How a 105-year-old beat the virus

105-year-old Chandra Kumari Joshi after beating the coronavirus. All photos: JOSHI FAMILY

Six weeks ago, the live-in nurse who takes care of my 105-year-old grandmother-in-law (Muwa) fell ill. She had developed cold-like symptoms and a headache, but not a fever. After she went back home for Tihar, Muwa developed a dry cough, but no fever.

She began to take cough medicine, but we also applied every home remedy, steam treatments, turmeric water, honey, ginger, what have you. The fact that this could be indicative of Covid did not even cross my mind because I still somehow believed that having the coronavirus meant high fever. On the third day, Muwa’s cough got better.

But then I developed a fever the day before भाइ टिका on 16 November and isolated immediately. I could only  get tested the day after Tihar, and the next day my husband developed a fever as well. My report came back positive 24 hours later, and all other seven members in our house -- including my grandmother-in-law--tested positive.

The news of Muwa at her age testing positive was chilling. We had taken every possible precaution, ensured every measure to keep her safeSo the coming days were filled with worry.

However, if we could look for a silver lining during this ordeal, it was that we did not need to follow strict measures of isolation, since everyone in our household had tested positive. We had been worrying about making different sleeping, cooking, and bathroom arrangements while we were waiting for all our results to come back, but that was not necessary anymore.

So we shut the front gate, and sealed ourselves from the world. No one was allowed in or out. Our daughter and my sister-in-law had left enough essentials on our doorstep to last the duration of our isolation.

Of the eight people in our home, my husband and I were the only ones who developed a fever, the others all had only mild symptoms. But while my fever peaked at 100°F, my husband, who is diabetic, had a high fever right from the start. When his oxygen level began to drop, he had to be admitted to hospital where he stayed for two weeks, completing a course of steroid and antibiotic treatments for secondary lung infection.

It was an extremely stressful time back at home. On one hand, I worried about my husband alone in the hospital. On the other, I worried over what to tell his grandmother whenever she asked about her grandson.

One day, Muwa said, “It’s so lonely here with just you and me.” Maybe she realised that it would just be the two of us in that family from now onwards. So when her grandson returned home after two weeks in hospital, she exclaimed in relief, “Finally, I can see you like this.”

Muwa likes to watch the tv news every day, and when she asks, “What happened today?”. She wants us to know how many people died of Covid-19 that day, and we give her the figure.

Muwa often asks when her great-grandchildren, who live abroad, are going to come back home. We told her that planes were not flying because the pandemic was spreading all over the world. But since the lockdown was lifted and flights resumed, she sits on the terrace and keenly watches the planes fly by.

Some days she notices that there were very few planes. Other days, she muses, “Quite a lot of flights today.” The planes in the sky have become symbols of hope for her to be reunited with her family one day.

Muwa lost her only daughter-in-law, Angurbaba Joshi, during the pandemic. A month after her passing, she lost her sister Binda Shakya with whom she was very close. We broke the news of her passing two months later when Muwa began to ask why her sister had not been visiting.

One day, as she was expressing her annoyance over Binda Didi’s continued absence, without thinking I said, “She can’t come anymore.” She immediately asked, “Why? Is she dead?” I answered, “Yes.”

Muwa was inconsolable over the next three weeks. She has begun to forget a lot of things, but she has not forgotten that her sister has passed. In her grief, she has started to reconcile with her own mortality. “My time has come, this is it,” she said one day.

The grief of her having outlived  all of her younger siblings, a son, a daughter-in-law, and other loved ones shows clearly on her face. Sometimes, she sees her own longevity as a  curse. “Why hasn’t god taken me away yet?” she asks.

Muwa overcame ‘Karuna’ (what she calls the coronavirus, and a Sanskrit word that means ‘compassion’) better than any of us. The doctors have always told us that her lungs and her heart are as healthy as a young woman’s. Her immune system is strong, perhaps from the clean and fresh surroundings and food she grew up with. She has hardened, enduring  a great deal in life, as a child widow, and as an old woman who has seen many loved ones pass on.

Muwa’s mental fortitude is a testament to the fact that she is still here with us. Her memories may be blurred, but she is not inactive and silent, and will never be.

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