Bittersweet homecoming for Bangladeshi worker after battle with Covid-19 in Singapore

Mr Raju Sarker with his wife Sanjida Akhter and their son Safuan.
Mr Raju Sarker with his wife Sanjida Akhter and their son Safuan.PHOTO: SANJIDA AKHTER

NEW DELHI - Mr Raju Sarker once had dreams. Work hard and save enough to open his own business and give his wife and son a comfortable life.

"Everyone has dreams. Is there a man without dreams?" said the man who might be better known to Singaporeans as Case 42.

But the Bangladeshi worker, who returned to his country in March this year after a protracted and miraculous recovery from Covid-19 in Singapore, finds his dreams shattered.

Still struggling with the damage to his health, the thoughts of material well-being - "a house, a car and a successful business" - no longer come to him.

"The thoughts I have now are completely opposite. There is no thought of being successful or well established at all," he said.

Instead, he battles thoughts of death. "Now I worry if I am going to survive even until next year," he said on the phone on Wednesday (May 26) from his home in Harinal village, Gazipur district, around 60km from Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.

It has been a bittersweet homecoming for Mr Sarker, 40.

On the one hand, he is happy to be with his family - whom he had last seen in June 2019 - and delighted to be able to even embrace the toddler son he saw for the first time on his arrival at Dhaka airport on March 18.

"It was a happy, emotional moment," said Mr Sarker, whose son, Safuan, was born in March last year while he was in intensive care at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) in Singapore.

On the other hand, he finds himself coping with vastly reduced physical and mental strength, which has rendered him a shadow of his former self. "I have to watch everything I do, the way 80-year-olds do when they are ill," he said.

It is a state many will attribute to "long Covid", symptoms that persist well after a patient has recovered from the illness. Mr Sarker contracted Covid-19 in February last year and spent almost five months in hospital, half of that time in the intensive care unit.

Though he was discharged from TTSH nearly a year ago on June 26, he is still on medication for liver damage resulting from Covid-19. Damaged or inflamed liver cells release enzymes into the bloodstream and his blood tests have indicated high levels of enzymes.

While this is under control, he has to keep a strict check on his diet. "Not too good but neither that bad - this is my position," said Mr Sarker about his health.

His wife Sanjida Akhter, 18, has, however, regained her mental strength with her husband by her side. Recollecting the struggle she went through while he was away and sick, she said: "The kind of worries that haunted me earlier, I don't get them now."

Her dreams too have been shelved for the moment. "I haven't been able to think about our future because of his health - it is good one day and bad the other," she said.

"My only present worry is that he should be healthy."



Mr Sarker now works as a cashier at a medical store in Gazipur. PHOTO: COURTESY OF RAJU SARKER

Mr Sarker now works as a cashier at a medical store in Gazipur. His job is as much a distraction that prevents his mind from lapsing into disquiet as it is a means of survival.

"Tension will eat me up if I remain idle," he said. "If I am busy, I don't realise how time flies."

He works seven days a week, leaving home around 7am and returning late in the night. In between, he takes breaks to make video calls and check on Safuan.

His son offers a sense of comfort - running into his arms when he returns from work and demanding attention and love. 

But Safuan can be a source of worry as well - Mr Sarker worries about his son's future in case of his own death.

"He is small, he has a life too. When I look at him, I feel sad," said Mr Sarker, who lost his father when he was five. "I know what it feels like not to have a father."

Mr Sarker is grateful for the support he and his family received from the Singapore Government and Singaporeans while he was ill. He also received $1,000 from the Bangladesh High Commission a few days before he left Singapore.

While he frets about the lack of similar government support in Bangladesh, the worker is on the lookout for some financial aid that would allow him to set up his own medical store and recover some of his lost dreams.

A return to Singapore is out of the question. Mr Sarker says he is just not the same man he was before falling sick.

"They will not pay me for doing nothing. I will have to wear a uniform and work like other workers. I can't do that," he said.

"I may have the physical strength but I don't have the mental strength. My mind is devastated."

He does not want to return even if he is offered a less strenuous job because it would entail living away from his loved ones.

"I don't want to leave my family, and live without them," he said.