This is my personal story. Long read ahead, I just want to chronicle this so that I can come back later and maybe laugh to myself that all this happened.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I was angry and frustrated about how much I had been misled to hope and believe the exams would be postponed again, and I had decided I was going to shut everything out and go for the exam with only the determination to pass and no regard to anything else.
Two papers later, I developed mild breathing problems. It felt like there was water in my lungs, just like how you swallow water accidentally in a pool and breathing becomes an inconvenient effort. I was a little worried because I remembered -- someone had mentioned on Reddit under a video of Donald Trump, who was visibly gasping after his COVID-19 diagnosis -- that this is what COVID-19 feels like...
I told my parents (who were in Kochi) that my first 2 exams didn't go as well as I expected and was considering opting out because I did not want to wait till May 2021 or June 2021 to write again. I had printed out my admit card and opt-out on the same day, as I had made up my mind that if my last-ditch efforts seemed futile, I'd take the opt-out as insurance. My parents couldn't agree with opting out - very expectedly - since I had been preparing since February 2020 and my stay in Chennai was well beyond schedule. I couldn't tell them that I had COVID 19 symptoms. They would think it was an opt-out. It's complicated.
For many of my friends, 24.11.2020 was a day filled with anticipation of cyclone Nivar postponing all exams in Chennai (or entire TN too, if god willing.) I wasn't sharing their enthusiasm this time around. I told all my friends not to believe rumors and that exams would be as per schedule. In my building, we didn't have power from 1.00 pm till 2.30 pm. Then the power came back on for a short while. I filled the opt-out declaration with some trepidation. Option a: I have symptoms of COVID-19. I took a couple of decent clicks with “Note bloc” and shared a jpg file to my email. I hoped there would be a sign from the universe what I'd need to do. There wasn't any such sign. I was impatient. I opted out at 3.00 pm. The power went again between 3.30 pm and 4.30 pm. When the power came back on, I ran downstairs to put on the motor. I lied to my parents that the storm is coming hard, and I will decide on opting out later. Power left for the day at 4.41 pm. I watched as the wind lashed about like an irate elephant. The rain was hard… I told my family that I needed to switch off my cell phone for the rest of the day.
Someone had been enthusiastic enough that day to collate all CCM phone numbers, so when our TN CM EPS declared a holiday, I thought I'd at least send WhatsApp messages to all the CCMs and make their lives miserable. In the morning itself, I was messaging them all about how the cyclone was shutting down 7 districts apart from Chennai, and how this was predicted to be worse than the 2016 cyclone.
To my pleasant surprise, the Vice President of ICAI replied to me at about 10.10 am on 24.11.2020 to look for a notification on the ICAI website, and I thanked him and told him I would. At 10.56 am, a notification came, postponing the exams from 24.11.2020 to 09.12.2020 for Inter/IPCC and from 25.11.2020 to 11.12.2020 for final in 11 places In TN and Pondicherry.
By 8.00 pm on 24.11.2020, TN Govt had declared a public holiday throughout the state. Not to be left behind, ICAI also put out a notification at about 11.00 pm the same day postponing the exam from 25.11.2020 to 11.12.2020 for final across TN.
All this raised the next big question of the 21st century… what happens to students who were planning to opt-out after group 1? Does Group 1 theoretically/practically/legally/logically end on 12.11.2020? Some of the greatest minds among CA students were immediately put to work out this complex paradox... They failed to arrive at a logically consistent solution... Is it possible for a student who may have COVID 19 symptoms during the second group, get tested negative and come back and write the postponed paper of the first group? [My view, no. Once opted-out, there is no opting back in.] Will ICAI ever answer a genuine query like this from a student? [My view, no. Their silence has always been tactical.]
Power came back on at about 2.00 pm.
All this was a poorly scripted drama for a guy who had breathing difficulties and suspected he had COVID 19, someone who had no way of talking to his parents about it, had opted out and not yet told his parents.
I spoke to my parents about opting out again, and they reluctantly agreed. The trust deficit I had created by opting out of Jan 2021 exams in lieu of November 2020 had become a proverbial elephant in the room that we couldn't talk about. At that point, I was just relieved that I had convinced them that I was doing the right thing by opting out, although I hadn't told them why. But it didn't end there.
At about 3.15 pm, ICAI had to make an IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: OPT-OUT DUE TO COVID 19. This was picked up by TOI later that day and they used their journalistic judgment and editorial twist to give a headline that ICAI is asking students who opted out in between exams to provide COVID 19 positive reports. I had read the notification directly, and had concluded that there are 3 cumulative conditions to be satisfied:
- COVID-19 Positive
- OPT Out in Between Exam
- Exam Appeared on Nov 20
My mom, of course, had not read this notification, but only the news article at around 10 in the night, and all hell broke loose, about how I had betrayed the family by opting out… How I will not be able to produce a COVID positive certificate and ICAI would now act against me for submitting false declarations. I had to calm her down and show her videos by 3 different professors, explaining why the TOI article is not entirely true, and that no action was required, and that I would be appearing in Jan 2021. 27.11.2020 came to a dramatic close.
It was at about 10.00 in the morning that I had the notion that ICAI could ask for a COVID 19 negative report to appear in Jan 2021 - I mean – I trust them that they only need self-declaration, but I also trust them to be dramatic. So, I took the decision of going to a decent clinical establishment near my house and met the physician. I explained my symptoms, mainly emphasizing my breathing difficulty and aching back, and the chills I was experiencing which I felt could be due to weather, but which I could not confirm as fever due to my not having a thermometer. The doctor was enthusiastic to listen to me patiently, repeated my symptoms to me for my confirmation, and then he recommended that I get an RTPCR test done since my symptoms were consistent with COVID 19. I was happy! I went to the ATM, withdrew 3500, and paid 3200 - including 200 for doctor's fees - in cash because their swipe machine wasn't working. While I went to get the cash, I missed the 12.00 pm batch deadline for the day. My throat and nasal swabs were collected, and I was told that I would get my test report only the next day.
I went to my room and told no one that I had gone for the COVID 19 test. At that point, I was thinking this would be a win-win, whatever the test result. If I didn't have COVID-19, I would get a negative test report to give ICAI and re-appear in Jan 2021, should they feel the need to ask for it. If I did have COVID-19, I would get a positive report to send to their new email ID and prove bona fide. I could barely wait for the results.
It was at about 8.30 pm that the lady at the front desk from the clinic called and told me to pick up my report the next day. I told her I could come down in 5 minutes, as I stayed nearby. The lady told me to hurry up as they needed to close very soon. I was there by 8.35 pm, and I was asked to wait. I sat for about 15 minutes, till when the doctor could see me. Just as I was about to go see him, the lady stopped me, pulled out an envelope from under a heap of papers, and asked me to take my report with me. Great, thank you, madam! I stepped into his office as he pointed to me sit at a chair 10 feet away. I asked him if I should leave my test report at his desk first. He said it wasn't necessary, he had already seen it. Just sit down, relax, and read what it says, he said. I read it for about 15 seconds, and I asked him, what the words “detected” meant, was it the same as positive? To which he said, yes, the test says you are COVID 19 positive.
He asked me to sit closer to him on the regular patient's chair. He took my temperature using a thermal scanner and it was only 97.2 F. He then asked me to sanitize my hands and place my finger in a pulse oxy-meter. I had good SPO2 saturation at 99%. What followed was a half an hour-long discussion with me of do's, don'ts, medications, and rules to be followed and how I basically need to hole up for 20 days in quarantine. Meanwhile, my phone had been on silent and my family had called 9 times during that same half an hour. They'd lost their mind why I wasn't answering the phone at night. I chanced to see my phone display flicker to life when the doctor had a call to take, so I just took the call and told them I'm at a doctor's office, I'll call back later.
So, as I got out of the doctor's office, their swipe machine had been fixed… They were able to swipe my card for 1300 for consultation and another 5000 for a Chest CT scan I would take the next day. The medicines were available at a nearby pharmacy, and I paid another 4000 for fabiflu and a bucket load of other medicines. As I waited outside the pharmacists' I called my family and told them that I was COVID 19 positive. They went absolutely crazy and were at a loss with me why I hadn't just come home if I weren't feeling well. I told them what is done is done, irreversibly, I would now be actively tracked by Chennai corporation officials since my test was done through ICMR. I couldn't abscond. In a way, I was glad that I was separated from my aged parents.
After numerous visits and calls from Chennai corporation officials, I decided to send out the email to ICAI's new dedicated mail address: [email@example.com] in which I explained how I had opted out on 24.11.2020 on a self-declaration basis that I had symptoms of COVID-19 and that I had got myself tested on 28.11.2020 as per doctor's advice, and that I was now COVID-19 positive and undergoing treatment. I also provided my enrolment details and the details of the exams in which I appeared. Scanned with great enthusiasm, all my medical reports and both sides of my admit card. By about 11.00 am, this was done, so I then decided I'd tell all near and dear that I was COVID-19 positive and that they should watch out for symptoms, those who have come in contact with me.
Some friends advised me to tell the exam center, but I told them it may not be appropriate since ICAI is now being proactive to monitor this situation and issue advisories to centers based on our medical reports given to them, to which they said, maybe you're right, you've done your bit.
My CT scans show there is no infection or pneumonia in the lungs, and since I have no other conditions, my doctor says this is going away very soon.
Enough people have told me to reach out to the center, so I thought well, at least do It out of moral obligation.
I dialed them at about 10.45 in the morning and told the lady who answered my name, and that I had appeared for CA final exams the week before on 21st and 23rd Nov 2020, and that I had some information to be conveyed that was important so she should take a pen and paper. She seemed amused and asked me what the matter was. I said it with no dressing up whatsoever that I tested COVID positive. She literally said Oh my god and asked me to hold. I told her calmly my name again, my roll number, the wing where I appeared, the floor and room number I was sitting in, and the dates on which I was at their campus. I told them how I had opted out on 24th but tested positive on 28th, and had informed the ICAI on 29th, but I was worried that 29th being a holiday they might have missed it or not acted on it yet, so I felt morally compelled to check with them if they had been informed by the institute. The lady at the other end said, well, no, they hadn't been informed yet, so she was thankful to me, and wished me a speedy recovery. I replied I have only mild symptoms so I would be ok soon, but I had to convey this information so they could take care of the health of the people over there. She was again thankful and took my contact number to reach out to me.
For the first time in about a week, I felt I had done something right.
They called me at about 12.30 pm from the examination centre, and asked me to send my medical report to a "new" email id: [firstname.lastname@example.org] and to mark a copy to the centre as well. I told them I would forward the same email I had sent yesterday to ICAI which has all these documents and details. The mail was forwarded to ICAI again and to the centre. The centre confirmed receipt over the phone.
I have some disdain towards ICAI for sitting on time-critical information, especially when they know the seriousness of it. Perhaps it was an honest oversight, but that doesn't cut it in such a scenario. They should have at least blindly forwarded to the centre.
My symptoms are mild, in fact, I am almost asymptomatic. I should be good in 3 or 4 days. I am studying for Jan 2021, this will be the attempt of a lifetime.
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