Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Flu

ayatri and Raghu were waiting for their appointment with the doctor. Their daughter Shruti had been complaining of cough, cold and body ache since last evening. There were two other young kids in the waiting area with masks on.

A newspaper lay on the coffee table in that waiting area with the headlines “Swine Flu: Many city schools closed as precaution”

The nurse called them in.

The doctor examined Shruti. “When did the symptoms start?”

“From last evening, doctor. She has been complaining of body pain, cough and cold.”

“The symptoms are indicative of H1N1. I will prescribe a test. There are only three places in the city that are authorized by the government to collect samples and perform the test as of now— The Government Hospital, Chennai, The Communicable Diseases Hospital at Tondiarpet, and King Institute at Guindy. Private hospitals will not admit H1N1 cases until the government issues a directive.”

Shruti looked up at her parents. Gayatri and Raghu were worried.

“There is a private lab that can also do a test. They have also been permitted by the government to collect samples just recently. You can also try that out.”

He handed over a prescription for the tests.

* * *
There were a steady stream of people coming into the Healthtech lab. A small temporary room was created outside the main lab to collect H1N1 samples.

The medical officer at the lab walked up to Gayatri and Raghu.

“Are you sure you need the H1N1 test to be done. We need to speak to your doctor and confirm this. Do you have his number? I am sorry we have to do this because there is a serious spike in requests for H1N1 test requests!”

Raghu gave him his number. The medical officer returned a minute later after speaking to the doctor.

“Please give a throat swab sample. There are two tests that we will do. The first one is only an Influenza A or B discrimination test. If it is Influenza B, it is not Swine Flu. That test costs 250 rupees. The H1N1 test is done with an experimental kit from Korea. That will cost 5000 rupees.”

“Would you need a separate sample for that?”

“No. We can do that with the same sample that we collect now.”

“Okay. In that case, please run the A/B discrimination test and we will decide on the H1N1 test.”

They paid the cashier. They were asked to come back at 5.00 PM to collect the report.

* * *
Raghu collected the report that evening and opened it to see what it stated. It came out positive for Influenza A. He met the medical officer and asked him to do a full H1N1 test, paid the cash and returned home. The report would take 24 hours.

The doctor had already called Gayatri before Raghu reached home. He had enquired about Shruti’s health and wanted to know how the testing went.

Raghu called him back to update that Shruti had tested positive for Influenza A and they had asked for the full H1N1 test to be done.

“In that case, I suggest you also give a sample at the GH, CDH or King Institute. Which location is convenient for you?”

“We will go the King Institute doctor.”

“Okay. King Institute is only the collection facility. You will have to go to GH or CDH for treatment.”

“Thanks Doctor!”

* * *
Their car entered the service road that led to the King Institute, Guindy. It was 7 PM. There were people streaming in even at that time. The institute’s sample collection center was open 24 x 7. There were signs that directed them to the screening location.

They were asked to fill a form. There were at least 20 other families waiting.

A panel of doctors examined every patient. After a few minutes of wait, it was Shruti’s turn. Raghu and Gayatri went in. They showed the Influenza A positive report from the private lab to the doctor. She wrote a remark in the form, directed them to the sample collection center and said, “Please ask the technician to prioritize this case.”

Gayatri and Raghu walked a hundred yards to the collection center. There was a door with a biohazard sign that read “H1N1 samples collected here”

The lab technician in a clinical mask collected a throat swab from Shruti. Raghu showed him the report and the doctor’s remark on the form and requested him to prioritize the case. The technician made a red X mark on the form and added it to the top of a pile of forms with red X marks on the top right corner.

“It will be 24 hours. You can collect the report tomorrow at 8.30 PM.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Sir, we used to get less than a 100 samples each day two weeks ago. Today, we are getting 3,000 samples a day. King Institute is where samples from all over the state are being sent for analysis. We are stretched, but you will get the report. Please come back at 8.30 PM tomorrow!”

* * *
The family walked back to the car. On their way they saw the office of the Head of virology. Gayatri said she would like to meet and speak to him.

She walked into that building.

The Head of virology was in the middle of his staff meeting. The institute was doing three shifts and the load was going to increase in the coming days. He stopped when he saw Gayatri at the door.

“Yes. How can I help you?”

“Our daughter is unwell and we came here to give a sample. She tested positive for Influenza A. We are really worried. Will we get the report in 24 hours? I hear that we need to start treatment within the first 48 hours of onset of symptoms, if it is H1N1. I am really worried.”

“Ma’am! Please don’t panic. The report will be ready tomorrow. You should come here at 8.30 PM and collect it. The reports will be dispatched from here.”

* * *
The next 24 hours were a great ordeal for Gayatri and Raghu. Shruti was quarantined in the bedroom and all family members wore masks.

Raghu worked from home and sent a note to his office colleagues asking them to seal and sanitize his cabin as a matter of abundant precaution.

That evening Raghu and Gayatri left to the institute to gather the report. The grandparents were watching Shruti.

The dark night lent eeriness to the institute. The roads were illuminated by street lamps. The screening center was closed. Anyone who was coming in to submit samples were asked to directly go to the sample collection center.

The office of the Head of virology was open and the lights on. But there was no one in the office. A motorcycle was parked outside. Raghu and Gayatri waited there for a few minutes. Each passing minute increased their anxiety.

Just then, a staff member arrived in a bike. He had gone out to buy dinner. He parked his vehicle and walked towards the couple.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes. The Head of virology said that we need to come here to collect the report.”

“When did you submit the sample?”

“Yesterday… We were told to come and collect the report today.”

“Let me check. He is probably at the back of the office having his dinner.”

He went to the back and returned back a minute later.
“He is here. He will be with you in ten minutes. Can you please wait?”

The couple waited. Finally, the doctor emerged.

“What is your child’s name?”

“Shruti, 9 yrs old.”

“And you sir?”

“You would have received a call if there was anything to worry. Did you get a call?”

Gayatri and Raghu looked at each other. “No doctor. We did not get any call.”

“Ok, good. Let me check the computer. Give me a minute…”

He came back a minute later with a paper in his hand accompanied by the staff member.

“Here is the report. It is just common flu. Don’t worry. She will be alright in a few days. Follow your doctor’s advice.”

Raghu and Gayatri heaved a sigh of relief. They thanked the doctor profusely and headed out of the institute. The street lights appeared to shine brighter.

DISCLAIMER: Although this is a story based on actual events, this is a work of fiction. All characters depicted in the story are fictional and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

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