Two years on: India’s index COVID-19 patient describes her ordeal

On January 30, 2020, India reported its first case of COVID-19; the patient was a Thrissur resident studying medicine at Wuhan University. Here is her story

By K A Shaji
Published: Sunday 30 January 2022
Representative image
Representative image Representative image

At around 4 pm on January 30, 2020, I learnt from a television news ticker that the first case of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in India was confirmed in my hometown of Thrissur, Kerala. Watching from my hospital room, I had no idea then that I was the patient in question.

Six days earlier, on January 24, I had left Wuhan city in China after learning about the spread of a new, mysterious virus. I am a medical student at Wuhan University and the semester holidays had just begun.

Two days after reaching home in Thrissur, I developed a dry cough. My family took me to the government medical college hospital in the city, where the doctors immediately advised hospitalisation and collected a swab sample for testing.

The news of my diagnosis frightened my family and other patients in the hospital, who quickly vacated. But I had no symptoms, barring the dry cough. I also did not have any bodyache.

So the moment I learnt that my test results are positive for the virus, I decided to take the ordeal as a challenge. I contacted all my friends who had travelled home with me and asked them to alert the health officials.

I also shared their details with the authorities so they could take the necessary follow-up actions. Some 14 people who had come in close contact with me, including my father, were also quarantined and tested; their results were negative for the virus.

Now, almost two years after I found a place in the COVID-19 history of India, I can recall with gratitude how the authorities ensured I got all the care I needed. The then health minister of the state, KK Shailaja, called my mother to console her.

Along with the then district collector S Shanavas, she ensured the availability of quality medicines, good food and enough clothing at the COVID-19 care centre where I was admitted.

Doctors, nurses and other staff at the care centre also took great care of me. I was discharged and sent home on February 20, 2020, but the prolonged isolation had taken a toll. So counsellors used to call regularly to check on my mental health.

On July 9 last year, I tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time. It was during a routine RT-PCT (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) test , required ahead of a planned visit to Delhi; the trip was cancelled.

The news of the reinfection came as a complete shock; I never thought I would have to face the virus again. However, the authorities assured me there was no cause for concern. On their advice, I opted for home quarantine this time as I again displayed no major symptoms.

When the epidemic started spreading worldwide, I never thought I would be the first COVID-19 patient of India. After recovery, I never thought that the virus would return to haunt me again.

I have now been vaccinated with Covishield and only pray that my association with COVID-19 has ended for good. Since I do not know when I would be able to return to Wuhan, I am focusing on the online classes.

After completing the course, I hope to be able to repay the debt I owe to Kerala’s healthcare system by working on virus-related care for those in need.

(As told to K A Shaji. Identity withheld to protect privacy)

This was first published in the 1-15 January, 2022 edition of Down To Earth

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