On February 23rd, my peaceful Sunday morning in Zhengzhou, China was interrupted by a call from a local hospital, informing me that a friend of mine who a few days earlier had stopped by my flat for a visit had just tested positive for COVID-19. We were told that we would need to be put into medical quarantine at the hospital, and I was asked to stay where I was until health workers arrived to transport us. It wasn’t long before three fully covered medics showed up. While one of them disinfected my flat, the two others helped me and my parents fill in forms about our medical history, recent travel history, and people that we had been in contact with in the time since my friend had visited us.
Before leaving our home, my mother packed as many masks as possible. I rushed to feed my parrot and quickly sent an email to my supervisor at work. My father grabbed all his bank cards and the family’s insurance documents. As we boarded the ambulance, I noticed the neighbours standing on their balconies watching. I thought to myself, “if only the siren wasn’t on.”
Of course, like everyone else, I had been following the news about COVID-19 every day. But it still felt surreal the moment when I stepped into the hospital. Was this actually happening? The first thing I noticed was the strong smell of disinfectant. But the first news was encouraging; there were not abnormalities in our CT scans. We also all tested negative in the first nucleic acid test.
Healthcare for all
I was surprised that we didn’t need to pay for anything. Doctors swabbed me three times, but they charged nothing. All the tests, masks, and even the food, was free. Therefore, for my father, taking bank cards and insurance papers turned out to be completely unnecessary because doctors told us that the state would pick up everything even if we were confirmed positive.
One nurse came by to take my temperature hourly and she had a notebook filled with my temperature record, but she always had a mask on, so I have never got a chance to see her face.
Over the next several days, my parents were allowed to go home, but I wasn’t because I suddenly got a mild fever. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t panic. I compulsively checked my temperature and drank a huge amount of water, which didn’t help much. Doctors decided to swab me and scan my lungs again. Both results were fine, but my fever lasted for three days. I did fear that those would be my last few days. I started to block news about the virus’s fatality rate because I didn’t want to overthink things. I tried to put a positive spin on things, distracting myself by writing, exercising, and doodling. I called all my close friends to hear their voices, pretending I was simply catching up. I even wrote a long letter to my parents, just in case. Work also carried on, albiet remotely, which helped create a sense of normalcy and gave me something to look forward to.
I enjoyed the daily remote team meeting with my colleagues more than ever before, because my lovely team members all told me to stay strong, and that I was going to be alright. You have no idea how difficult it is to be put into that situation: you are scared because you might be infected by a lethal epidemic, but you cannot share your fear with anyone because you don’t know how to.
I was really proud that I was able to support the #SpreadTheWordNotTheVirus campaign giving hundreds of thousands of people a platform to help combat the epidemic through awareness raising. By continuing to work, I felt that in some ways, I too was making my own little contribution to the fight, even from my hospital bed.
I remember one night I had a long call with my poor friend who had been confirmed with COVID-19. We both worried about our lives and started to list the things that we would do once we were discharged. The conversation went on and on, until we both fell sleep.
That same night was the first time I slept well since I got the fever. The next morning, my temperature finally dropped back to normal. The doctor later told me that I was likely just stressed out and that the fever was not caused by coronavirus. The next day, I was allowed to return home. I later learned that my friend who was confirmed to have the virus was also recovering.
A really hard time
The virus is transient in nature, but the love and care that I had the privilege to experience from family members, friends, nurses, doctors and UNDP colleagues will last. They have all been there for me throughout my hospital life.
This whole period has, without a doubt, been a really hard time for everyone, but I’ve been touched by how people have all tried to make it better, often through simple little actions or gestures, keeping spirits up, expressing support, and showing compassion. I guess that would be my most valuable takeaway from my coronavirus experience. A virus can be deadly, but the warmth shared between people and their passion about life are what truly matter to win this fight.