Nova Scotia

Nurse whose parents are sick with COVID-19 in India feels blessed by support from Nova Scotians

Ravin Murugan is one of countless people in Canada who are powerless to help overseas family members stricken with COVID-19.

Ravin Murugan is calling on Nova Scotians to use their 'superpower' to stay home and stay safe

R.N. Ravin Murugan arrived in Canada in 2012 as an international student, and comes from a family of nurses. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

When registered nurse Ravin Murugan cares for his patients, he's armed with advanced training in critical care, gerontology and chronic illnesses.

But he's helpless to nurse his own parents who have never needed him more than right now.

This week, they both tested positive for COVID-19 in their countryside village of Poonhottam, India, where the virus and its variants are running rampant. 

On Wednesday, he got a devastating phone call from his father, Murugan Chokkalingam, a 62-year-old rice farmer.

Earlier in the week, his father had been admitted to a makeshift emergency health care facility set up in a college. These days, the classrooms are shared patient rooms where medications or oxygen are unavailable.

"He said his chest is so tight, he said I'm suffocating, I [can't] breathe properly, and he almost started crying," Murugan, 32, told CBC News during a break between patients on Thursday.

While his father gasped for air — "when someone is on their death bed, I can feel it" — Murugan's ordeal got worse.

"On the second line, my mom is calling me saying her [test] came back as positive too, and she has to go to hospital," he said.

Ravin Murugan's parents, Murugan Chokkalingam and Ushakumari Thiraviam, are pictured in 2019. (Ravin Murugan)

The pressure on him is heavy because he's an only child. His parents spent their life savings on his studies. Murugan moved to Canada in 2012 and became a permanent resident to improve the lives of his parents.

Now he feels guilty for leaving them.

"That keeps haunting me, like I wish I was in India. I wish I was with them to take care of them when they are really, really sick," he said.

He's one of countless people in Canada who are powerless to help overseas family members stricken with COVID-19. It's an especially desperate situation for the Indo-Canadian community, which numbers about 1.3 million — people who are watching a terrifying health emergency unfold in a country that's still in their hearts.

Murugan's mother, Ushakumari Thiraviam, a 55-year-old retired nurse, worked the phones, calling four hospitals. She found a private hospital with only one available bed. It was decided that it would go to his father, and it came through in the nick of time.

He was admitted to a private hospital on Wednesday evening.

Murugan's mom took this photo of her husband after he was admitted to hospital on Wednesday. (Ravin Murugan)

His father has permanent damage to 15 per cent of his lungs, but after just a day in the hospital, he is responding to medicine and has oxygen.

"Just one more day, one more day, if he was at the government facility, for one more day without any oxygen supply, without proper IV antibiotics, he would be on a ventilator by now," said Murugan.

Fortunately his mother's headache, cough and congestion are subsiding which Murugan chalks up to her being fully vaccinated. 

Murugan and took his parents and his wife, Ramya, on a trip to Goa, India, in 2018 so they could experience what it's like to be a tourist. His parents have never left India. (Ravin Murugan)

He is sharing his family's story to express his deep thanks to the Nova Scotians who have rallied around him. They are fundraising to help him cover his parents's medical costs, such as the $1,000 deposit for his father's hospital admission.

"Bless their heart, I never thought I would be this much supported in Canada. And being an international graduate and being in this country getting this much support is really, really overwhelming."

That support is relieving his financial worries, but his dad isn't out of the woods.

"I won't be excited about it because this can turn into anything. It's too early to make the call saying he's OK," said Murugan. "Fingers crossed, hopefully he'll get better and come home soon."

As he shares his father's fight for survival, he's urging Nova Scotians to keep their guard up and stay home — to save lives.

"We all have superpower, we have to realize what's our superpower to help people," he said.

"I think being a nurse is my superpower and I would like to contribute my skills and knowledge to the welfare of the community so at least I can protect this community [while] hoping for the best for my parents."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.

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