“It was a little bit of a shock,” begins Ashwin,“I had the first shot of the vaccine on April 3 and I tested positive before the second wave began. I do not know where I got it from. I was thinking about the places I’d gone to, but then, you hear about people who hadn’t stepped out contracting this virus. Around April 15, I had symptoms. I had an itch in my throat and I had some body pain, so I thought I should get tested.”
For the first five days after testing positive, he says he was getting treated at home. “Then, my SPO2 dropped and a CT showed a mild to moderate infection in my lungs,” he informs. So, he got hospitalised and was under observation for four days. “I think if I had not got the first dose of the vaccine, it could have been worse. The vaccine reduces the severity of the infection. That said, it doesn’t give you superpower. I want to tell people to still be on guard and wear masks,” he cautions.
As soon as the result came positive, Ashwin says he immediately went into a room. He called his gym and told the people there that they should also get themselves tested, and messaged a couple of others who he had come in contact with. His wife, too, got tested a few days later, but her test came negative. “But still, she had symptoms of the infection. She took a blood test, and it showed she had some infection, but not COVID-related. She did not have a sense of taste and smell. It is very hard now with all the false negatives coming in. You can’t trust a test, especially in this second wave.” he suggests.
He adds, “Obviously, the people who test you will inform the Corporation and the Corporation people, in turn, will visit your house and paste a sticker. Once that happened, my wife and daughter could not leave the house. My wife actually had a tough time as all the responsibilities fell on her shoulders. She had to take care of me and the baby, and cook and clean as well. She was under a lot of stress. My daughter also fell ill for three to four days, and did not have any appetite. She had a fever and was vomiting, too.”
Talking about his frame of mind after discovering that he was positive, Ashwin says, “Your thoughts always go to the worst-possible scenario. You think you are young and might not get it — even though that is not the case now in the second wave, and you think if you have caused something to someone else. I was with my baby, my wife and my in-laws the previous day, and I wondered if I might have infected them. The first couple of days, since I have a two-year-old baby, there was this fear of whether something might happen to her or my wife. Obviously, I was also worried about what if something happens to me. And because you are in isolation, there is loneliness. You try to see something to keep your mind off all the negative thoughts. I was watching movies and shows. There are times when you get forwards, you don’t read them as you don’t want to think about it. When you are positive, you read them and seek information that will hopefully help you. For example, I did not think about this concept of lying on your stomach until then. I was lying on my back, and people were sending me messages telling me not to do that and lie face down.”
On the advice of his mother-in-law, who is an anaesthetician, he says he kept checking his SPO2 constantly. But soon, he was experiencing difficulty breathing. “I was having trouble while speaking. Pinnadilerndhu yaaro azhuthi katti pidikara maadhiri irukkum. The SPO2, which was at 99 and 98 in the first few days, suddenly started dropping and came down to 95 and 93. At that point, my in-laws suggested I go for a CT scan. I remember while getting my CT done, I couldn’t hold my breath for the 10 seconds they ask you to; I was almost gasping. Then, they said I had a mild to moderate infection and suggested keeping me in the hospital to monitor and make sure it did not escalate,” he says and adds, “Thankfully, at the hospital, it didn’t go as far as needing a ventilator. I was on drips and tablets and was given some steroid injections, too.”
The actor was in isolation for 17 days after returning from the hospital. “The body pain was there only for the first few days, but the breathlessness I felt for some time. At the hospital, they used to give the respirometer, and would give me this exercise where I had to hold my breath for 10-20 seconds and practise. I used to do that every few hours at home. Beyond that, I couldn’t help out in any way. If my wife had tested positive, I could have stepped out of the room and helped in some way, but she kept testing negative even though she showed symptoms. And I did not want to risk it,” he says.
So, how did he keep himself occupied during this time? “I watched this TV show Criminal, which my wife had suggested as it is set in one room. I saw Mookuthi Amman. I had missed watching it when it was released. I liked it a lot. Basically, I was catching up on stuff that I had missed. I also started writing. There are some things that I’ve been wanting to do, ideas that I wanted to pursue and I was focusing on that. Actually, that was my only way of coming out of it. In the last one year, the production part is what has become tough as it involves 60-70 people. At the same time, since theatres are also shut, the monetisation has also become tough. When you experience something like this, you become more aware. You realise you have only one shot and you focus more on the stuff that you want to do and not take anything for granted. I have been writing and I’m trying to work on a couple of music videos with Siddharth Vipin. We want to make that happen and give the proceeds to charity,” he says.
On his recovery process, Ashwin says he is just starting that phase. “We do not know when gyms will be allowed to open. So, I have ordered some weights and will have to start working on my fitness. People told me not to exert myself in the first few weeks after recovery, so I was taking it easy,” he informs.
This Sunday, after more than a month, he finally stepped out of his room. Talking about the reunion with his wife and kid, he says, “I was able to hug them and that was priceless.”
The only thing we can do now, Ashwin says, is be vigilant. “In the first wave, we were ultra careful. We used to sanitise groceries and vegetables that were delivered home. However, I feel after a point, by saying that we have to go back to normal, we dropped our guard. We shouldn’t be doing that. Yes, we have to go back to how life was before the pandemic, but we still have to be careful. For now, vaccinating, and wearing mask, maintaining social distance and frequently sanitising are the safest ways to prevent ourselves from being infected. People are talking about newer strains of the virus, so being careful is the only thing that is in our control,” he signs off.