It was 8 pm, time for Rahul to come home. Today was the first day in 2 months that he went to the office after the lockdown was partially lifted in Mumbai. Shilpa, his wife was eagerly waiting for his return, anxious due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the city.

Rahul’s mother who was staying with them since the death of his father asked, “Shilpa, any message from Rahul”. Before Shilpa could reply the doorbell rang, Kiara her 4-year-old daughter rushed to open the door. Shilpa pulled Kiara aside to prevent her from hugging Rahul. Rahul went straight to the washroom without saying anything and came out after a long time. “Shilpa, please serve dinner, I am very hungry”, Rahul sounded disturbed. Shilpa was surprised by his behavior but didn’t revert, everyone quietly had dinner and Rahul immediately went off to sleep.

The next day Rahul woke up late. Shilpa was in the kitchen, cooking and preparing breakfast. Rahul entered the kitchen and slowly said, “Don’t pack my lunch-box”. “Ohh, team lunch to celebrate the opening of lockdown”, teased Shilpa. “No, there won’t be any more team lunches, my position in the office has become redundant”, replied Rahul. Shilpa took a while to understand the meaning of his words, a bit confused, she said, “But suddenly what happened, you were working from home for the last 2 months and now with ‘Mission Begin Again’, everything is coming back to normal”. Before Shilpa could say anymore Rahul said, “Nothing was normal, this was inevitable, it was a ticking time bomb. What do you expect, with all the airplanes grounded for the last 2 months, how long will our jobs be secured? Although I work in the back-office of Indica Airlines, with zero cashflows for 2 months and future-looking bleak, this was bound to happen.” Finally, Rahul opened and vented out his anger and frustration. It is not easy to comprehend that one’s job is lost strictly due to conditions beyond one’s control. Rahul’s mother was silently listening to this conversation from the living room, she coughed a little and went back to her room.

Two months’ salary and extension of medical insurance for the next 2 months as part of the severance package for Rahul. Rahul knew that the current economic situation and the uncontrolled spread of coronavirus in the world were not conducive to the revival of the aviation sector. It was going to be an uphill task getting things in order and be employed once again. He had to do something quickly. Rahul had recently increased his bank EMI for the home loan in anticipation of promotion and good increment. Kiara was also admitted to an upscale school and considering all the household expenses he knew his savings won’t last more than 6 months.

“Mummy is coughing a lot, need to consult a doctor”, said Rahul one morning a few days later. The family doctor after preliminary examination suggested some medicines and assured them that everything was fine. By evening, Rahul’s mother developed a fever. Rahul mentioned this to the doctor who considering the prevailing COVID-19 situation suggested taking her to the nearby Government Fever Clinic for further examination. Rahul’s mother had Hypertension and Diabetes leading to reduced immunity, a cause of concern. It was @ 9 pm by the time Rahul and his mother reached the Fever clinic, there were already a dozen patients awaiting their turn for the check-up. By the time, their turn came, Rahul’s mother’s condition had worsened, high fever, and some difficulty in breathing as well. Things were getting serious now. The clinic doctor mentioned that she needed to be hospitalized immediately since all the symptoms were similar to COVID-19. Apparently, all the government hospitals were overflowing with COVID-19 cases. The nearby private hospitals catering to COVID-19 patients were also overbooked with a waiting period. Rahul could not believe it, a waiting period for a critical patient, and we so proudly call us a developed economy. Rahul’s mother would need immediate oxygen support, so getting a hospital bed with the required facility was important. Till now, Rahul had only read a few news snippets about the COVID-19 situation and some viral messages on social media on hospital management. This was his first real-time exposure to the actual ground level situation. Finally, an empty bed was found in a private hospital 15 km away from his residence, the ambulance was on the way to take mummy to the hospital. It was well past midnight when Rahul’s mummy was admitted to the hospital. She was immediately taken to the ICU and put on oxygen support.

The next morning, paramedics came to his house to take the swab samples of Rahul, Shilpa, and Kiara. Already they had been asked to isolate themselves till the swab test results were released. He was further cautioned that if anyone of the 3 family members turned out to be positive, that person would have to be shifted to a COVID Care Centre even if found asymptomatic to avoid contamination with other high-risk family members especially Kiara.

Rahul called the hospital to inquire about mummy’s health, he was told that she was still in the ICU with O2 support. Rahul then inquired about the hospital charges as yesterday it was very late in the night to ask for these details. Rahul was shocked when he heard the hospitalization charges, the ICU bed without ventilator support (as provided for his mummy) was Rs. 55,000 per day, sharing room charges would be Rs. 27,000 per day, all other expenses on actual. A preliminary estimate of minimum Rs. 300,000 for a 5–6 days hospitalization was advised by the hospital administration. The hospital room rates were higher than the finest 5 Star hotel in the city. Rahul was alarmed by the estimate but relieved when he realized that he still had medical cover from his former employer. Next, he called up the insurance company’s Third-Party Administrator (TPA) to inform of his mother’s hospitalization. He was told that as per the Group Insurance policy, COVID-19 related hospitalization was not covered but he could get 20% of the amount reimbursed on presentation of bills.

This came as a rude shock to Rahul, he didn’t have such a big amount in the form of liquid assets. The stock market had also collapsed since the onslaught of the coronavirus, his stocks and mutual funds were in the red zone. He realized that he had to compromise on some of his future plans to adjust for the medical bills. Suddenly a weird thought touched him, God forbid if mummy’s hospital stay is prolonged or another family member needs hospitalization. Rahul surely did not have the resources to pay for these colossal hospital bills. Further, he recollected that Kiara used to always play with her granny, Rahul was now anxious about Kiara’s test reports. He feared the worst and crossed his fingers; the reports were expected within 2 days. These 48 hours would be the longest of his life…

Rahul’s story is only one aspect of the woes of lockdown, there are many more. Many people have lost their jobs, livelihoods, and dreams of a better future. Some were separated from their families for many weeks, some could not even see their loved ones for the last time. Emerging from these miseries and rebuilding oneself will be a herculean task.

Salil Sawant