“I am Pepa.  I have been in an ICU in India for 15 days.  I saw how they took the dead man away and put me in his bed "

María José “Pepa” Baños, is a Madrilenian born in the Vallecas neighborhood. She has been in India for five years, where she teaches Spanish and collaborates with an NGO. A month ago, the Asian country became the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. While other countries recover with a high rate of vaccination, India is experiencing hell: an average close to 4,000 daily deaths in the last seven days. 250,000 dead since the start of the pandemic. Despite the fact that India has not stopped vaccinating, the vials are ineffective in the face of the double mutation of the virus that plagues the country. On April 15, Pepa began to feel tired. On the 17th, his fever increased. On the 27th, lacking oxygen, she had to be rushed to a private hospital 85 kilometers south of New Delhi. With a very low voice, broken and with obvious breathing difficulties, he attends EL ESPAÑOL. It is the first day that you can articulate a few words. This is his story:

“Last year, in the IndiaWe hardly found out that the Covid had arrived. Many of my family in Spain had taken it; my mother was very ill and my sister-in-law’s uncle passed away. Here, however, everything that was happening elsewhere could be seen far away. But a month ago everything exploded. I live with other girls and they all got infected, one after the other. The only one who was not infected, Carmen, is because she had already experienced it in Spain, and Ana who returned to India those days. Carmen and I take care of them. They coped well, with fevers and fatigue, but nothing serious. Then I fell with all the laws.

On April 15, I started to feel very tired. On the 17th I already had a very high fever. I was extremely tired. Then all the symptoms, the most serious, suddenly appeared. I lost my smell and taste, but the worst thing is that I couldn’t breathe. In India not enough oxygen to assist the population. In addition, it is very difficult to achieve. It is a country in which corruption and the black market are very great and oxygen is now the most precious commodity. On the other hand, I was terrified of ending up in a public hospital. Ana Y Carmen They killed themselves to get me a bottle of oxygen. They queued for three to four hours to give me one of the bottles that the government distributes. But the oxygen barely lasted three hours.

View from Pepa’s bed in the New Delhi ICU where she is.

Then, Ana and Carmen, again, moved heaven and earth so that he could end up in a hospital in good condition. Blanca and Pedro mobilized the Spanish embassy in New Delhi who spent a whole day doing business. Thanks to all of them, especially another Ana, they were able to transfer me to a hospital. It was April 27. Again Ana saved me by getting a kind of ambulance like a bumper car fair. It was a plasma transfer van with a plastic-lined seat inside. There I lay down with Carmen next to me holding an oxygen cylinder that I already depended on. I thought that I was dying.

The trip was surreal. We didn’t know exactly where we were going. We clung to the windows. I arrived with bruises on my legs from flying into the ambulance. Ana was behind, driving another car to ensure where they were taking me and then return to Carmen. The journey lasted 2 and a half hours. We ended up in a rural area 85 kilometers from the city, where they had taken over a private clinic as a hospital to exclusively treat Covid patients. Is named Capt. Nand Lal Yadav Hospital, where I am still.

In the hospital there are four doctors I believe that they are also not specialists in epidemics or respiratory diseases. They are very professional and do their best, but they are overwhelmed. Among his assistants there are ‘senior technicians’, but there are other younger ones: 17 and 18 year old boys in the last year of school to those who have taught overnight and spend giving serums and injections.

The day I arrived they transferred me directly to the ICU. It is an extendable room up to 10 beds. I arrived in a wheelchair and waited for my bed watching (I was a bit unconscious already) how they shrouded and removed the body of a person who had died from Covid a while ago. They changed the cover of the mat and put me in. This is war. Screams, gasps, and very loud coughs are continually heard. They are dying like bed bugs. After 15 days, it is the most peaceful time I have ever had. Today, in fact, is the first morning that all of us who have gone to bed in this ICU have not woken up in our trench. Since I have come here, every day people have died day and night in this room. It seems to me that the contagion rate is receding something but I don’t know, I don’t read news now.

Moment of Pepa’s transfer to the hospital, inside the ambulance, where one of her Spanish friends is holding an oxygen cylinder.

Pepa Banos

It is an ICU that is very good by Indian standards, although it has nothing to do with one from Spain or any European country, despite being in a private hospital. I’m not saying it in terms of professionalism, but rather in terms of cleanliness or customs that in other countries would be very surprising. There is a lot of traffic of people as usual, maximum with a mask: the boy with the errands, an electrician, a family member who sneaks in for a second to leave the food, the person in charge of picking up the garbage … There is also a boy, Nitin What happens with his thermos of chai and offers us several times a day. There are also those who check that there is oxygen every hour by playing ‘gongs’ on the cylinders.

That people around you die, the screaming, and everything else, has not made me panic. The day I arrived at this hospital I was in limbo. You are so bad that you do not react to what you have around you. I felt in another world. Every day corpses were taken away, but I only thought about surviving. I am a believer, I prayed and thought good because if I have to die … you have to die of something. That is why I have taken it all with great serenity. At the same time, I thought that I wish my body would recover before they threw me to the pyre. But no, I said to myself, I still have a lot to do in life, everything around me, my family, friends, my NGO children, is much bigger and I cannot die!

I don’t understand anyone here. They speak a dialect of Haryani, it is not Hindi, much less English. At first I even had to fight to get a glass of water. Three days ago I could hardly even drink. Ana and Carmen save my life every day. They send me food, drink and medicines, because they are prescribed here, but you have to find your life to get them. Also, they have got me antivirals that have helped me a lot. They have had to queue for several hours a day to bring them to me. Thanks to these medications I feel much better and can speak for the first time, after two weeks. I feel stronger.

Carmen, who has antibodies, has managed to get to my bed for a few days. Visits last three seconds, but most days it is the technicians who bring things to me. But they are always pending. At no time did I consider that they had entered me directly into SpainAlthough Miriam, another colleague, suggested it to me. Getting a medicalized plane – the only way I could have traveled – was totally out of my reach. My site is in India. A bed and oxygen was enough for me.

View of the ICU from Pepa's bed.

View of the ICU from Pepa’s bed.

Pepa Banos

The situation in the country is really serious, although, being here and, before, a week in quarantine, I have not learned many things. I know that a student of mine, Sumit, 26 years old, died. People die in the street. In this hospital there are very simple people who have been picked up from the street who come directly here to die with some dignity. Although India has vaccinated millions of people, the percentage of the total population is still very low and right now, my students tell me, it is blocked again and they are not getting vaccinated. On the other hand, vaccines have not yet been proven effective against the double mutation of the virus that we have in the country. It will be years before India returns to normal and can recover from this blow.

In the first days after the virus exploded, a month ago, it was the oldest who died, one after the other. Now are the young. Right now, in this ICU, where I am, we are all young, except for a woman in her 50s. I am an athlete and I was in shape. But it turns out that this mutation of the virus is primed with the healthy and young. Until two hours ago I did not have to kill time. It was the hours that killed me. I’ve been trying to open one eye for 15 days.

Pepa has been in India for five years, where she is a Spanish teacher and collaborates with an NGO.

Pepa has been in India for five years, where she is a Spanish teacher and collaborates with an NGO.


When I have been told that in Spain people have taken to the streets to celebrate the end of the state of alarm, I understand it. But I also think we are specialists in forgetting the bad. You think that it will not happen to you, until it is your turn, and you find yourself prostrate in a bed connected to an oxygen cylinder. Social responsibility is very important, because this virus is lethal.

I want to greatly thank all the people in Spain who are moving to cover my expenses here and to give them help for the people who stay longer, or for those who come. I am happy because I am alive, I can already laugh and talk. Although I still cough a lot, I am very happy about this. “

Pepa still has ICU days left and her family is leading a campaign in Spain to pay for her stay at the Capt hospital. Nand Lal Yadav and raising funds for other patients in an extreme situation. Her sister Emma runs a checking account for this purpose: ES22 0182 5322 2102 022 5450.


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