COVID in Pakistan: My Whole Family Got Infected and my Parents are Still Struggling
Pakistani soldiers closing markets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

#COVIDReporting: For the past 18 months, Health Policy Watch’s team of global reporters has covered the COVID-19 pandemic. But the virus has also wreaked havoc with their personal lives. Over the next few weeks, we will bring you their stories.

ISLAMABAD – One evening in mid-March, I was at my office filing a report on developments on COVID-19 in Pakistan, when my mother called me.

“Your father is not well and asking you to reach home soon,” she said. Although she sounded calm, I felt uneasy and I dialed my father.

He told me that he was having difficulty breathing: “The situation is not good, come back home,” he said.

 It was an unusual instruction and alarm bells started ringing in my mind as I realised that he had probably contracted COVID-19 although he thought he was simply facing normal flu with fever and body aches.

The second COVID-19 wave had hit the country hard. Over 150 deaths were being reported every day and the health authorities had confirmed the presence of the Alpha variant, which is faster in transmission.

I asked my younger brother, Vyas Ali, to take our father to a clinic and made another call to my sister Nain, who is a doctor. 

Within an hour, all of us were in the clinic for his examination. As my father had a chronic problem of gout, the doctor conducted a detailed examination including a COVID-19 test and a CT scan.

Within 15 minutes, the doctor confirmed that he contracted COVID-19 and his oxygen saturation had fallen to 82% (normal is 90-100%). He recommended moving my father to the hospital if his oxygen dropped by two points.

We were aware that over a dozen family members have been exposed to the virus. We live in a traditional joint family system. Aside from my parents, my four siblings, and one-year-old niece live in our large household. 

It was a nerve-wracking night as we watched my father’s oxygen saturation levels dropping. All the hospitals were full and we were not able to find a single nurse who could install an intravenous drip to start his medication.

The next morning, Vyas and I searched for oxygen and also found a male nurse to assist him in an isolated room.

During the peaks of the first and second COVID-19 waves in Pakistan, the hospitals faced shortages of oxygen. After much searching, my brother and I found a small shop that rented oxygen cylinders and we were able to buy these to meet our needs.

Each oxygen cylinder lasted for eight hours and we managed to keep stocks for the uninterrupted supply. Along with the oxygen and medicines, my father also needed physiotherapy every 15 minutes to raise his oxygen saturation. 

All my siblings and mother tested positive

After the slight stabilisation in my father’s health, all the members of our household took their PCR tests for COVID-19. Shockingly, I, my four siblings, and my mother (a cardiac patient) all tested positive with COVID-19.

One by one, my mother, brothers and sisters started showing symptoms of COVID-19. Despite having close contact with all my COVID-19 positive family members, I did not develop any symptoms.

For 12 days, the entire house became an isolation center where my doctor sister and I nursed the entire family. My father and mother were oxygen-dependent and were also treated with Remdesivir injections. The rest of the family were on other medicine and fighting COVID-19 in different ways.

My siblings experienced COVID differently. One lost sense of taste and smell, while some coughed and had high fever. 

But the post COVID-19 effects on my parents were also tough as they experienced side-effects from the steroids they were taking and both remained bed ridden. and we sought a next phase of treatment after their recovery from COVID-19. To this day, my parents still feel weak and say the virus has made them “hollow from inside”.

The family ordeal did not end here. As our home was recovering from the virus, other family members including my aunt and uncle, other family members and friends all became infected with the virus.

As we had successfully managed to take our large family out from the critical point, they all sought our opinion and help to deal with the COVID-19. 

There was only one talk and topic on my mobile and that was COVID-19. 

However, in these difficult times, my friends and close aides also played a very supportive role from arranging medicines to providing moral support. 

After recovering from the virus, my siblings got vaccinated with the available Chinese vaccines – some with SinoPharm, a few with Sinovac and some with CanSino. My parents received Moderna jabs.

Aside from the health effects of COVID-19, there have been very severe economic effects from the lockdowns in my hometown of Hasanabdal ,which is around 45 km west of the capital, Islamabad.

Many people have lost their jobs. Schoolteachers’ salaries have not been not paid and a number of businesses closed. 

During the lockdowns, my family ran charities to support the people who are struggling for their bread and butter. But the tough time we experienced as a family made us more enlightened in our vision of helping others in difficult times. 

It reaffirmed our commitment to helping people around us by arranging medicines, giving people medical advice and trying to find space for those who needed to be hospitalised. 

For more in our #COVIDReporting series, read:

COVID in NYC: Spending My Twenties in Isolation, Fearing Racial Attack

COVID in Delhi: ‘I was More Afraid of Suffocating Than of Dying’


Rahul Basharat is a journalist based in Pakistan, who covers health, climate, human rights and education.

Follow him on Twitter @TheRahulRajput





Image Credits: Mohammed Nadeem Chaudhry.

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