Api antheema asarana wela! (We are totally helpless.) This was the agonised cry of COVID-19 positive Chamodi who lives in Piliyandala off the 255-Paara (the Piliyandala-Kottawa Road), when we contacted her on Wednesday night and Friday evening, having heard of the pathetic plight of her family. Even as she answered her mobile and spoke to [...]


A cry for help: COVID-stricken and no one to turn to


Api antheema asarana wela! (We are totally helpless.)

This was the agonised cry of COVID-19 positive Chamodi who lives in Piliyandala off the 255-Paara (the Piliyandala-Kottawa Road), when we contacted her on Wednesday night and Friday evening, having heard of the pathetic plight of her family.

Even as she answered her mobile and spoke to us, we realised that she was taking deep breaths, as if there was some difficulty in breathing.

Her experience of abandonment, the Sunday Times heard from many in other areas too, while Sri Lanka continued to remain “open” despite a major spread of the Delta variant and a high death toll.

As disgruntled experts cried, pleaded and argued for a strict lockdown even including a stringent curfew, social media had numerous appeals seeking information on any vacant hospital beds.

Knowing for a certainty that they did not stand even a sliver of a chance of getting into a state hospital – most of which are full-up or close to filling up – many floundered around looking for beds in private hospitals or intermediate care centres (ICCs) run by these private hospitals.

While some in authority suggested that the plight of the people is in the hands of God, experts were very specific about what mortals in Sri Lanka could do: If we bring in strict movement controls, even a curfew, there may be a slight reduction in numbers in two weeks. Otherwise, crisis-ridden Sri Lanka will sink deeper into the abyss of disease and death and there would be no return.

“If the authorities do bring in heavy control measures, the very mild easing of infections will allow the hospitals to ‘recover’ from the current onslaught,” they said.

For 29-year-old Chamodi, there was only terror and trauma while also battling the virus coursing through her system.

“My whole family is COVID-19 positive,” says Chamodi and that includes her mother, her Punchi, her Mama, her husband and herself. The only person who had not contracted the virus so far, was her seven-year-old daughter. All these families live in separate houses but close to each other.

The rollercoaster into uncertainty and helplessness began about 10 days ago, when her Malli’s wife tested positive and all the family members became first contacts.

From pillar-to-post, they have been sent from then onwards.

When they approached the Bokundara Medical Officer of Health (MOH) office, they had been told in no uncertain terms that they did not fall under its purview but under the Piliyandala MOH office, said Chamodi, alleging that when they called the Kesbewa MOH office, they were met by a barrage of angry rebukes.

Ledeta wada maanasika peedanayakata muna denewa,” she says.

Chamodi’s mother, meanwhile, became breathless and underwent an RT-PCR test. The family followed up with Rapid Antigen Testing (all done at private laboratories, spending much money) as some of them had fever as high as 104°F, sema (phlegm) and kessa (cough). All were positive.

That was on Monday but when they informed the PHI of the area, they had been told to get the RT-PCR tests done and to WhatsApp the results. Chamodi says that most probably the PHI is overloaded with work due to high numbers turning positive.

With no way of going for RT-PCR testing, they called an ambulance on Tuesday, to be told that the ambulances were “godak busy” and that Colomba avata ambulance ne (there were no ambulances around Colombo). They kept trying the number though and as Chamodi’s phone credit ran out, they attempted to get through on another phone. When the call was picked up they had been curtly told that they need to get through from the earlier phone as that was the number registered.

“How can we get credit when we don’t have enough money,” asks Chamodi plaintively, explaining that up to Friday the ambulance had not come.

At their wit’s end, they had somehow managed to secure a private trishaw and headed for the closest university hospital. Stopped at the gate by the staff who usually pastes stickers, they had been rudely asked: “Kohomada mehema enne” and chased off immediately, she says.

Back home, they have been awaiting further instructions from the PHI but up to Friday “mokuthma ne” (absolutely nothing).

On Friday, hearing that the health authorities were conducting RT-PCR testing at a ground close by, the family had dragged themselves there (“usma-ganna beri wunath, negitinna beri wunath”) and stood in the queue from 8 to 11.30 a.m. amidst a crowd of around 500 people. But no tests had been done on them and they had gone back home disappointed.

When asked whether they got themselves vaccinated earlier, she says that they tried, spending long hours in queues but were not successful as they are living on rent and the address on their National Identity Cards (NICs) is of their hometown.

Uhulaganna be, sighs Chamodi of the current home situation. She is having severe body aches and pains and is breathless and her husband is sleeping all the time and not raising his head or eating. “Papuwata sema behela wage (the phlegm seems to have got into his chest),” is her thinking.

Their household is also facing many challenges. Their friends bring food and leave them out for them to pick up, but their gas cylinder has run out and they cannot get a replacement.

“We cannot boil some lemon leaves for inhalation,” she says.

Whatever stock of food they had is nearly over and anyway they cannot cook as they have no gas, says Chamodi.

What has hit them the hardest is that their little girl does not have milk powder. “I have given a round of calls to my friends, but they say there is a shortage of milk powder. If we had a packet or two, we can use the heater jug which works on electricity to make my daughter a cup of milk,” she says.

The family is in constant contact with the child’s Paediatrician who seems to be the only one supporting them over the phone in their time of dire need.

Even in the midst of such a dilemma, Chamodi winds up the call with a plea to us: “Don’t get COVID. It’s a terrible disease.”

Another tragic tale we hear from Battaramulla. An elderly man who sought treatment for another ailment than COVID-19 from a major hospital had returned home only to find that he was positive. Three days later he was dead. His daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, all tested positive as well.

When the daughter took a turn for the worse, a kind neighbour had tried numerous hospitals, both state and private, to get her the urgently needed care, but without success.

The ambulance had arrived only around 10.30 a.m. on August 1 and before they could transfer her into the vehicle to take her to hospital she had died.

Her weeping husband and daughter had been by her side the whole day until health staff arrived in the evening to take her body away.

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