Covid has not just taken lives, it has devastated thousands of families financially as they struggled to pay for medical help for relatives hit by the virus. In Kolkata, 30-year-old Jitpal Singha has been in a hospital on ECMO — a life support machine that costs one and a half lakh rupees a day — for more than a month. Doctors have just told his family he needs to stay on that machine for another 30 days. Savings exhausted, the family is struggling to pay for the treatment.
Alpana Singha, his mother, is not even thinking about what could lie ahead. She is only thinking of his goodbye when she was leaving the hospital after meeting him briefly at the ICU.
“He can’t speak as he has all these pipes in his throat. But as I was leaving, he indicated I should take a photo of him. And he made a victory sign,” Ms Singha said.
“He asks me every time I see him, how are you Maa? I say I am well, but you have to get well soon,” she said. “And every day he asks, when am I coming home Ma?”
The mother struggles to control her tears. Her husband is off to an ashram for a few days to deal with it all. Their only child is in a hospital for two months now. At one and a half lakh rupees daily, that means at least 40 lakh rupees — money that they need now — for another 30 days on the ECMO machine.
Jitpal’s cousin Debanjan Burman is fighting the battle for him from Delhi. For the last two months, he and Jitpal’s friends have been fundraising for his treatment.
Jitpal went to school in Dehradun, Kolkata, UK and the US and has a wide circle of friends who have chipped in generously.
They raised about Rs 40 lakh, but they are nearly out.
“Right now, with the current funds, considering everything — the medical insurance, the funds the family has accumulated, the money from fundraisers — we will be dry in around 10 days,” says Debanjan.
Debanjan’s mother Debjani Burman, with whom Jitpal’s parents are staying in Kolkata, is in despair. The family lives in Midnapore, three hours from Kolkata where Jitpal is admitted.
“His father’s financial condition is not that good. He has a small business. He has some property, but he is finding it difficult to sell it at this time. The doctors said we should have about Rs 40 lakh more in hand. We have already spent around Rs 40 lakh. What can we do now?” she says.
The family’s plight is not unique. Covid has put thousands more into the same boat — insurance gone, savings gone, friends, relatives done their bit, even strangers, on crowdfunding platforms like Milaap.
Nitish Vyas, Jitpal’s childhood friend, steering the Milaap crowdfunding effort, is at his wits end. Nitish is also Jitpal’s neighbour in Bangalore where he works in a start-up.
“No family is prepared for this. It’s a difficult scenario, an impossible scenario we are in, but we are not giving up,” he said.
What is keeping him going is Jitpal’s spirit. The last time he visited him in hospital, his friend signalled he would be home soon.
“Jitpal is fighting his battle. How can his family and friends let him down,” Nitish said.
Help 30-year-old Jitpal Fight Covid.