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What Truly Matters: A COVID-19 Story

| This is the 538th story of Our Life Logs® |


If you focus hard on getting away from something, you may find yourself taking for granted what was right in front of you. Because I did this, I nearly lost what mattered most. Have I piqued your interest? Let’s dive in.

I grew up in a poor family in a small village near Faislabad, Pakistan. Although my parents wanted me to achieve my dreams, they sadly didn’t have the resources to help me get there. I remember the days that my father would come home drenched in sweat with little money in his pocket to show for it. Since my parents couldn’t afford an education for me, my father would take me to job sites to help him plow or lay bricks. My mother, a loyal and supportive wife, pledged to live in whatever condition my father kept us. As long as we were together, she was thankful. As for me, I wanted more from life. I never complained, but I can’t lie; deep down I used to curse my existence.

Then, when I was just 16, my father died of a heart attack. I had little time to mourn as I had to get to work taking his place as the breadwinner for our family. But his absence could be felt in everything I did from that day on. But my sorrows didn’t end there. Death came to our door, but it hadn’t finished collecting its toll. Not long after my father passed, my mother fell sick and died too. After that, there was nothing left for me. I felt so hollow.

With no reason to stay in our village, I decided to move to Lahore with all that I had saved up, in hopes that a new city would bring me some luck and a happier life.

After moving to Lahore, I started working as a driver, got married, and started a family of my own. The money we made was hardly enough for our monthly bills, but with the occasional extra shifts, my wife and I would take, we got by and could afford to feed our three children. It worked for us for a while, and I thought I had started to get a handle on life. Still, I wanted better. I wanted better for my kids.

Cue January 2020 and the first whispers of a deathly pandemic. I’ll be honest, my wife and I didn’t really believe it at first. When businesses started getting shut down, including our places of work, we found ourselves let go of our positions until “things got better.” With no way to pay our bills and feed our kids, we begged for our jobs, but we were turned away. I screamed my frustrations to the sky because I was still convinced that this pandemic was all being blown out of proportion. 

My wife and I trudged through the city in search of new jobs, but we came up empty each day. Coming home to our hungry, hollow-faced children brought me to tears. I felt useless. All we had in the house was tea and that could not settle the grumble of their stomachs. 

Seeing their misery, I regretted not having any savings, not preparing, not learning from my father’s mistakes. I would secretly cry alone, cursing myself for being so powerless. It was then that I understood the position my father had been in when I was a boy. I used to resent him for not getting me educated, but now I was in his position, and I understood. And it wasn’t a good feeling. I wanted to kill myself. I hated the cards life had given me, that things never got better. I hated that a virus I didn’t believe in was ruining what I had built.

Sometimes I wonder if I got punished for being so skeptical. Because COVID-19 came for us.

One morning, my wife and daughter woke up feeling feverish. I thought it was a common cold or some infection at first, but days passed, and their fevers wouldn’t subside. Growing up in the community of the poor and illiterate, it was not common to instantly rush to a hospital in these kinds of situations. Because there’s no concept of it. We aren’t educated to know the gravity of things. I didn’t have the slightest clue that my daughter and wife could be victims of COVID-19.

On the third day of them suffering, I took them to a government hospital where the doctors ran some tests. The staff didn’t let me in, but I could see everything from a distance. At first, they weren’t even ready to admit my wife and daughter because the hospital was flooded with COVID-19 patients. It was a total disaster. All the wards and departments were packed. Doctors, patients, and families flitted around the hospital. Every inch of the hospital was in motion, unrest, and chaos everywhere. That was when I saw just how real it was, how foolish I’d been.

After hours of waiting, they admitted my wife and daughter, and I was told the official results: they had contracted COVID-19. My daughter was so weak and weary that she could barely open her eyes. My wife was delirious, definitely losing it. It felt like her life was just slipping away. 

How does one react to seeing such close family members in such awful conditions? I lost my cool, to be honest, because I wasn’t sure if leaving my wife and daughter in the chaos was the best thing for them. I didn’t even know what they were going to do with them. I started having a panic attack in the hospital. It was even worse because I had never even been to a hospital before. My wife had our children at my in-laws' place in the village. All of this was very new to me. I just hoped with all my being that my wife and daughter would recover and the hospital would take care of them.

I rushed back to the hospital in the morning where I was informed that because of the constant flood of patients, some patients were shifted to a quarantine center very far away.  It was created for poor folk like us who couldn’t afford treatment. It was a way to still help the sick. My wife and daughter had been transferred there to make room for new patients. I knew I had to go, to make sure they were okay, no matter how long it took me to get there.

It was nearly a full day of travel before I made it to the quarantine center. My hands shook as I was given the news that my wife wasn’t doing well. Her vitals were very low. I was furious at the news. 

“She should have stayed at the hospital!” I yelled.

I wanted to know why she was transferred in such a critical condition. They told me they had thousands of patients to attend to and that I would have to leave and come back after 14 days to check on her. Visitors weren’t allowed, so I’d just have to wait outside for a scrap of news about my family. I gazed at the hospital windows and longed to be in there with my wife and daughter. But since I couldn’t, I stayed outside, waiting for news, any news.

Doctors would come out to inform family members a couple times a day of patients’ conditions, and that’s how I got my information about my wife and daughter. I was also told that my wife’s condition continued to worsen so they put on a ventilator. I was convinced then that she was going to die, and I could hardly breathe. She was already malnourished and fragile, and the virus was eating her alive.  My daughter was recovering gradually, but she was weak too. That was great news, but the fear that I may lose my wife still hung in my mind. Losing her would shatter my soul into a thousand pieces. 

Days passed, but my wife didn’t improve. My daughter was recovering quickly, and they even said that I could take her home. Meanwhile, my wife was still hanging somewhere between life and death. I would spend days outside the center praying and reciting the Quran hoping for a miracle. If I could just have my wife get better, I would stop wishing for more out of my life, I said. If I had my wife, that’s all I would need for a happy life. Just please don’t take her, I begged. I already lost my parents. I can’t lose any more family.

After 13 days, my prayers were answered. One of the doctors told me that my wife had opened her eyes and gained consciousness. He told me there was hope now. And although she was very fragile and internally weak, there were chances of recovery. I stayed there in front of the hospital, nerves frayed and shivering, thinking about all the good and the bad things that could happen. I hoped with all my being that some good would come to me.

Days later, a nurse called my name while I was waiting outside. Shivers ran down my spine. She told me that my wife was better and was gradually recovering. I wish I could put all my feelings into words. I can’t. It’s impossible to explain what it feels like when your life is being sucked away from you then to have it suddenly returned. I was overjoyed and overwhelmed. This gave me a ray of hope and a reason to live again.

After a few days both my wife and daughter were able to come home. Being able to hold them in my arms again made my heart soar. I spent so much of my life dissatisfied in life, wanting more. The effects of COVID-19 showed me what I held most dear. I saw what truly matters. If you have family, you’re not destitute. Nothing is promised, and now I take nothing for granted.

This is the story of Shahid Saggad

Shahid (44) almost lost the two most important people in his life. After losing his parents as a teenager, Shahid couldn’t bear to lose any more family. Nearly losing them showed him how important it is to value the people in your life. He now wishes to give his children the best possible education he can. He misses his father and has promised that his children will get the education he couldn’t get.

Shahid, 2020.

This story first touched our hearts on September 18, 2020.

| Writer: Noor Pasha | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

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