Mohammad has now been admitted to the government hospital in Kulgam
Ground Report | Kashmir: For Mohammad Ghulam Bhat, 63, who cannot read or write, is completely deaf and can only communicate in sign language, life was already a struggle before the COVID pandemic occurred.
He used to support his wife, Rukhsana, 50, three daughters aged 15, 10 and six, and one son, 12, by doing manual labour.
These days, because of his age, he relies heavily on begging on the streets, generating a monthly income of around 3,000 rupees for the entire family, who live in a small hut in Hamdanpora in the Kulgam district.
But on the morning of April 27, he began to have a sore throat, shortness of breath and fever.
Mohammad rushed to the nearest health center. There, he tested positive for COVID. Hospital staff tried to explain to him the dangers of the virus and the precautions he should take at home. However, unable to understand what they were saying, he left the hospital confused.
At home, her eldest daughter was able to understand the test results and, remembering seeing some posters and hearing radio commercials, explained that she was sick. However, since none of the family members can read or write, they have little access to in-depth information about the nature of COVID. They don’t understand that they need to be isolated.
According to the report of Al Jazeera his family spent the day looking after Muhammad, giving him home remedies, such as hot water and blankets, for his fever and sore throat. But they don’t understand how contagious or dangerous COVID is.
The next morning, Mohammad was breathing hard. His wife toured the neighborhood, asking for help.
One man Naveed Abdallah, 25, who works as a graphic designer living with his parents and five siblings – offered to help, even though he and his entire family also tested positive for COVID in early April have all recovered.
“Many of the neighbours around were angry about the fact that Mohammad had escaped from the hospital and had not taken any precautions. But they don’t consider social status, financial status and family education,” Naveed told Al Jazeera.
Naveed took his family’s oximeter – a small handheld device that measures oxygen saturation in blood – with him and checked Mohammad’s levels. That’s down to 60 percent. The safe level is 95 percent, and anything below 80 percent can cause brain damage.
“I told Mohammad that I had to take him to the hospital immediately because this figure meant that his life was at risk. I also tried to make her and her children understand the consequences of this deadly virus, but all in vain, “said Naveed.
He could not understand the urgency of the situation, perhaps because of my inability with sign language. I looked for his wife but the children told me that she had left the house the morning before I arrived. “
After 30 minutes, Naveed returned home to check on his father who was positive for COVID at the time, and, when he returned to the Bhat family, he was shocked to find Mohammad’s oxygen levels had fallen by 40 percent.
“Fear ran down my spine. The possibility of Muhammad dying in front of me and my inability to take him to the hospital worries me. And, what’s more, I’ve heard that the hospital didn’t have enough oxygen, ”he recalls.
Naveed immediately went to pick up his ailing father, Mohammad Abdallah, 50, who works as a chief technician at a medical center in the city of Bijbehara, hoping he could help.
“My father is suffering from oxygen and is also suffocating; He had to try harder to walk, but seeing the urgent situation, he went and gave Mohammad a Dexona injection, to reduce inflammation and swelling in his body. After a few hours, Mohammad started to become a little more stable. “
Meanwhile, Naveed called two of his friends and asked if oxygen cylinders could be arranged for the Bhat family. After a few hours, they finally managed to get a cylinder from an NGO.
“When I brought the cylinder to their house, the whole family gasped and thought their father was dying. This enormous machine was a sight of terror to them, but it was this sight of terror that saved Mohammad. “
When Mohammad’s wife Rukhsana returned home in the afternoon, Naveed asked her where she was.
“If I don’t come out, my children will starve to death. What else should I do? “He replied, explaining that he had been working mowing the grass in a nearby field.
Naveed asked her to try staying at home as it is very likely that Rukhsana is also positive for COVID and might pass the infection on to other people outside.
“I also told her that her husband needed care and supervision, so he had to be at home.”
Naveed offers to help him financially on the days he can’t go to work.
“I try to ask people, through social media, to help them when needed,” said Naveed.
The next day, Mohammad’s condition worsened and his oxygen levels began to drop again, despite the encouragement of the oxygen cylinder.
“I had to take my own father to the hospital and ask Rukhsana to take Mohammad too,” said Naveed.
Mohammad has now been admitted to the government hospital in Kulgam where his wife struggles to understand what happened and what treatment her husband needs, while also worrying about his four children at home.
“He is still very weak and I tried to arrange hospital procedures but it was difficult. My 15 year old daughter looks after the house and her three siblings with occasional help from our neighbours, ”said Rukhsana.
This case highlights how poverty and illiteracy can exacerbate this pandemic.
In Kashmir, where the poverty rate is about half of all of India as a whole – 10 percent of people are believed to be living in poverty in Kashmir, compared to 22 percent nationwide – illiteracy is high, at 33 percent, according to the latest Census, 2011. Illiteracy in India as a whole makes up about 22 percent of the population.