this year and shares his reflections on everyday life of a person living with disability and illness.

In the second week of May 2021, I found myself in the hospital. For months, I had taken all the precautions. I had barely stepped out, told my help not to come, and maintained a safe distance from the delivery guys. Yet, there I was, in the hospital, Covid positive, with the oxygen in my blood free falling. 

Anxiousness had become my companion in the  days leading up to my hospitalization. Everyone was getting the virus in Delhi. My best friend had gotten the virus. My neighbors had it. The old man who lived upstairs had it. I could hear him coughing as he passed by my door. I would open my phone and Google, desperately,

Can Coronavirus spread through the air?

I would check the door. Was it closed properly, was there a gap? I would measure the distance between the door and the bed. Could it travel this far? I was paranoid. I am disabled and chronically ill. I have high blood pressure. Perfect candidate for people more likely to die because of comorbidities.

The hospital has a vocabulary of its own. Saturation. Desaturation. There are new words added to your everyday lexicon when you are there.  You look for the pulse oximeter. Insert your finger. Your one eye is transfixed on the monitor. By now, you have understood how to decipher it. The nurse forgets to take the BP machine out. It swells up at odd intervals. You barely sleep, worried that you will disrupt the flow of oxygen. The nasal cannula is a part of your body. You request the doctor to fit you with a catheter. You don’t want to worry about peeing at odd hours.

When things don’t improve, changes are made. You are taken to a different room. Then to another one. You forget where you slept last night. You forget where you woke up. You forget what’s the last time you ate. You forget about your phone. You forget about death. You slip into bare existence. Hoping that machines will take care of the rest.

“We are oxygenating you.”

There is not much you can do. So, you drift away. New equipment is added. New medications come. New people come. Every night someone new struggles to find your vein. Pricks all over. Leaves you bloody.

My acquaintance with illness is not new and I am used  to hospitals. Except for this time, it was different and unpredictable. I had no idea about how to cope with this disease and my situation only became worse after a few days of admission. For the first time in my life, I sensed a foreboding I had never experienced. Maybe my time was up. This was time to go. My mind has its own way of coping with bodily illness. It begins to hallucinate, takes me away somewhere else. I was expecting Narnia but I landed up in the footage reel of some news channel, with everyone shouting, gunfire and bombs exploding in the backdrop. Probably ‘the war on Covid’ metaphor had gotten the best of me.

As this nightmare rolled on, I was convinced that I was going to die. When this revelation dawned on me, I checked my phone for all the dirty stuff on it and deleted it. Nothing malicious. Just screenshots and fantasies. I was also worried about my social media accounts. I had to think of a person to safe keep and preserve my social media legacy. Words like legacy automatically become part of your vocabulary when you are dying. It’s a joke that the mind plays on you. When you are healthy again, you are tempted to leave all social media. How fake can people be? Now that I have survived that phase, it seems like an act of stupidity that constantly reminds me to sort my priorities. If I ever required a reminder, this was it.

The only thing which matters are the people around you. At least that’s what you think when you are high on drugs and dying in a hospital.

Although people can be amazing when faced with challenges. I had seen closely before I fell ill. People were helping each other, often strangers in time of need as the pandemic unraveled. When my time came, people showed the same kind of collective love. Friends, acquaintances, strangers. All of them turned up to help me when I needed help. All of them grieved with me when I lost friends while still in the hospital. All of them were ecstatic when I recovered. Everyday people would ask me how I was. When I was fighting the abyss, and couldn’t reply to them, they messaged my family members or close friends. Old friends who had drifted away returned to the shore, offering comfort. From time to time, we are reminded that there is something magical about life. Even when you are grief stricken, or maybe because you are grief stricken, these magical moments present themselves momentarily in front of you.

Personally, it was a very tough time for me, both physically and mentally. As I slowly recovered at home, a little unsure of where I am headed in life, all the magical moments of help on offer filled me with hope and contentment. Whether true or not, I could say to myself that ‘I must have done something right in life’. As a person with disability and chronic illness, I always cherished being alive. If anything, this episode was again a reminder to never take that for granted, especially as we cope with so much loss around us.

There is no other way to navigate life than to embrace what you have, give it a tight hug with all the strength you can muster.

There is poetry out there, and that should be enough to make us hopeful. When I was shifted to the general ward after my recovery, there was a window beside my bed. I kept looking at the moon when I grew restless, and it gave me solace as several monitors kept beeping in the background. I often say that the moon is an overused cheat tool in the poet’s armory. But there is no denying that there is something ethereal about it, which fills me with hope during this season of unending isolation and unplanned separation. Better times await us on the other side of the night. They do.


Abhishek Anicca is a writer, poet and researcher currently shuffling between Delhi and Bihar. He identifies as a person with locomotor disability and chronic illness. In the past few years he has written personal essays on disability and illness, which have been published by  Times of India, The Quint, Mad in Asia among others.  

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