Indian expat in UAE shares pain of losing five relatives, including his brother, to COVID-19 back home

Dubai: An Indian expatriate in the UAE has shared the painful story of losing five of his relatives, including his own brother, within a span of 40 days recently.

Pankaj Agarwal, 50, an engineering consultant in Dubai, lost his brother, uncle, aunt and their two sons to COVID-19 in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

When his mobile rang on April 15 morning, Pankaj did not realise that it would bring the shocking news of the beginning of a series of deaths in his family.

“I was preparing to go to work at a construction site when I got a call from my mother who lives in India. She informed me that my maternal aunt (mother’s sister-in-law), Amita Agarwal, was no more. She was 61 and it was a sudden death after contracting COVID-19 in Prayagraj.”

Pankaj left for work with a heavy heart, thinking about his departed aunt and her family, who have been very attached to him and battling COVID-19 at that time.

“My house is in Lucknow, but I studied in Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad). I used to visit my grandma living with them almost every week and I have very fond memories from those days. Even during my vacations from here, I would visit them regularly and spend time with them,” said Pankaj who has been living in the UAE for 20 years.

Three days later, on April 18, Pankaj got another call that his maternal uncle Virendra Agarwal’s health was deteriorating. “He was 70. He suddenly started gasping and struggling to breathe. At the same time, two of his sons Vikas, 42, and Vishal, 37, were also suffering breathing problems.”

From left: Pankaj Agarwal’s cousin Vikas, uncle Virendra, an unidentified friend, and cousins Vijay and Vishal.
Image Credit: Supplied

Struggle for beds, oxygen

“Their wives rushed them to different hospitals. But, none of the hospitals would admit them without an RT-PCR positive report. Moreover, most of the hospitals were fully occupied at that point of time. There were no beds available then.”

Pankaj said he advised his relatives to arrange oxygen cylinders.

“My uncle’s second son Vijay, 40, somehow arranged one cylinder for Rs15,000. The whole night three of them were sharing that one cylinder.”

The next day, Vishal Agarwal died while his father and brother were still struggling to get admitted in any of the hospitals in Prayagraj.

“Through internet, we were also looking for availability of beds for them. It was all occupied everywhere. The sad part was that neighbours were afraid to come to their house. Nobody was able to support them due to the fear of infection.”

On April 20, they both got beds in different hospitals. “My uncle was admitted in a government hospital and his son Vikas was admitted in a private COVID-19 hospital as by then they had got the RT-PCR positive report.”

No proper facilities

Pankaj said the patients still struggled with no proper facilities at the hospitals. “There was no availability of oxygen-cylinders, ventilators and lifesaving drugs in both the hospitals, which were fully occupied at that time. My uncle died that night in the hospital, while Vikas died four days later.”

Apart from the COVID-19 complications, Vikas was also under depression due to the deplorable state of affairs at the hospital, he said.

“When we spoke to him on mobile, we came to know that the situation in the hospital was pathetic. Nobody was attending to patients. People were crying for help. There was no proper sanitation or cleanliness. He said even non-COVID patients would not survive there. Vikas continuously kept pleading to be taken out of the hospital. We were so helpless. We couldn’t do anything.”

From left: Pankaj’s cousins Vishal, Vikas, Pankaj with Vikas’ daughter (left), Pankaj’s daughter and son with his nephew at the centre.
Image Credit: Supplied

Last male member

When Vikas also passed away, only one male member was left behind in Pankaj’s uncle’s family — his cousin Vijay.

“He was also infected. We struggled to console the wives of all three cousins. All their wives were also infected and were devastated. They have small daughters. There was no other male member to take care of them.”

With the bitter experience they faced in the hospitals, he said, the family then decided not to get Vijay admitted though his lungs were also affected.

“His lungs were 65 per cent affected. But he survived using oxygen cylinders at home and medicines prescribed by doctors through teleconsultation. He became COVID-free after ten days of home treatment. But, he still cannot move out. His wife is taking care of him.”

Tragedy strikes again

As his family members were struggling to come to terms with the loss of his uncle, aunt and two sons, tragedy struck Pankaj’s family back home in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. His younger brother Neeraj Agarwal, 48, passed away after a 15-day battle with COVID-19.

“He was admitted to a local private hospital first. After a week, he got moved to another private hospital because the treatment at the first hospital was not satisfactory. The second hospital charged the family an exorbitant amount. Even then they could not save my brother. By God’s grace, his wife and daughter survived.”

Pankaj said he felt helpless as he was unable to travel home due to travel restrictions and lockdowns back home. “My youngest brother Amit, who lives in Rudrapur, performed the last rites of Neeraj. I was supposed to do it. My sister Vijeyta, who lives in Delhi, also went home to console my mother and Neeraj’s family. I could only call them up regularly.”

Urgent action needed

He said he was anguished at COVID-19 death cases still rising in Uttar Pradesh.

“The situation there has improved after the lockdown was enforced. Due to the impact of COVID-19, many working members, especially men, are dying and the families are left with ladies and children with the burden of liabilities and to make both ends meet. What would be the future of those children? Our political leaders should think about them and support the insecure families and protect the society.”

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He also called for urgent intervention of the authorities in ensuring proper health care, especially for COVID-19 patients, and to put an end to the exploitation of patients’ families.

Pankaj said he felt blessed to be living in the UAE and thanked the leaders for ensuring the welfare of the citizens and residents here even during the pandemic.

More than 1.68 million have been infected in Uttar Pradesh with 19,519 deaths as of Wednesday.

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