On Sunday afternoon (July 26), I got a message in a WhatsApp group alerting those who have been to a Pet Clinic. It urged them to immediately inform their headman of the locality where one is residing after one of the attendants of the clinic tested positive for the COVID-19. The headmen then can inform the authorities of the health department for necessary help.
After reading the message, I checked the prescription of my dog and found that I visited the clinic on July 7, 2020 with our pet. My family members duly informed the headman and I also informed one of the senior citizens – a former diplomat whose wife is a doctor, and attached with a government run-health centre.
Two health workers visited my house on Monday (27 July). They inquired about my well-being and sought details of my visit to the clinic. They suggested I strictly follow the protocol, including self-quarantine. Later, the health workers informed me that a team of health officials would come and pick me up in the next morning to collect my swab samples.
Since no specific time was given, I took it for granted that the health workers would come anytime between 8:00 and 10:00 am. However, when there was no sign of them, I rang up a couple of health officials informing them about the fixed appointment. I have no ill-feelings and understand the pressure that the health workers are into.
But since I couldn’t wait any longer, and I wanted to reach home in time as I had to dispatch my news reports on COVID-19. I messaged a senior health official informing him about the undue delay, who asked me to speak to a medical official attached with the DHMO. I did, and soon thereafter, a driver –clad in his protective gears – picked me up and ferried me to the testing center at the Polo Grounds.
When I reached the Polo ground, I was astounded to see that there was no health official at the entrance, except two Home Guards at the gate who showed me the way to the testing centre. I expected someone who would take my body temperature and help sanitize my hands, as is the protocol supposed to be.
There was a beeline of people – standing and waiting for their turn. I saw small children also queuing up, and some of them being carried in their mother’s arm. I was a bit alarmed thinking that there might be among those standing in the queue either asymptomatic or symptomatic to COVID-19. Who knows, after all, there was no mandatory temperature reading!
I was more concerned about the little children and one of the mothers who brought her four-year-old daughter along. “Why didn’t they arrange a separate enclosure for children?” She asked. “My daughter does not even want to put a mask now, and she is exhausted,” she said. She walked inside the testing centre, telling me that she would request the health officials if they could attend to her sooner as it was getting dark.
Being a journalist, I introduced myself to some health officials and requested if they could take my samples earlier. However, a doctor expressed his regret, explaining that there were many people ahead of me waiting too. I decided to wait for my turn.
Hours passed. As I was waiting for my turn, an announcement was made that residents from the Pynthorbah locality who came for the testing were requested to come the next day at 930 am for giving their swab samples. Those residents vented their anger, and some women even said, “We should not come again, let them come to our locality.” Another grumbled: “We have been waiting here for very long without food. At least, they should think of these children.”
While these disgruntled residents were leaving, a team of policemen came in. They asked those home guards about the place of swab collection. Apparently, they brought an accused with them, who needed to be tested. The guard directed them to the area. It’s not known if the swab sample of the accused was taken since the police team did not stay that long.
It was late, I couldn’t wait any longer. I attempted once again to speak to the doctor and request him to allow the health workers to take my swab samples; the doctor kindly allowed me to get in.
After I entered, I figured out the reason for the slow pace of swab samples collection; it was mainly because of shortage of personnel, and those brave frontline health workers in PPE suit were doing the job without any complaints. After my samples were collected I thanked them and expressed my appreciation for their hard work.
I walked out happily to the car park looking for the vehicle to drop me back home, but I couldn’t find one. I rang up again the medical official informing her that my swab samples were collected and if I could be dropped back. She politely told me to wait as she was coordinating for the transport. I patiently waited again and then a woman rang me up to confirm that a vehicle would shortly come to pick me up. But that ‘shortly’ turned out to be more than an hour when a vehicle finally arrived.
The driver, however, told me that I would have to pay Rs. 200 as directed by the “madam”. I told the driver that when I was picked up from my house to the collection center at Polo I didn’t pay any money; neither the driver demanded anything. He simply told me to call ‘madam’. I felt that I was harassed.
The driver then took me to the “transport office” where I saw a good number of requisitioned cars parked in the area.
As the driver drove me to the porch of the building informing a woman that I was arguing with him, a man, apparently the in-charge of transport, emerged from the building and shouted at me saying that he had been trying to get across over my phone since yesterday, but was unreachable.
He went on telling me that a vehicle was even sent to my house to fetch me and the driver reached near my house but my phone was unreachable. (That was Monday, but the health workers who visited my house on Monday told me my swab samples would be collected on Tuesday).
Anyway, I did not receive any missed call alert from any number, I told the transport man.
“You have been complaining to the big shots, and not being courteous to a lady and telling her that it is badly organized,” he curtly told me. “You should come here and work to understand the difficulties, instead of complaining.”
By then I was totally exhausted and disappointed with the circumstances that I went through – right from the time I was dropped to the Testing Center at the Polo Grounds, long hours of waiting in the queue, slow pace of swab collection, and then unnecessary arguments with the driver and the transport personnel.
“It is badly organized,” I replied back to the in-charge, “what else I can say after what I have experienced today”. But I do appreciate the hard work of the frontline health personnel and others.
That perhaps softened his attitude. I thanked the man in charge for arranging to drop me back home with a young escort.
I left a 500-rupee note on the front seat, as I alighted from the car, despite their urging for taking back the money.
Independent journalist and commentator based in Shillong