Providing hope and support: Chennai’s COVID-19 recovered patients double up as volunteers

Around 100 volunteers who have recovered from COVID-19 have signed up to offer kind words and motivation to those having a tough time dealing with the disease.
Providing hope and support: Chennai’s COVID-19 recovered patients double up as volunteers
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When S Ramya, 34, tested positive for coronavirus on June 22, the overwhelming feeling she had was that her world was coming crashing down. A mother of two children, aged 9 and 2.5, Ramya’s major concern was how her husband would manage his work and the two children without her physical involvement. However, today Ramya is part of a 100-member strong COVID-19 counsellor team in Chennai that provides emotional support and encouragement to patients undergoing treatment.

The project is a novel initiative in Zone-14 (Perungudi) of the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) in which people who have recovered from the disease are roped in to talk and offer words of comfort and encouragement to those who are under treatment for COVID-19. Around 100 people have volunteered to be COVID-19 counsellors and are reassuring those who have newly caught the infection.

“One of my biggest worries was how to make my toddler understand that she should not come near me. It broke me to hear her crying outside my room and I was helpless,” Ramya recollects. Employed in the Information Technology sector, Ramya had only cough as a symptom and was evaluated by doctors who recommended that she isolate herself from her family in a separate room. Timely intervention with her husband and elder child pacifying her younger child helped reduce her stress of being cut off from her loved ones, she adds.

After a health screening on Tuesday, Ramya was declared infection free, and her house was cleared off the barricades erected to prevent movement from and to the spot. “On Tuesday, I coughed once and I panicked and started shivering. The guidelines from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) does not mandate exit tests, so I was very worried about being in close proximity to my children and husband. The fear of passing on the infection to them was always there,” she recalls.

As the news of Ramya’s panic reached Dr Venkataraman, the Zonal Health Officer, he decided to connect her to another woman who had recovered from COVID-19 and was back to her normal life now.

“That woman had recovered from COVID-19 while she was nursing a six-month-old infant. She was very comforting over the phone and gave me so much confidence that I thought if she could recover completely, so can I,” Ramya says.

This was the motivation for Ramya to add her name to the list of volunteers who are ready to speak to COVID-19 patients about their journey. “This is my way of giving back to society, which helped me when I was feeling miserable,” she adds.

While Ramya had slight symptoms when she had the disease, M Narendran was asymptomatic. The 45-year-old pharmacist from Omandurar government multi super specialty hospital in Chennai tested positive on April 27 after contact with a doctor who had COVID-19. Narendran was admitted to the same hospital immediately.

“When I was in the hospital as a patient, I got to speak to many other COVID-19 patients and cheer them up. They saw me as a well-wisher and felt reassured. It made me happy,” Narendran explains. His experience as a pharmacist also reassured people, he says.

When Narendran was discharged from the hospital on May 9, Dr Venkatraman asked him if he could continue motivating COVID-19 patients to have faith and stay cheerful. He says he grabbed the opportunity.

“What else could I say? I’ve seen people feel mentally better when they hear reassuring words from elders or even their peers who have gone through similar experiences in life. I thought I should keep doing this, even if it helps just one person,” he adds.

That COVID-19 is a new disease and scientists and epidemiologists across the globe are working hard to find out more about the disease and the behaviour of the virus is a known fact. The lack of knowledge about the disease itself and the overall gloom due to the effects of the pandemic has put the families and friends of many patients in a difficult position, according to Dr Alby John Varghese, Regional Deputy Commissioner, South Zone, GCC.

“This is a new disease, even if one of our close friends or family members gets affected, we’re lost as to what to tell them and how to encourage them,” he explains.

When the zonal officers came up with the idea of requesting people who have recovered from the disease to speak with those who are affected now, Dr Alby John thought it was a valid idea and supported his colleagues in making it happen. COVID-19 patients are also provided the contact numbers of the health officers in their zones, who can be approached in case of problems or doubts around the disease.

“It’s not a psychological intervention. It’s like showing solidarity and having a support system of people who have gone through similar pain and overcome it,” he adds.

The GCC is now planning to introduce similar projects in other zones as well with the help of NGOs like Bhoomika, who have also deployed volunteers to help out those under home isolation due to COVID-19.

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