It remains a mystery as to how my family got infected or how, despite all of them and even some of my friends in Bangalore having tested positive, I returned negative tests all through. You can say it was pure luck that I didn’t contract the virus. Or it could have been down to the fact that I’m used to washing my hands frequently. I really don’t know.
Mental strength is important. My oldest sister, Vatsala, had panic attacks before she passed away from Covid. My mom might also have panicked, because the night before she died of the virus, in my home town, Kadur, about 230km north-west of Bangalore, she learned that everybody else in the family had tested positive, including the kids. I don’t know, but maybe that affected her.
My heart goes out to people who are suffering. I’ve heard stories of entire families being wiped out because of the virus. Thinking of that, I just tell my other sister, Sudha, and my dad to be grateful that the rest of the family has recovered.
We’re all trying to come to terms with the tragedy, trying to accept the reality right now, and reminding ourselves that whatever has happened is behind us now. I feel that in a way my mom was among the lucky ones because she had her family with her when she passed away. It hasn’t been like that for many people who have died of Covid.
My mom and sister were a huge part of my life, and they will always remain so. Everything I am is because of them. My mother used to tell me, “You are the daughter of the nation first and you’re my daughter later.” I really don’t think there’s anything I could ever do for the two of them to express my gratitude towards them. Whether I scored a hundred or got out first ball, it didn’t matter to them – I was their favourite cricketer. I’ve always been a pampered baby in the house regardless of my age.
“A lot of people playing cricket currently know what mental health is, but it is also important to accept that if the system is not doing anything to offer you mental-health assistance, you must find support for yourself”
My sister Vatsala was 14 years older than me and was as much my mother as my mom was. She was the one who took care of me from the time I was a baby. At times people used to get confused as to whether she was my mother or my sister.
As a kid, I would never let go of her. When she got married and had to go to her husband’s house, I sat in a corner and cried my eyes out. My brother-in-law brought her back home the next morning and said to her, “You please stay at home with your sister and come to your in-laws only when you want to.” That was the kind of relationship I shared with her.
She was my No. 1 fan. She watched most of my games. She used to be there at the ground, bringing me and my friends biryani in big boxes. I don’t know how it’s going to be when I get back on the field knowing she’s no longer around.
A day or two before my mom died, we were a bit concerned about my sister because she had had a fever for about six days straight. She was in home isolation in Kadur and had initially tested negative, but when we took her to the hospital and did a CT scan, it was learnt that she had developed Covid pneumonia. When she returned a positive test, I moved from my home in Bangalore, where I live with my brother and his family, to a hotel because our entire family, including me, had assembled in Kadur a few days earlier for Vatsala’s birthday and the Ugadi festival.
Upon testing in Bangalore, I tested negative but my brother’s wife and their daughters, who had all returned to the city with me from Kadur, tested positive. We were worried about what to do if any of them needed hospitalisation because at the time getting a hospital bed in Bangalore was very difficult. So we thought of getting my brother and his family down to Kadur. They did go to Kadur eventually, the night before my mom passed away.
When her oxygen level started dropping, they moved Vatsala from Kadur to a hospital in Chikmagalur so she could have a proper non-invasive ventilator. About 80% of her lungs were damaged. The doctor said she needed to respond to the medicines and only then could they say what was going on. Eventually she did respond and was doing well for about four or five days. She had a bit of a cough but she seemed to be recovering and was fine the night before she passed away. She had been moved out of intensive care to a general ward a few days earlier. I remember speaking to her the previous evening. She was speaking properly, though she hadn’t been feeling like eating much. But over the next 24 hours, her oxygen level started dropping and she had a relapse. There seemed to have been a panic attack, and things started going downhill. It’s difficult to say exactly what happened.
After my mom died, my brother just shut down. It affected him mentally. He, too, had to be hospitalised in Chikmagalur because of Covid, while his wife, Shruthi, was put in hospital in Kadur. My father’s CT scan for Covid was bad as well, and he too was in hospital. My brother’s daughters, meanwhile, were in Bangalore with their maternal grandmother. I was the only one who didn’t contract the virus, so I was sitting in Bangalore in the hotel, trying to coordinate everything. I had to arrange for essential supplies to send them while also trying to speak to doctors, look for beds in hospitals, and do whatever else was required.
All we knew about Covid before this was, if you get it, you can stay at home, do your isolation and take precautions – that will be fine. But what happened in my family happened because of not having enough knowledge of how to respond quickly. I think we lost two or three days in the beginning when they were isolating in the house. What if we had put my sister in the hospital a day or two before we eventually did? We were just going by what we knew.
That was when I started telling people what dealing with Covid needs. You shouldn’t leave it till it’s too late. The number of calls I made during those 20 days – I was constantly on the phone, trying to coordinate things, keep all the family members updated and keep their morale up. That effort used to consume a lot of my energy; to put up a front that I was okay was difficult. And I realised that a lot of people out there had been suffering in similar ways.
I felt that accessing medical care was easier for my family than it was for most people, in Bangalore or elsewhere, because it was in Kadur, which is a small town where everyone knows each other. My dad called up the doctor directly and beds were arranged for both my sisters and my mother.
Going through my Twitter feed at the time, I felt a lot of people were struggling with something as basic as getting a doctor to instruct them on what they should be doing – whether that was isolating at home or something else. When I started retweeting people’s calls for help, I had little knowledge of the impact it might have. I amplified those tweets simply because I knew what it felt like to be in that situation.
Even when my mom was critical, I carried on with the retweets because I felt it was what I should be doing because of my social-media reach. I remember one of my friends telling me, “You should be putting your energy into looking after your own family and stop doing what you’re doing on social media.” And I was like, why should I stop doing something that could help someone else? I’m glad the platform could be used to help so many people in need.
It was also around that time that I started educating my friends and their families, who were affected, on ways to get medicine, the rules to follow to obtain beds, and what to do when your oxygen saturation drops to a critical level. Nine members of my family had been infected in different ways, so I started sharing my experiences with people to try to help them make better judgements. My reasoning was that if I spoke to, say, 20 people, and among them if just one person took lessons from my experience, that was a positive.
“My mother used to tell me, ‘You are the daughter of the nation first and you’re my daughter later.’ Whether I scored a hundred or got out the first ball, it didn’t matter to them – I was their favourite cricketer”
I also learnt that one’s privileges are useful when it’s just you going through the trouble and the rest of the world is fine, but in a crisis like this, because supplies are low and demand is high, everybody will do anything to get what they need. I did tweet asking for an injection for my sister. She didn’t need it eventually; the doctor only wanted to use it as a last resort. Even though I got to a point where I would have been able to procure the injection, I did not do so because obtaining one for my sister at that point would have meant denying somebody else that immediate life-saving option. I’m thankful to all the people who retweeted that request I put out on Twitter – Harman [Harmanpreet Kaur], Smriti [Mandhana], Mithali [Raj], Mona [Meshram], Reema [Malhotra], and a lot of other cricketers.
Though we now have to live our lives without my mom and sister, they will always be part of us. I think it’s a responsibility for all of us in the family to make each other happy, because if one of us starts feeling depressed, the others will too. It is something I did even in the time between my mom passing and my sister struggling for her life. I was the only one who was talking to my sister as she started recovering because the rest of my family were too tired to communicate.
I’m a big believer in what destiny holds for you, but I really hoped that my sister would come back home. When she didn’t, I was completely destroyed. All of us were broken to pieces. And I still had to put up a brave face for the rest of the family. What I had to do in those testing couple of weeks was learn to tune myself out of my grief. But it keeps coming back to haunt you.
I’m just trying to keep myself occupied doing whatever I can. Ever since I’ve come to Kadur, I’ve tried to make sure that Dad is not by himself, that he’s occupied with card games or watching movies, and things like that. My sister’s son has recovered from Covid. He is 21, studying engineering. He lost his father when he was seven months old; now his mother is gone. It’s difficult to know what he’s thinking, because, like me, he keeps things to himself.
As a nation, let alone in cricket or sport, we are still a long way from normalising talking about mental health. Going by my own experience, if I had to, say, approach my mom or my older sister, and suggest that we should consult a professional about how we were feeling mentally after going through our struggles with Covid, if they had lived, I’m not sure they would have been up for it. I wouldn’t call it a mistake on their part – it’s just how we are conditioned as a society.
A lot of people who are playing cricket currently know what mental health is, but it is also important to accept that if the system is not doing anything to offer you mental-health assistance, you can and must find the support for yourself if you can afford it. I’ve had mental-health issues and I’ve sought support to resolve them myself.
I have been mostly off my phone in regards to speaking with people about how I have been holding up. I’ve tried to limit my responses to just emojis because it’s easier that way rather than talking about it. When something like this happens in your life, it’s nice to know that a lot of people care for you, but on the other hand, the reality hits you even harder as you are trying to come to terms with the tragedy. It’s difficult.
I’m not upset with people who didn’t call me or message me. I thank everyone who checked on me. I did get a call from the BCCI secretary, which I didn’t expect, to be honest. He asked about me, my family. He said when he is in Bangalore, he will visit me. It was nice of him to call me.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha