By Shelin Yap

It happened on a Tuesday, when my 61 year old mom complained about her body aching as if ants were biting her all over.

Well, it did hit us harder than expected when the PCR test result showed “DETECTED”. We were stunned. Our household of 4 immediately did the PCR test the next day and proceeded with strict SOPs in the house while waiting for our dreaded results.

1. The Beginning of It All: Day 01 – Isolation/Quarantine SOP at Home
We immediately isolated ourselves from mom as follows:

  • separate room
  • separate bathroom
  • separate sets of plates, bowls and utensils
  • sanitising everything that leaves mom’s room (or at least soaking those things in 100°C hot water before washing!)
Make sure to sanitise everything and leave it for as long as possible
before you soak them in 100°C hot water, then only proceed to washing.
Tip: My mom has a toilet in her room so she would clean what she used before leaving them out.
Photo Credit to Shelin Yap

All of us were double-masked at all times and we stayed in our separate rooms most of the time to minimise exposure to one another. At that point, we simply had no way of knowing who among us in the family might have gotten infected by mom.

2. The Roller Coaster Ride: Day 02-Day 04 after Tested Positive
As soon as news of your Covid positive diagnosis gets out, prepare yourself for endless calls from everyone – distant relatives, never-in-touch Facebook friends and even random strangers from the wet market. Mom was pretty much on her phone 24/7 the first day and she was almost upbeat about it. To be a so-called “celebrityovernight because people are curious (or plain nosy).

Then that was the endless (well-intended) outpouring of medications and remedies that are supposed to “cure Covid-19”. Among the goodies received were the ever popular TCM Lianhua Qingwen, lemon water, barley water, Chinese herbal tea (leng-teh) as well as supplements ranging from Vitamin C, D and E.

We were overwhelmed. As helpful as the gifts and information were, the sheer volume was just too much to take in, especially in the midst of the confirmed positive diagnosis and the many arrangements that had to be made. Added to all this, expect phone calls from random personal numbers because KKM personnel are going to call you (as the close contact of the positive case), at their convenience. Welcome to my frustration.

3. The Juncture: Day 05 – Start Worrying, if You’re not Getting Better
On Day 5, mom started to experience more severe symptoms with shortness of breath and fatigue. Her oximeter readings showed her oxygen level hovering around 95 and her heart rate had increased to about 100.

Note: The oxygen level should always remain above 97. Watch this video to learn about how you can monitor at home:

We quickly enquired a few Sungai Petani private hospitals only to find out that private hospitals in Kedah actually don’t accept covid patients. With so little information available out there, we felt helpless. We didn’t know what to do.

Questions like,

  1. Should I admit mom to the quarantine centre/government hospital?
  2. Is mom considered the high risk group?
  3. Will insurance cover her bills?
  4. What are the arrangements to be admitted to a private hospital?

Finally, through a friend we managed to access a private hospital doctor and with his advice, we made the decision to admit mom to a private hospital in Penang.

It was a huge relief knowing that at the hospital, mom was being monitored professionally.

3A. The End is just Another New Beginning: Have you guessed by now?
Just as when I thought the storm was over (no, life is never that easy), my brother and I started to have Covid-19 symptoms:

  • Persistent fever (even after taking Panadols)
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhoea
  • Runny nose
  • Cough

It was almost obvious to say that we had caught the virus but KKM only recognises you as the Covid-19 patient if you are tested positive with a PCR test. Antigen testing is not recognised and its result will not affect your MySejahtera app. This means anyone sick would still be free to go anywhere.

Everyone in the booth were close contact with covid positive patient and we had to do a PCR test before wearing the pink wristbands.
Photo Credit to Shelin Yap

My brother, sister-in-law and I went to the KKM office to repeat the PCR test 6 days after my mom was tested positive. A private clinic would release PCR test results about 24 hours later. However, due to the high number of daily cases in Kedah, we had to wait for 3 days for KKM’s PCR results.

No prizes if you had guessed that brother and I tested positive. Immediately, my sister-in-law moved out to a friend’s house all by herself. As a doctor treating covid patients once suggested, if you can’t move the sick out, then the healthy should move out to prevent the virus from spreading.

4. The Climax: Day 06 – You Need to Make it
On mom’s Day 06 and her second day in the hospital, she became really tired, could barely speak to us on the phone and was just not her usual bubbly self. We were deeply concerned.

A CT scan of her lungs showed she was already having minor lung inflammation, hence the persistent shortness of breath and fever. Her oxygen levels were still dropping, and with that, on the doctor’s advice, she was put on steroid treatment.

Fortunately, mom’s condition improved tremendously from day 08 onwards, paving the way for her recovery (yay!).

5. The Intervention: Day 07 – Better Late than Sorry
But let’s not forget my brother and I were still sick, just as mom was getting better. I was on Day 06 and he was on his Day 05. The both of us were still having fever, hit with fatigue and experienced a loss of appetite.

What I struggled most with – losing my sense of smell and taste. It was strange not being able to smell your shampoo, coffee, food. Being a foodie, not able to taste was a disaster.

Seeing how the early hospital intervention actually helped mom, after much deliberation – my brother and I decided to also admit ourselves to the hospital. Our unstable oxygen level and increased heart rate were indications that our bodies were under stress.

Covid ward are just the same as normal ward but isolated of course! Ps: Of course I brought my laptop, there is no better time to Netflix and chill.
Photo Credit to Shelin Yap

Being a first-timer for hospital admission (yes, I’m a hospital virgin!) I literally had to Google what to pack. If you’re still reading at this point, here are my two cents:

  • Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste and disposable toothbrush (it’s nice to feel refreshing because it makes you feel alive, and disposable toothbrush because you’ll be placed in a Covid ward and you don’t want to have something out from there that you insert to your mouth)
  • Thermo mug and large water bottle (so that you don’t trouble busy nurses with trivial requests like repeatedly refilling your water bottle. It helps to have a large water bottle at hand and a Thermo mug for making that hot drink when you want one!)
  • Charger and power bank (because that’s all you will be doing, researching, talking to others etc)
  • Earphones/Headphones (wards tend to be a little noisy and that helps put you to sleep)
  • Instant Coffee/Tea (no one said that you can’t take a moment to yourself while being admitted)
  • Loose and comfortable clothes (Covid-19 generally has to do with lungs and it makes the checkup easier if you are wearing a bigger shirt)
  • Slippers (you’ll be up and down a lot and you don’t want to tie your shoelace every time you do it, tip: bring some socks in case it gets cold)
  • Cardigan (for cosy purposes, and as cover for women to go braless)
  • Eye Mask (it would have been a great help during my stay as a light sleeper in hindsight)

6. The Recovery: 6 weeks later
It’s been a month since I was discharged from the hospital and I am blessed to say that my family has recovered and we somehow bonded through this Covid-19 experience. I even got back my ability to taste and smell after 10 days.

Photo taken during our follow up in the hospital 1 week after discharged.
Photo Credit to Shelin Yap

Just because we all made it out of the ordeal, doesn’t mean the Covid-19 virus is not serious. Many of us might still suffer physically with long covid, or mentally with the social stigmas around covid-19 patients.

Stay safe.

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