They returned to India to be round their fathers however misplaced them each to COVID-19: NPR

Richa Srivastava (back left) with her husband Shalabh Pradhan (back right) and their two fathers Sudheer Kumar Pradhan (front left) and Sheo Prakash Srivastava (front right) in an undated family photo. Sudheer Kumar Pradhan and Sheo Prakash Srivastava died within three days at the end of April. Caption of the Pradhan family

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Pradhan family

Richa Srivastava (back left) with her husband Shalabh Pradhan (back right) and their two fathers Sudheer Kumar Pradhan (front left) and Sheo Prakash Srivastava (front right) in an undated family photo. Sudheer Kumar Pradhan and Sheo Prakash Srivastava died within three days at the end of April.

Pradhan family

MUMBAI – Shalabh Pradhan watched his young children joyfully celebrate Holi, the Indian festival of colors, with his father in March.

Pradhan, 42, is a human resources manager who has lived and worked all over the world – Kansas, Minnesota, Kuwait. He lost his mother 12 years ago and wanted to spend more time with his father, a retired defense scientist. In 2018, Pradhan and his wife, Richa Srivastava, 40, a fashion buyer, moved back from the United States to their native India. They first settled in Bengaluru’s southern technology center and then moved north to be closer to their parents after the pandemic began.

“We came back, me and my wife, because [of] My father and her father. We thought, “We will go back to India and take care of them in their older years,” explains Pradhan.

But they all had less time together than they had hoped. This was the last holi that Pradhan and Srivastava would celebrate with their fathers.

As India battles the world’s largest wave of COVID-19, the country has confirmed about 25.5 million cases and about 283,000 deaths. Experts say these numbers are likely to be a huge undercount. With only about 3% of India’s people fully vaccinated, the 1.4 billion population is nowhere near immune – and India is likely to overtake the United States as the most infected country in the world.

Sheo Prakash Srivastava and Sudheer Kumar Pradhan Pradhan family hide caption

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Sheo Prakash Srivastava and Sudheer Kumar Pradhan

Pradhan family

Buried in these statistics is the pain of families like the Pradhans and Srivastavas who lost two beloved fathers over the course of three days in April.

“Just take it away!”

About two weeks after Holi, Pradhan’s 78-year-old father, Sudheer Kumar Pradhan, developed a dry cough. At the time, people weren’t very concerned about COVID-19, and his son didn’t think about it much.

“He was healthy. His willpower was very strong,” recalls Pradhan.

However, the cases increased. On April 11, the day Pradhan’s father started coughing, the Indian Ministry of Health confirmed 152,879 new coronavirus cases – from record lows of around 10,000 a day in early February. Cases confirmed daily would eventually hit a high of 414,188 on May 7.

In mid-April India’s news was dominated by state elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held large rallies in West Bengal, a state that his Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, was hoping to regain.

“You haven’t talked about this second wave of COVID that is coming,” recalls Pradhan. “They didn’t talk about precautions. They didn’t talk about symptoms. Nothing was there.”

So Pradhan shrugged to get rid of his father’s cough. But he bought an oximeter to measure his father’s blood oxygen levels, just in case.

Sudheer Kumar Pradhan in an undated family photo. Caption of the Pradhan family

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Sudheer Kumar Pradhan in an undated family photo.

Pradhan family

Three days later, his father developed a fever. And the next day, April 15th, he fell while trying to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

“”I went and I picked him up, put him in bed. It was alarming to me, “recalls Pradhan.” So I checked its oxygen levels. It was 87. “

His father was very sick. Pradhan took him to the hospital, but the staff turned her away.

“He couldn’t stand at the counter where the reception is located,” he says. “The [hospital attendant] came and said, ‘No, we can’t take it.’ “

Pradhan’s father would not be admitted to the hospital without proof of a positive coronavirus test. He’d had a test – but the results were delayed.

A second hospital also refused to accept him. Officials said the hospital was full. His father was obviously having difficulty breathing, but the staff refused to give him oxygen.

“He could barely walk, barely stand. They reached out a stretcher and said: ‘No, take it out!'”, Pradhan NPR said with a broken voice. “I have a hard time remembering those moments. Nobody was ready to help.”

Srivastava says she can’t get it out of her head.

“They said, ‘Just take it! Keep it in the house, keep it wherever you want. Just take it away!’” She says. “I just prayed that this day would go by. It was one of the worst days of our lives.”

Pradhan and his cousins ​​were working on the phones. His brother Saurabh did too, all the way from Chicago. They eventually found their father a bed in a third hospital. He was put on a ventilator.

Sudheer Kumar Pradhan with his grandchildren in an undated family photo. Pradhan died of COVID-19 on April 21

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Sudheer Kumar Pradhan with his grandchildren in an undated family photo. Pradhan died of COVID-19 on April 21.

Pradhan family

But by then it was too late. On the evening of April 21, Pradhan’s father died at the age of 78.

Another loss

The hospital told Pradhan to collect his father’s body immediately in the middle of the night – and pay the bill immediately, including a separate charge for his bed linen. The fees were 250,000 Indian rupees – more than $ 3,400. They would not release the body without full payment. Pradhan had to find a 24-hour ATM.

He burned his father alone the next day. Nobody was able to accompany him for fear of infection.

Pradhan’s children, seven and nine years old, were stunned. They had just celebrated Holi with their grandfather.

“You cried a lot,” says Pradhan. “You only have one photo in front of you and kept crying.”

The family performed Hindu rituals in Kanpur in honor of Pradhan’s father. On the third day after his death, they drove to Srivastava’s parents’ home, about two hours away, in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. They wanted to gather together to mourn together.

But when they arrived they found Srivastava’s father, Sheo Prakash Srivastava, who was suffering from COVID-like symptoms: weakness, shortness of breath. His oxygen was low.

He died that night. It wasn’t even time to take him to the hospital.

“Everything happened so quickly and so quickly!” Srivastava remembers.

Doctors later told the family that the cause of death was likely a blood clot. They tested him for the coronavirus. Two days after his death, the result was positive.

The retired insurance officer was 71 years old and is survived by his wife and two daughters – and friends and neighbors who loved his company.

“He was very social. He always sat downstairs with my neighbors. So people were amazed. How is it that the person who was only there four or five days ago is gone now?” Says Srivastava. “He left us all.”

Sudheer Kumar Pradhan wears an elephant mask while playing with his grandchildren in an undated family photo. Pradhan died of COVID-19 on April 21

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Sudheer Kumar Pradhan wears an elephant mask while playing with his grandchildren in an undated family photo. Pradhan died of COVID-19 on April 21.

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Memory of two patriarchs

In the weeks since these two men died, India has broken world records for confirmed daily coronavirus case numbers and deaths. Scientists suspect the wave has peaked, although they’re unsure, because the virus is spreading in rural areas where testing and medical care are inadequate. On Wednesday, India confirmed the world’s highest single-day death toll (4,529) from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Srivastava, her mother, Pradhan and their children have isolated themselves at home and are in mourning. In the meantime, Pradhan himself has tested positive for the coronavirus. He hadn’t noticed his own symptoms when he was so busy saving his father.

Left to right: Richa Srivastava, her mother, her father Sheo Prakash Srivastava, her husband Shalabh Pradhan, his father Sudheer Kumar Pradhan and their children in an undated family photo in the Statue of Liberty. Caption of the Pradhan family

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Left to right: Richa Srivastava, her mother, her father Sheo Prakash Srivastava, her husband Shalabh Pradhan, his father Sudheer Kumar Pradhan and their children in an undated family photo in the Statue of Liberty.

Pradhan family

The family experiences their trauma with every television report on COVID-19 and India’s collapsing health system. Unlike in mid-April, the virus is now dominating Indian news.

Srivastava and Pradhan are not sure what to do next. At the moment they are just sorting through old photos of their fathers – they are playing with grandchildren at a family wedding, in the Statue of Liberty.

“Lots of memories! That’s why it hurts even more because I keep remembering these little things – like [my father] used to cut fruit for me. Nobody will ever cut fruit like that for me again, “says Srivastava.” All these little gestures. “

Pradhan recently wrote a poem to mourn both of his parents:

Who should I tell that I am in pain? Whose shoulder am I crying on? Everyone forgets, you just stay in our memories.

He tries to focus on memories from the past few months – their last Holi together – when the pandemic gave his family a precious opportunity to get closer before taking away two loved ones.

NPR producer Sushmita Pathak from Hyderabad, India contributed to this story.

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