The good old grandfather clock in the house chimed 2 times. Vinitha was fast asleep and wrapping his arm around her torso was her 4-year-old son. A sudden hunger pang woke her up. She felt too tired to get out of the bed and feed herself. But, she had to. She removed her boy’s hand on her slowly and straightened herself to a sitting position. The room was quite silent except for the mild snores of her husband. She smiled, looking at the balding man and suddenly craved for a tête-à-tête with him over a cup of noodles.
She jabbed him at his elbow and he woke up with a start. “Can you accompany me to the kitchen?” She mouthed. Dilip peeked at her groggily and gave a thumbs-up. “Of course, my dear!”
“I love it when Ma and Pa talks. It is such a symphony, sis.”
There was no reply.
“Hey sis, wake up. You can’t afford to miss it,” The brother tugged at the umbilical cord to wake his sister up.
“Hmmm..is it morning already? Let me sleep, bro,” The sister shot a menacing look towards her twin.
“I want you to hear them chatting.”
“Oh! Is Ma awake for her midnight snack?”
“Yes, noodles today!”
“Yummmm..,” The sister smacked her lips in anticipation.
The aroma of the snack being prepared fondly by the husband filled her nostrils, as she sat at the table cracking her knuckles.
“2 more weeks!” she spoke, counting to herself.
Dilip smiled as he placed the bowl in front of her. “Here, hog on!”
She meekly smiled at him, took a spoonful and swallowed down hastily, lest the smell induce nausea. Unsure if it was the sudden gush of spiciness or her effort to heave a sigh, she lost herself into fits of wheezy coughs. She started panting. Dilip’s smile got wiped off, replacing it with a concerned look, as he comforted her.
“Let’s see the doctor tomorrow. It’s been two days since you are suffering from sudden breathlessness.”
She gave her sweetest smile. “Your little twins are growing, dear husband and it is natural to gasp for breath when pregnant with two little bunnies,” she placed her hand on her pregnant tummy and rubbed it ever so lovingly.
“I love you, Ma. Muah!” cried the little brother.
“Me tooooo! By the way, who is elder, bro?”
“We are twins, sis. I don’t think we work that way,” The brother kicked furiously as he floated towards his sister with open hands.
“I understand. But it is quite disturbing to see you huffing and puffing. We ARE meeting the doctor tomorrow,” Dilip closed the discussion matter-of-factly when Vinitha gripped her stomach tight.
“They are moving. I could even feel them talking, Dilip,” Her muffled amusement was enough to lift their moods. Dilip’s lips broke into a wide smile as he placed his hands lightly on her tummy and kissed it.
“I can’t wait to hold the babies in my arms.” His eyes welled up.
The couple blissfully slipped into their slumber in each other’s arms, that night.
As Vinitha pulled herself out of the bed the next day, she was feeling sick. The breathlessness crept in, clawing at her nostrils and throat. She opened her mouth to take a deep breath. A cramp in her abdomen worsened. She tried calling her husband but couldn’t find her voice. All of a sudden, a high-pitched cough left her lips. That was enough to grab the attention of the members of the household as the parents-in-law and the husband came running into the room. The youngest member had left for school.
“Vini..,” Dilip’s voice trailed off midway. She continued to cough. Her mother-in-law immediately filled a glass with water and placed it on her lips. She tried to drink in to wet her parched throat when she spat her guts out with a brassy retching noise. As her stomlach emptied itself of the midnight snack contents, she started to feel a little better. But her husband’s and in-laws’ countenances didn’t quite match that of hers.
“Oh, come on! I am alright,” she tried to sound cheerful.
“Did you request the doctor to do a COVID test, Dilip?” The father-in-law broke into her blooming cheeriness with a grim question. The forbidden word was enough to have all three pairs of eyes stare at him.
“It is always good to have the possibility ruled out, Dilip. We are on a complete lockdown and yet, the numbers are rising all over the country. With her due date just weeks away, it is good not to take chances.” Her father-in-law suggested thoughtfully.
The couple silently nodded praying for a safe delivery of the twin babies.
“Poor Ma, we are occupying so much of her insides that she is not able to breathe properly,” lamented the brother.
“Hmmm…what is COVID, bro?” The sister innocently asked.
“It is that nasty virus which has taken the world by storm. Don’t you listen to the news as Ma sits beside Pa every evening?” The brother poked her shoulder.
“Why worry when you are here, bro?”
The cute twins happily whiled away their time, tickling and teasing each other (and in the process, their Ma too) in the safest place of the entire universe.
Two days later :
The samples for the COVID test were given and Vinitha waited for the results.
At the hospital, as the couple sat in the waiting hall for their turn, she covered her mouth and yawned wide. All of a sudden, she started gasping for breath. An unexpected spurt of wheezy hiccups further deteriorated her capacity to breathe.
“I am unable to breathe, Dilip…” Her voice trailed off as her chest heaved with her effort to take a breath. She was losing consciousness. Her eyes rolled back and almost the next second, she fell unconscious on Dilip’s shoulder.
“NURSE…DOCTOR…!!” He screamed. Two nurses rushed to his side with a stretcher and tried to lift her onto it. Dilip helped them, all the while clutching her hand tightly. Silent tears rolled down his cheeks as he kissed her forehead. As the stretcher was pulled down the hallway and parked by a corner, he was asked to wait by her side. The doctor attended to her immediately.
“Have you got the reports, Mr. Dilip? I think swab samples were taken two days back?” The gynaecologist asked.
“Here is the report, doctor,” A nurse handed over an envelope before Dilip could reply.
The doctor scanned the report for a good two minutes. She cleared her throat to set the right tone to deliver the news.
“Your wife is tested positive, Mr. Dilip. And…I am sorry to inform that you might have to shift her to a General Health Centre for the next course of treatment,” She announced and averted his piercing gaze.
“Are you kidding me? My wife is unconscious and rather than administering first aid, you ask me to shift her to another hospital?” Dilip couldn’t contain the anger at such an emotionless statement that he hollered.
“I am sorry but I have to go by the rules of the institution. She is pregnant and critical. This is a complicated case, Mr. Dilip and in such a situation, we would not be able to get her admitted here. Now, if you could excuse me…” The doctor gave him the report and moved on to attend to her other patients.
Dilip was furious. He wanted to argue further when the nurse clasped her hands together and addressed him. “Please save your wife first. There is no point raising a voice at the moment and there is no time to waste.” Her sober face was enough to turn his attention to his unconscious wife.
“Can you please help arrange for an ambulance?” He pleaded. With a brisk nod, she sprinted down the stairs to the reception.
Dilip made hurried phone calls to inform his parents and parents-in-law about Vinitha’s condition. He made arrangements to get his son picked up from school and dropped at a friend’s place. In the next ten minutes, the wife, heavily pregnant with two little lives, and the husband were being waded through the busy morning traffic to the nearest Health Centre.
“Bro, I am feeling so sorry for Ma. Hope she is alright!” The sister cried as her tears mixed with the fluid brimming inside the sac.
“She will, sis. I am beginning to feel a little weak….” The ever chirpy brother seemed a little low on energy.
As the ambulance stopped in front of the hospital, frantic phone calls were made at the reception, reports were checked, questions were hurled and answered and finally, admission was given. As the stretcher was pulled out of the vehicle and dragged to a nearby ward, the elders of the family soon joined the exasperated Dilip. His father gave him a tight embrace and a reassuring look. That was enough to let Dilip’s bottled-up emotions flow out as tears.
“We will win the trio back, son. Don’t worry.” His father squeezed his shoulders to boost up his son’s drowning confidence.
Meanwhile, Vinitha, being a pregnant COVID patient, was allotted a room in the designated ward. No visitors were allowed and those permitted had to wear the PPE. The doctor-in-charge of that particular shift and a nurse were the ones who check on the patients every two hours.
“She needs immediate attention, doctor. She is carrying twins,” Dilip reported to the doctor, who simply nodded and went on to check her. As he came out five minutes later, he informed Dilip that a gynaecologist would soon attend to her. Nothing more was said and done. The family waited in agony.
Inside the ward :
“Bro, you look very pale. I gather that the virus is amidst us now, probably just outside our little world.” The sister looked afraid.
“Yes, I heard the conversations outside. But, we are going to make it, sis, come what may.” The brother gave her a warm smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Hmmm..our Ma is not well too. I so wish I could give her a hug and tell her we are doing okay.” The sister tried to move her hands and touch the walls of the sac.
Vinitha stirred a little and placed her hands on her stomach, gently caressing her bump.
“My little ones…I hope you are doing okay. Take care of each other please,” She managed to mouth gulping down bouts of air.
“Maa, don’t worry about us. But, I wish to hear Pa’s voice, Ma. Would be so soothing to all of us,” confessed the sister tugging at the cord that knotted around her legs.
The three rhythmic heartbeat sounds were the only ones for some time as silence prevailed for a while.
“Sis, did you notice the change in our abode? I think something is wrong…,” The brother pressed the panic button as he looked around.
Unmistakably, the fluid levels had come down.
As the twins kicked inside trying to keep themselves afloat, Vinitha shifted uncomfortably on the bed. She had gained her consciousness, but, was feeling too weak to talk or lift herself up. She looked at the ward and took in the surroundings.
“What is this place?” She mumbled to herself.
“Ma, I could fill you in with details…,” The sister began but her voice transmuted to a gurgle as she started to feel suffocated.
“Sis, are you okay?” The brother kicked her gut so hard that Vinitha winced. “You are turning a strange shade of yellow. Keep kicking and breathing, sis.” The anxiety in his voice was not only enough to raise the alarm inside but also at the ward where Vinitha was lying half-conscious. She was holding her belly tight as if her grip could protect the twins from the impending tragedy.
“I…am..unable to breathe…” The sister’s eyes closed automatically and her head drooped lolling from side to side.
“Sis…SIS!!” The brother seemed to shake his sibling’s shoulders violently and tried to tug at the cord that bound them from all sides. The sac also appeared to empty itself out as the fluid levels were dropping at a startling pace.
“MAAA, MAAA, DO SOMETHING!” The brother squealed as he shed tiny drops of tears.
A heavy movement inside her womb made her too queasy. She tried to lift her torso into a sitting position. But, unsteadily slid again onto the bed. An unexplained motherly instinct brought a fresh dose of tears, dripping into the pillow.
“My babies, my babies…,” she kept repeating. That was when she heard Dilip’s voice.
Outside the ward :
“It is almost two hours, doctor. Can someone attend to my wife or at least let us in?” Dilip bellowed. His voice rung through the corridor ominously as shocked heads turned in his direction. The family looked distressed.
“The gynaecologist just arrived, Sir. She has been apprised of the criticality,” informed the doctor quite unabashed by the overflowing emotions engulfing the family members. Precisely that moment, a figure, fully covered in PPE, rushed inside the ward, flanked by two nurses. She was poring over Vinitha’s reports. In a matter of minutes, she returned notifying that an emergency C-Section had to be performed.
The scenario instantly changed. Nurses kept running hither and thither getting the theatre ready and preparing for the surgery. Hushed voices and hurried instructions floated through the air as the situation turned quite animated. The family watched helplessly. As Vinitha’s unconscious form was pulled out of the ward carefully, Dilip ran to her side. He held her hand and gently stroked her bump. He was choked as he saw her figure whisked into the theatre.
The wait that followed was quite unbearable. Each had retreated to a corner ruminating on the possibilities of the outcome and praying with all the might. It ended when Dilip’s name was called out.
“Yes, I hope..,” He couldn’t finish the statement as the gynaecologist’s face revealed something beyond hope. Gloom? Pity? Despair? He couldn’t name it.
“I am sorry, Mr. Dilip. We were able to save only one. Your son is a fighter!” She stated one of the dreaded outcomes.
He was shocked beyond sanity. He was about to collapse when his father helped him into a chair. “Lost her, dad. My daughter too…” The father’s misery echoed through every shadowy corner of the hospital. Moments passed and the little survivor swaddled in blue entered the scene. His ear-splitting wails were uncontrollable. As he was deposited in his father’s arms and as he cuddled in his warmth, his cries subsided a bit, but a rivulet of tears from his eyes didn’t stop.
“Sorry, Pa. Please don’t be mad at me. I tried my best, but couldn’t save Ma and sis…”
Dilip shook his head as if in denial and as if the father-son duo had discovered a unique mode of communication between them. They hugged each other and cried over the parted souls.
During a time, last year, when the COVID positive cases were on a rise at a disquieting rate, there was this one cross-section of women who suffered, with their families paying heavy prices. I happened to hear and read cases of many pregnant women who were tested positive and categorised as complicated cases, only to be shuttled from one hospital to the other. But the need of the hour was good care and proper support. Amidst such unavoidable rigmaroles, the losses faced were aplenty. This particular story is very close to my heart as I tried to create a picture of a late mother’s real experience.
Do wear a mask when you step out. Wash your hands/sanitize them regularly. Though the numbers are coming down, with only sudden fluctuations some days, the micro-organism is still amidst us. Stay safe. Stay healthy.
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