Essays & Confessions/Living

What It’s Like To Be An Immigrant With COVID-Positive Family Members Across The Planet

By | Tuesday, September 22, 2020

I’ve always envied classmates and peers who could simply hop in a car and drive to see their grandparents. For me, the process has always involved long lines in airport security (which includes thorough scrutiny of my brown skin), at least two long-haul flights, and an unwelcomed bout of jet lag. But, in the end, I either have the pleasure of spending two to three months in India with my grandparents or having them stay with my family in the states for a similar duration of time. Perhaps because of this, I’ve grown up writing letters to my grandparents, looking forward to the unusual stamps they’d send me from India, to now sending them regular text updates on WhatsApp. The truth is, despite living an ocean across from them, I’m a lot closer to my grandparents than those who often take it for granted that their relatives live just a mere car ride away.

However, recently the reality that my grandparents live in a country that my family has long since moved away from has been difficult to swallow during the COVID-19 pandemic. The nature of this disease is such that, even for those who live close to their loved ones, it’s safer to be apart and keep a distance if they’re unwell. After all, taking care of them puts your own health at risk. But, as I’ve come to learn, though COVID-19 isolates those who are unwell, there are still distinct advantages to living closer than not to your loved ones.

For one, if a family member who lives nearer to you falls ill during this time, chances are that you have a baseline level of knowledge regarding the health care system in the area, and the types of treatment options that are available. When both my grandparents tested positive for COVID-19 in India earlier this month, my family knew neither. Yet, were extremely lucky: my grandmother, who suffers from an autoimmune disease, tested asymptomatic for the virus. As such, she was able to drive my grandfather from hospital to hospital, looking for an available bed. The rising case count in India means that many hospitals are overrun and patients are being turned away. Even after my grandfather was able to receive hospital care, the types of treatments he was exposed to were not ones that had been approved in the United States. While there were reputable studies that reported immense success from the usage of the drugs he was given, laws in America prevented those drugs from being given to patients without fully completing clinical trials, first.

As such, my family and I spent hours poring over scientific papers and news articles, reading up on the medications that both my grandfather and grandmother were receiving. While asymptomatic patients in America are simply told to quarantine at home until they test negative for COVID-19 twice, in India, patients with mild to no symptoms of the disease are given a prescription for a new, weeklong medication that claims to treat the virus effectively. For someone like myself who lives in a country where the majority of citizens plan to refuse to take a vaccine for COVID-19, even after it has undergone clinical scrutiny, this contrast has been shocking. While my grandparents are adults who are allowed to make their own decisions regarding their bodies, it has nonetheless been difficult to be a world apart from loved ones, reading about untested medical treatments and drugs that people I love are trusting.

In addition to these shifts, including rapidly learning about the medical procedures being used in India, waking up at random hours of the night to speak with doctors and nurses for updates on my grandfather, formulating a plan for his at-home care afterward (given the lockdown restrictions in the city he resides), also came the daunting task of traveling to India. My mother, an only child, was wracked with anxiety upon learning about my grandparents’ diagnosis, and given the isolating nature of COVID-19, she felt uncomfortable asking cousins in the country to physically check-in on her parents and care for them. On top of that, flying internationally right now is no joke. Given the dearth of flights, my mom had to book her travels directly through the Indian government. This meant that she, and other passengers, had to present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding, which was easy enough, but upon landing in India, depending on the city she planned to travel to, quarantine restrictions varied. In some places, the restrictions were limited to a week in a government-sanctioned hotel and another week with home quarantine. In others, there were two weeks of hotel quarantine. Still, other cities had a twenty-one-day at-home quarantine rule. Unlike in America, these quarantine rules were enforced by the government who either escorted you to a hotel or placed signs in front of your home preventing others from entering (and you from exiting), until your quarantine was completed.

Since my mom was using a combination of vacation time and sick days for her visit and was not permitted to work from India due to security issues, she was on a time crunch that didn’t accommodate some of the harsher quarantine restrictions in the country. She lucked out, however, as the Indian government permitted my mother to fulfill the entirety of quarantine at her final destination spot – which was at-home with my grandparents. These rules are changing constantly, though, as the situation develops, and as a second wave hits other parts of the globe. So until she manages to return home to the United States in one piece, my family and I will continue to monitor updates to lockdown restrictions in India, in addition to pandemic-related news domestically.

Beyond these mentally exhausting difficulties, it is emotionally taxing to have a loved one test positive for COVID-19. Whether they be a sixteen-minute drive from you or a sixteen-hour plane ride, it’s heartbreaking. As I said, my family got lucky: my grandmother was asymptomatic despite having a serious autoimmune disease, my grandfather received hospital care at a time when so many in India are being turned away, and he never once had to be admitted into the ICU. My mom managed to obtain flight tickets and avoid an extended quarantine in a city that is no longer her home and my family had the emergency savings needed to ensure that all of this could happen. As the pandemic continues to rage across the planet, I hope other immigrants are spared the circumstances my family went through. At the end of the day, even if you’re not an immigrant, this isn’t an easy situation, and the added challenges certainly aren’t insignificant.

Keertana Anandraj is a recent college grad living in San Francisco. When she isn’t conducting international macroeconomic research at her day job, you can find her in the spin room or planning her next adventure.

Image via Pexels

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