'If the city had to move, we had to move first'

Updated: 06 September, 2020 08:31 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

Despite no comorbidities, 55-year-old BEST bus driver Dilip Paikade spent 60 days in hospital battling COVID-19, 17 of them on ventilator

Dilip Paikade
Dilip Paikade

When the lockdown was announced on March 24, I, like most essential workers, knew that my work had only just begun. I won't call myself brave, but I am not someone who fears death either. Being a BEST bus driver has been fulfilling. Thanks to this job, which I have been doing 15 years, I have been able to get my two daughters, Vidya and Veena, educated and married.

My 28-year-old son Vikas is currently pursuing medicine in Delhi. I owe everything to it. And so, despite the fear of contracting the virus, I didn't hesitate to step out. We were needed most, since all other public services in Mumbai had come to a grinding halt. If the city had to move, we had to move first.

Mine was an eight-hour shift, and I drove on Route No. 39. While I live in a Bhandup chawl, work took me in the opposite direction. I'd drive the bus out from the Majas depot in Goregaon, from where I'd head to Seepz, Mahim, and Dadar, all the way up to Worli. Since it's a long route, I always ensured that I took adequate precaution. Before getting on to the bus, I'd sanitise every single object that I used, including the driver's seat, the wheel and the horn. I never travelled without my mask or gloves.

Everything was going smoothly. In fact, April and May went by without a hitch. But I was ferrying a lot of frontline workers, including the police and medical staff. Any safety measure would have only helped to an extent.

On June 20, I woke up with body ache and fever. I called in sick and visited a general physician, who gave me a three-day medicine course. The fever was under control for a while, but by the fourth day, it shot up again. The doctor asked me to get blood tests done, but before the results could come, my condition got worse. I was having difficulty breathing. On the doctor's advice, I rushed to MT Agrawal Hospital in Mulund, where I was admitted and my samples were taken for COVID-19. Though the test results were expected the following day, because of my symptoms, I was quarantined in a section of the building. But the condition at the centre was terrible.

There was one nurse doing the rounds, and she barely attended to me. The next few hours were draining. I was feeling weak and breathless. It was a near-death experience. I called up my son in Delhi and told him that if I stayed there any longer, I wouldn't make it. He didn't know how to help, so I asked him to approach my boss.

Paikade was on oxygen support during the entire length of his hospital stay
Paikade was on oxygen support during the entire length of his hospital stay

That very day, an ambulance came, put me on a stretcher and rushed me to Seven Hills Hospital in Andheri. As soon as I got there, the staff fitted an oxygen mask and wheeled me into the ICU.

After that, everything was a haze. I woke up 17 days later. I was on ventilator all that while, and from what the nursing staff told me, my chances of survival had been next to nil. Until before this, I had never been hospitalised. I did not even have diabetes or blood pressure. The doctors said that having no comorbidities had worked in my favour.

From them I also learnt that my wife, Nanda, had tested positive two days after me, and had been at a quarantine centre in Kanjurmarg. My daughters live outside Mumbai, and my son was advised not to return, until either of us came home. My condition was still critical. I continued to be in hospital for the next 45 days, and had an oxygen mask the whole time. I was experiencing shortness of breath. Each time I had to visit the bathroom, I had to remove the mask. It would feel like someone had sucked the air out of me. There was also no phone range in my ward. For one-and-a-half months, I had no contact with family.

While that made me anxious, I was mentally preparing for the worst. I had no regrets about catching the infection. It had happened, while I was on duty. Also, to be honest, the BEST authorities and the hospital staff had done everything possible to keep me alive. At the time, Remdesivir, the life-saving drug, was in short supply in the market. Despite all the difficulties they faced, they procured it for me. I am grateful to them.

By the time I returned home, I had been in hospital for 60 days. This week, on Wednesday, I stepped out for the first time after the stipulated quarantine period. I visited my depot officer and the medical officer. I had to catch my breath each time I took a flight of stairs, but I somehow managed.

A full recovery is a long way ahead. I don't think I can get behind the wheel again. There is a possibility that I might have to resign, as I am not fit for strenuous work. But every single day feels like a gift right now.

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First Published: 06 September, 2020 08:31 IST

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