Always alive, Sushma Mane has worked.
At the age of eight, she helped with her family’s wedding dress-up business. In her twenties, she found a job as a junior librarian in Mumbai, where she was born. She worked in the public library for 32 years before retiring as its managing head. Then I became an insurance agent, made sales calls and visited clients for 15 years. Along the way, she raised three children, separated from her husband, supported a daughter whose marriage had collapsed, and became the second mother of her grandson.
On August 30, 2020, she passed away from COVID-19 in a Mumbai hospital. She was 76 years old.
“When you think of grandmothers, you have a certain image in your mind – rocking chairs, knitting needles and books,” said Mane’s 28-year-old grandson Viraj Pradhan. “It wasn’t like that. It was a super granny.”
Pradhan grew up in a suburb of Mumbai, clinging to a middle-class childhood. The family struggled to put food on the table. His parents separated when he was 12, and it was Mane who took him and his mother under her wing.
While Mane’s daughter worked 12 hours a day as a school librarian, she dressed up, took Pradhan to school, attended parent-teacher association meetings, worked on school committees, overseeing homework, and cooked meals – plus working full-time.
“It was just me,” Pradhan said with a sad smile. “When I wasn’t in school, I would tag her on the sales calls. We were inseparable.”
Mane was the oldest employee of her insurance company. Did not matter. Wandered around the city, preferring to take public transportation rather than expensive taxis to visit clients; She carried a heavy bag full of documents from every shoulder and would often turn down offers to help carry it.
“At this age, they help me balance my body,” she once told her manager, Swati Metal.
“I don’t think I’ll ever meet someone like her again in my life,” Mittal told BuzzFeed News. “She always said it would work as long as she was alive.”
The first cracks in the Super Granny shield appeared in 2017. A routine medical examination revealed an unusual EKG. Soon after, Mane began losing blood internally, and her hemoglobin levels decreased. Doctors have never been able to diagnose her underlying condition. “Every few months, when her hemoglobin levels dropped, she became weak and had difficulty breathing,” Pradhan said. “She was so tired that she did not walk around the apartment.”
Ultimately, Mane had to be hospitalized every few months. Hospital staff drew blood samples until her skin was as thin as paper. She often needed an oxygen machine to breathe. “We had a pulse oximeter long before it became popular due to COVID-19, and oxygen masks were a normal thing for us,” said Pradhan. “She uses the results of her blood reports to define what the next few weeks look like. Anxiety has become a permanent part of our lives.”
However, that crisis only made their bonds stronger. Mane spent her days on the balcony of their tiny apartment talking to her plants, who called her children, listened to old Bollywood songs, and snapped photos that Pradhan took on his phone. Like most Indians, she was addicted to WhatsApp and would often send jokes, funny videos and “good morning” messages to her grandson. She would write to him frequently, and her long letters were written in old letters:
Have you eaten?
Did you arrive on time?
How was your meeting?
Stay calm and positive.
Take your medication.
do not worry.
What time are you coming back?
Have a nice day, baby.
– Agi (“grandma” in Marathi)
At the end of 2019, Pradan quit his full-time job at a digital media company and went freelance so that he would have enough time to take care of his grandmother. Their roles were reversed. He said, “She used to be the person people depend on, but now she is dependent on me. She was not ready for that.”
Thanks to his grandmother’s condition, COVID-19 appeared on Pradan’s radar long before most of the world even took notice. He read reports of a strange disease in China, and then in Italy, with growing dismay. He said: “Despite our frequent hospital visits, I was used to controlling things, but I thought that if this virus came here, I would not be in control. I was terrified of what would happen to my grandmother.”
In March, when India imposed a strict policy Nationwide insurance With a little warning, Pradhan prayed for his grandmother to succeed. Within days, her hemoglobin levels decreased again.
During the first three months of the country’s lockdown, Mane had to be hospitalized three times, something that has proven to be a much greater challenge in the case of a pandemic. Her symptoms – cough, low blood oxygen levels, and fatigue – are so similar to the symptoms of COVID-19 that doctors often refuse to be screened without testing for COVID, which was difficult to get at the time. Later, with hospitals in the city overcrowding with COVID-19 patients, just getting hospitalized was difficult; There were not enough beds available.
On August 25, Pradhan arranged for his grandmother to be tested for COVID-19 at home. The results may take up to 24 hours. That night, she had no appetite, and was so tired that she needed help walking a few steps from her bed to the bathroom. Pradhan fell asleep a little, then called Uber to take her to the nearest hospital in the middle of the night. She refused until the results of COVID-19 emerged. He spent the rest of the night frantically going to various medical centers until the next day, when Mane was admitted to a government hospital, where treatment would be greatly subsidized, unlike in a private clinic.
This good news was followed by two bad news: Her hemoglobin levels were still dropping, and later that day, she tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Crying doesn’t come easily to me – but the first time they put her on a ventilator, she collapsed,” Pradhan said. When he and his mother were tested immediately afterward, they tested positive for COVID-19 as well. They had no symptoms.
He said, “I try not to think about where and how we got infected and whether or not my grandmother got infected.” “Thinking this way will probably make me feel that I could have prevented it from happening in some way.”
Their last telephone conversation – before Mane was put on a ventilator – lasted 45 seconds. Pradan’s uncle managed to send a phone to Mane in the ICU through a nurse. Pradhan told her to stop worrying about hospital bills, improve health, eat food and get home ASAP. She told him not to worry about her and to eat his meals on time (“When she’s on her awful deathbed!” Pradhan said).
When the call ended, he said, “Somehow he felt it[he’d] You may have spoken to her one last time. “
Mane never wanted a big funeral, and the pandemic guaranteed her desire. Only three people attended her cremation – Pradhan, one of her sons, and a close family friend who was like a son to her. Mane’s daughter could not attend. She was in quarantine in hospital after testing positive for COVID-19.
Like all other people who have died in hospitals from the Coronavirus, Mane’s body has been sealed in a bag. It was handled by staff who wore protective clothing from head to toe in personal protective equipment, and no one was allowed to touch it. Pradhan said he couldn’t bring himself to see her. He asked his uncle, Mane’s son, to put a letter at her feet, thanking her for all she had done, along with the flowers and sarees.
“The thing that always bothered me was that she went alone in the hospital,” he said. “She always wanted to go home, on her bed.”
Mittal, Mane’s manager, said she was shocked to take the call. She said, “Stop my breath.” “She was in the hospital a lot, but we got used to her coming back every time. We never thought she wouldn’t come back this time. Wherever she was now, she spreads happiness. I’m sure of it.”
Months later, Pradan’s phone continues to appear in the photos and videos he took for Manny. He said he could not look at them, because it was so painful.
In his WhatsApp he sits an unread message from his grandmother. It was the last time I wrote to him. It’s been there for months, and it hasn’t opened yet.
He said, “Maybe something general, like ‘Good morning’ forward. ” I haven’t checked that yet. I don’t have the courage. “