I would like to share my story, to give some insight on what to expect as this pandemic continues to rob lives and tear families apart both temporarily and permanently, and as an emphasis on the importance of testing, testing, and more testing.
In a matter of days, from being a frontliner, my life turned upside down. I became a daughter who held onto her phone, waiting for every sliver of update about my parents from the hospital.
I no longer sleep normally, even now after his discharge, as I listen hard to my father’s cough in the next room. Is it worsening? Why did it sound more chesty?
When it first happened in China, I watched with detached interest over Chinese New Year. Then I began to have to don full personal protective equipment (PPE) while treating any “Patient Under Investigation” (PUI). It was growing to be something of concern.
Then we all started knowing someone of someone who was positive. Which later turned into someone of someone who was intubated, and finally it turned to deaths.
Nothing hits as close to home as having a family member suffering from the disease. In fact, I expected myself to be the first to get infected.
We are still perplexed as to how my father got infected (we assume my mother got it from my father as her symptoms started a week later). There were no known contacts, travelling, nor any significant history of gathering with symptomatic individuals.
It all started when my friend at work was Covid-19 positive. I was a close contact and had my swab done. The night after, my dad started having persistent fever that did not respond to paracetamol. He did not have any cough or respiratory symptoms initially.
My swab would not come back for another 36 hours. By then, I decided to go with a private service and had my father’s Covid-19 swab done for peace of mind. He would not have qualified for it at any Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia (KKM) facility.
It was another few days of waiting for his swab results. Mine eventually came back negative and I went back to work. While he continued to have high-grade fever up to 41 degree Celsius. He sought treatment for what was initially diagnosed as viral fever. Then suspected dengue, then atypical infection. His lung findings and chest radiograph remained clear.
On day 4 of illness, I received a distressing call from the private lab that his swab was positive, BUT it was a preliminary result and we were told to wait for it to be confirmed by IMR (Institute of Medical Research), as expected of all positive results from private labs according to the person-in-charge.
In fact, we were told there have been instances whereby a test later turned out to be negative, after the confirmatory test by IMR. That did not reassure us as my father’s fever continued without any signs of abating.
We waited for another 48 hours painfully.
After almost a week of spiking temperature, he was finally admitted to Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) for Covid-19. Things began to take a turn for the worse as he then developed a cough and his condition quickly went downhill.
Around the same time, we received news that a 70-year-old relative living in the UK who also only had fever alone was refused Covid-19 testing and even screening. He had called the NHS hotline and was deemed “not ill enough”. Things worsened and he was picked up by the ambulance at 2am and tested positive for Covid-19 subsequently.
I remember the terrifying call from ICU (intensive care unit) one day, as they prepared to intubate my father. It was also then that DNR (Do-Not-Resuscitate) was issued for my relative in UK.
My father was allowed to video call us, and we thought to ourselves, would this be the last we saw of each other? The helplessness and gripping fear that ensued were exacerbated by the fact that as a doctor, I had imagined the worst countless of times. Nevertheless, I knew he was in the hands of the best there were and had to trust God to work in His mysterious ways.
As the days went on, I began to feel overwhelmed by news about Covid-19 while my father was fighting for his life in the ICU. I felt inundated by the climbing numbers and advocates of “herd immunity”.
For to enable “herd immunity” to occur, a large number of human population would need to perish in the process. I all but thought about the absurdity and was frightened, as I wondered whether my father was going to be one of those paying the price? After all, my parents are more than just a number to me.
It was a rollercoaster ride of emotions as he would improve transiently only to turn ill again. At the same time, my mother started having fever. She was admitted as a PUI, thanks to the very efficient HKL emergency and infectious disease departments. And of course, her swab subsequently turned up positive.
No one Covid-19 patient is the same. My mother, while she did not have any respiratory symptoms, has liver impairment and is still being observed currently.
Thank God, my father eventually escaped intubation and was kept on a high-flow mask for two more days. He was in the ICU for a total of eight days. My relative passed away subsequently, sadly without loved ones surrounding to hold him, with his body still waiting to be laid to his final resting place a week after.
Unfortunately, we are unable to sustain a mass testing beyond what we are capable of now for many reasons.
I dread to think what the outcome would be if my father did not get tested and developed respiratory distress at home. He would have just been another SARI (severe acute respiratory infection) that later turned out to be positive. And of course my mother, who has even more co-morbidities, would likely have suffered a worse fate.
Today, my dad is back home with us. From being 2 per cent of the ICU population, he is now one of the 1,000+ who have recovered. But he IS more than just a number. To us at least, he is a son, husband, father and friend.
As faiths deepen, and sense of humour wanes (waxes for some…), this ordeal has brought out the best in many around us. While there has been the expected stigma after an ambulance stops by at your gates, and the intense scrutiny that follows, we have been blessed with the unwavering support from friends and family, and love from unlikely places.
Across the globe, amidst the darkness and tragedy, rose the indomitable human spirit. Every life while intangible, is so precious yet fragile, and deserves a chance at being saved.
As this devastating disease continues to ravage, we remain shrouded in uncertainty. Businesses are closing down, people are poorer than ever. Cancer patients whose surgeries are postponed indefinitely. Special needs children not being able to access early intervention programmes while being stuck at home with increasingly exasperated parents. Children not allowed to cross borders to be with a mother who is dying from terminal cancer.
When will this end? Should we wear masks? How long is the incubation period? Do we intubate? Will my parents get re-infected? What are the long-term sequelae? Is there a promised dawn?
While my father recovers and we are waiting for my mother to come home anytime now, we have much to be thankful for and look forward to.
Our deepest gratitude to the the medical team in Hospital Putrajaya for their timely management and patience, the HKL Infectious Disease team led by Dr Leong Chee Loon and ICU team led by Dr Shanti.
Truly the masked superheroes that they are. Thank you all for your compassion and dedication. You have looked at Covid-19 fearlessly in the eye, and helped kept my parents alive.
B Lim is a Covid-19 ICU survivor’s daughter and a doctor herself.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.