Chennai-based Anbarasi* had imagined that she would be surrounded by her supportive husband and in-laws when she went into labour. Even in her wildest dreams she did not think that she would be staying in an isolation ward with inadequate facilities instead, away from her family, as she had tested positive for COVID-19.
Until last week, the nine months pregnant Anbarasi was only excited about her delivery and was waiting for the lockdown to end on May 31 so that she could buy clothes for her child. In the meantime, her doctors in Arumbakkam Primary Health Care Centre told her to come for a final health checkup before delivery. The doctors informed Anbarasi and her husband that the baby was healthy and fixed the date for delivery on June 6. At the end of the consultation, the doctors also advised Anbarasi to undergo a COVID-19 test to avoid last minute hassles.
So she went to Shenoy Nagar testing centre, and gave her swabs for testing. The 27-year-old says, â€śI was not worried because I did not have a fever and I was doing well.â€ť Anbarasi adds that she had no known direct exposure to COVID-19 patients; and did not have travel history to affected countries or states either.
â€śHowever, on May 17, I received a call telling me I had tested positive for COVID-19,â€ť she narrates.
Questioned by nurses
After the diagnosis, an ambulance was sent to take Anbarasi to Institute Of Child Health and Hospital for Children (ICH), Egmore. Anbarasi was not prepared for the rebukes she received there.
â€śWhy did you go for testing 3 weeks before your delivery? You were supposed to test only 10 days before the delivery,â€ť she quotes the nurses as saying. â€śEven after questioning me, they said they did not admit that their beds are full and they could not accommodate me. Instead they told me to quarantine at home and sent me back with a prescription for the iron and folic acid tablets which I was already taking.â€ť
However, Anbarasi says that isolating at home proved difficult as their two-bedroom apartment is not spacious, and houses four people, including her husband and in-laws.
Lack of adequate facilities at corporation hospital
Due to space constraints at home, Anbarasi called a Public Healthcare Centre (PHC) the next day and asked for guidance. They arranged for her to stay at a PHC in Perumalpet.
The centre located at Perumalpet was turned into an isolation ward for COVID-19 patients the same day that Anbarasi reached there, and another full-term pregnant woman reached there.
â€śWhen I came to this hospital there was no water to drink and no adequate restrooms. There was no space for taking a bath. I felt parched without water the entire day. Only on the second day did they arrange for water, but then, they didnâ€™t make food at the hospital. We were served food from a nearby hotel thrice a day. The parcels did not have healthy food and I was scared to eat it. I told my husband to bring water and food for me from the next day onwards,â€ť Anbarasi shares. She adds that now, they have designated a small area inside the restroom where women can bathe.
On the second day, two other COVID-19 positive women were sent to Perumalpet along with their babies from Egmore ICH due to lack of space. â€śThe space is cramped in here â€“ only one person can walk in between the beds. I am kept here along with symptomatic patients who keep coughing and complain of headaches. The hospital also did not give me a mask till Wednesday. Till then, I had been wearing surgical masks given by my husband,â€ť states Anbarasi.
The doctors havenâ€™t paid a visit yet and only the nurses take care of the patients, she alleges. â€śI keep asking the nurses about the discharge policy, and how and where they will take me if I go into labour but I am not getting a proper response. They are unprepared and that makes me feel scared. I am speaking to my family members regularly but I do not know what will happen if I go into labour,â€ť she says.
Anbarasi adds that she has not been given any additional tablets or treatment for COVID-19 as of now.
However, when TNM contacted a health officer of the Chennai Corporation, he deflected the question about the allegations and said, "We are providing treatment for pregnant COVID-19 patients in Perumalpet PHC. We are providing all the adequate facilities and we are providing them with food. There is no problem with maternity care and all is good."
Another health officer reiterated the same, and said that they have just started using the PHC for isolating pregnant COVID-19 patients and new mothers in need of post-delivery care two days ago, and have made proper arrangements for food, water and masks.
Family members not tested yet
Anbarasi is scared of staying alone but she is trying to remain strong, observed her husband Ananth*. â€śAnbarasiâ€™s conversations with us were only about who will hold the baby first after she has delivered, and how Iâ€™ll react to it. But I never imagined this unfortunate situation. I miss being around her and am worried about her health. As the due date nears, my anxieties are also increasing,â€ť says Ananth.
He is also baffled about the source of the infection. â€śI took her to the hospital for checkups exercising utmost caution. We didnâ€™t come in direct contact with anyone, but there were some cases in our area. At this time, I am worried and scared. I couldnâ€™t believe it when they called to inform us that she had tested positive for COVID-19. We had been wearing masks and cleaning our hands at frequent intervals. Even while going to the checkup, I would wrap a shawl around her face and cover her nose. I am just shocked.â€ť
Even though it has been a few days since Anbarasiâ€™s test results, her family membersâ€™ samples are yet to be taken by the authorities. â€śI went to the government testing centers for giving my samples but the doctors are not taking them. My family members have also not been tested yet,â€ť alleges Anbarasi. The government or Chennai Corporation officials have not traced the source of the virus yet, Ananth adds.
This has also come at a time when the family is dealing with a financial crisis. Ananth, who works in a salt pan company, lost his job last month. However, the family is trying to keep their spirits high and is still excited about the arrival of the baby. â€śThis is a difficult time, but I am sure that once the baby comes, it will help us tide through it all,â€ť Anbarasi says.