It was the third day of Ramadan, and about one month into the coronavirus pandemic. The ear-piercing racket of ambulance sirens resonated constantly throughout my New York City neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens.
But another sound troubled me even more. My 76-year-old grandma was gasping for air. She sat slouched on her bed, leaning against the wall. The heaviness of her breath tugged her down. “What happened?” I asked.
“I’m fine. I just took a shower,” she said.
“No you’re not. I’m telling mom. Why didn’t you listen to her?”
My grandma has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, a lung disease. Humid air, like from a hot shower, can cause her symptoms to worsen. She had already been hospitalized four times in the past six months.
Before the pandemic, my parents took her to the hospital without hesitation. But in April 2020, as the city was on lockdown, my parents worried that she could develop pneumonia if she wasn’t hospitalized. And if they took her to the hospital now, we thought she might contract COVID.
“I couldn’t stand not showering for three weeks,” she said.
“Well, it’s better than going to the hospital,” I replied.
Should We Take Her to the Hospital?
Later that night, my grandma developed a fever and couldn’t sleep.
“Should we take her to the hospital?” my mom said.
“Should we?” my dad questioned. “What if she gets the coronavirus there?”
I saw on the news that the cases were exponentially growing, and the hospitals were so full they had added tents to accommodate the surge in patients. Many hospitals lacked beds, machines, and medical supplies like personal protective equipment. Still, my grandma’s condition seemed to be worsening by the minute, and I didn’t know if she would recover without being treated in a hospital.
“You can’t keep her home like this,” I said.
My dad called the doctor, who prescribed medicine to help treat her. He went to the pharmacy and bought the medicine and a nebulizer—which helps patients by making medication inhalable.
My grandma wasn’t getting any better, though. The rumbling sound of mucus in her airway echoed throughout the apartment. Her restlessness increased. I had never seen her like this because my parents generally took her to the hospital right away when she got this bad and there she received the care she needed.
My mom and I sat up with her all night. I didn’t want to lose her. She’s the only grandparent I have. She always helped around the house, even if it was exhausting for her, and tried to help relatives far off in Bangladesh. She gave away a lot of her money, even when she barely had any.
The next day, my parents called her physician again, and he recommended they take my grandma to an urgent care facility. So, my parents and my older brother drove her there.
I didn’t know if I would see her again, and that frightened me.
I spent the day by the phone with my sister, answering calls from concerned relatives. They sent us their thoughts and prayers. Their calls were comforting and made me hopeful.
But when I wasn’t on the phone, I became preoccupied with my thoughts and neglected my daily chores of sweeping the floor, making the beds, and dusting the furniture. I couldn’t eat; my belly rumbled from emptiness. The chrome-plated clock in the living room ticked louder and louder, almost driving me mad as I waited for updates about my grandma.
I decided to kneel for a set of prayers in the living room with my sister. When my family finally came home, I continued to pray. My mom was sobbing with her face buried in my brother’s arms. When she raised her head I saw her red, watery eyes and faint streams of tears on her cheeks. Right away, my sister broke her prayer and embraced my mom.
“What happened?” I heard my sister ask. My mom swayed her head and her mouth trembled. My father was outside parking the car.
Should I break my prayer? I thought.
The pandemic deprived us of Ramadan congregation activities like praying in a mosque and volunteering. Still, praying at this time of day was important to me. I rushed through my daily prayer.
I raised my hands and positioned them together, so that my hands created a valley. I lowered my gaze on to my hands and begged: “Oh Allah, help my grandmother. Keep her safe. Keep all of us healthy during this time. Please cure our sicknesses. Please forgive us for our sins. Help my grandmother. Help my grandma. Help my nana.”
Then, I folded the soft, bright red praying mat and put it away in my grandma’s room, where my family stored the prayer mats. There, I found my mom sitting on grandma’s bed weeping.
A Void Inside of Me
My mom told me she and grandma had waited inside the car until they called my grandma’s number. As soon as the nurse examined her and found dangerously low blood oxygen levels, she called 911.
My mom begged them not to take my grandma. She said she would buy everything necessary to take care of my grandma at home, regardless of the cost. But they insisted she needed hospitalization.
For the rest of the day, whenever I entered my grandma’s room, I felt a void inside of me. I no longer saw her sitting there, cracking betel nuts and quarreling with my sister. It reminded me of when I was 10 years old, and my grandma left for Dubai. I remember pressing my face into my pillow and crying myself to sleep for a whole week because I missed her so much.
Now, she was once again absent from my life. With her in the hospital, I cried myself to sleep again because I didn’t know if she would leave me forever this time.
My Prayers Are Answered
But then my prayers were answered. My grandma didn’t have COVID. She had a COPD exacerbation. They gave her steroids and supplemental oxygen.
My grandma didn’t have a phone with her at the hospital, and no one was allowed to visit her there. Thankfully, the nurse in charge was nice and let my grandma use her phone. When I talked to her, she told me how busy the hospital was and how eager she was to leave.
My grandma got better and was discharged from the hospital a week later.
A few months before, I would never have expected a pandemic to force us into quarantine. I would never have thought that going to a hospital could be dangerous.
Until the majority of Americans are vaccinated, I’ve decided I need to spend more time with my family; I do not know what the future holds for us. My grandma still suffers from COPD, but there haven’t been any more close calls because she has been more careful to avoid anything that can cause exacerbations.
Ramadan is about appreciating what we have and giving back to the community. This pandemic certainly has made me appreciate my family and my health. In a way, we can all give back to the community by quarantining, possibly saving countless lives. The pandemic has not ended, so we should continue to follow safety protocols like wearing masks and social distancing. We must all do our part.
- How do you think Shadman feels as his grandmother’s condition worsens?
- How does prayer help Shadman?
- What’s something that helps you cope with a tough time?
- Shadman mentions that the pandemic has made him appreciate his family and his health. What has the pandemic made you appreciate?