The Covid-19 pandemic was peaking in many urban areas in India around August-September 2020. Gurugram, a town situated on the border of New Delhi and Haryana, was no better. Hospitals were crowded with Covid-19 cases and most people were avoiding going to hospitals for minor ailments. With the pandemic as the backdrop, the response time for medical emergencies like snakebites, road accidents, heart attacks etc. was unpredictable.
Satish Barapatre, a 47-year-old senior executive working with DXC Private Ltd, a sister concern of Hewlett Packard, lived with his wife Sangamitra Sur, two school going children aged 17 and 10, and a recently adopted 2-month-old Shih tzu pup. They resided in Orchid Islands, a beautiful green haven, a complex with approximately 700 flats, situated in Gurugram. Most of the ground floor flats in the complex had beautifully manicured garden areas in the front and in the backyards. There had been many sightings of snakes and other urban wildlife in the complex in the past due to the presence of green cover and water source. There was a healthy population of rodents too.
On 5th Sept 2020 Sangamitra was watching television with her kids. It was past midnight. Satish was sleepy and opted to sleep on the settee in the next room. After a few minutes, Sangamitra and the kids were startled to hear Satish’s cries as something had bitten him while he was sleeping. The family ran into the room and saw two distinctive but tiny bite marks on the middle finger of Satish’s left hand. No one saw the snake or suspected a snakebite. Satish ran to the other room. In the next few minutes, the bite area became painful and Satish started experiencing a choking like discomfort in his throat. This was after about 45 minutes of the bite.
The family was looking for an insect that might have bitten Satish. While Sangamitra was inspecting the room, she was startled to see an adult snake, a highly venomous Common krait, slither below the settee. She immediately locked the room and ran to seek help from her neighbors. The neighbors helped Satish get admitted to a local private hospital. By this time, Satish was feeling nauseous and vomited in the hospital.
Everything was happening too fast. Sangamitra called her close friends. She shifted her children and the puppy to the neighbor’s house. The security guards pulled the snake out from under the settee and killed it.
Sangamitra went to the hospital. Satish was in the emergency ward. He was having difficulty in breathing and was administered snake antivenom and shifted to the ICU. He was put on ventilatory support for the next few days. On the 5th day, he regained consciousness and started communicating with people around him in sign language.
On the third day of admission, Satish was diagnosed as COVID-19 positive. He was shifted to the COVID-19 ICU facility in the same hospital. His family was able to connect with him only through video calls made by the attending medical staff.
On 12th Sept 2020, Satish’s eighth day in hospital, the attending doctor shared that even though Satish was continuously on ventilatory support, his condition was improving. The same day the family was able to speak to him via video call. While the doctor’s prognosis was positive, Satish mentioned that he was not feeling well enough to be discharged. The family however was relieved that Satish was on the road to recovery. For the first time after the snakebite incident, Sangamitra slept well that night.
The next day, Sangamitra waited for news of Satish being extubated from ventilatory support. However, she was told that he was diagnosed with dengue fever. Satish had suffered dengue fever 2 years ago and the second time, the virus was deadlier. That day was the last time the family interacted with Satish.
Satish was administered plasma to improve his blood platelet count. Looking at his critical condition, Satish’s elder brother and Sangamitra were informed by the hospital staff. All were praying for his recovery. On 15th Sept 2020 (10th day of the bite) around 3.15 a.m., Satish breathed his last. He died of heart failure. The hospital called to inform Satish’s untimely demise.
Sangamitra and her children broke down. This was the most unexpected and traumatic event for them. A week ago, they had been rejoicing with the arrival of a new puppy.
On the side, the author Priyanka Kadam was contacted by the well-meaning members of Orchid Island on the day of the bite. They shared the treatment details and Priyanka was able to provide inputs after consulting the snakebite expert doctors who are advisors of SHE-INDIA, the civil society that she runs to mitigate snakebite burden in India. The hospital had provided treatment as per the protocol. It was unfortunate that the patient tested COVID-19 positive and later dengue weakened his system which resulted in heart failure.
In the next couple of weeks, the family went through immense grief and mental trauma. For the next four months, Sangamitra tried to cope with her grief. Her children were also trying to cope with their own grief and trauma due to the untimely and tragic passing away of their father. Sangamitra’s 10-year-old son would get startled at the slightest movement in the room. Her 17-year-old daughter cried herself to sleep most nights. Sangamitra herself experienced anxiety after sun-set every day and suffered from insomnia.
A friend suggested the family seek psychological counselling to overcome the trauma of the loss. Counselling commenced with different counselors attending to each family member separately, twice a week. This has helped them considerably. Sangamitra is trying to get her life back on track. The presence of their dog, Rosée has helped them cope with their grief.
On 10th October 2020, one month after Satish’s passing away, the members of Orchid Island organized an online workshop with the author to create awareness regarding prevention and control of snakebites. After the unfortunate incident, the terrified members had been cutting trees and removing the green cover that they had lovingly maintained since years. The author was able to address everyone’s queries to ensure proper measures were taken to avoid further life-threatening interactions with wildlife. Despite being in trauma due to her tragic loss, Sangamitra attended the workshop.
Written by Priyanka Kadam with inputs from Sangamitra Sur.