Isolated: A firsthand account of a surgeon who tested positive for Coronavirus
Coronavirus (n.COV) 2019 Qualitative PCR
For a few moments he kept staring at the screen. He could feel the same fear rip through his body that hundreds of thousands of people were feeling across the globe. He logged out of the hospital’s remote access application on his cell phone, signed back in, and re-entered his credentials only to see the same result again.
It was a sunny day when Abdullah* parked his car early morning, as he reached for duty on Thursday March 19th. He was 28 years old, working as a surgical trainee at a large tertiary care hospital in Karachi. As he entered the ward, a nurse standing outside waved at him to stop. “Please sanitize your hands sir, and wear a surgical mask before you enter.” “Another nuisance”, he muttered irritably as he donned the mask and moved on. This exercise was part of the hospital’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for healthcare workers’ safety against COVID-19, initiated after one of the surgery residents had tested positive for the notorious disease. Surgery residents had previously taken the use of personal protective equipment non-seriously. 'These precautions are not for surgeons to follow’, they would playfully snap back if someone asked them.
Abdullah had a mild flu since the morning, but he carried out his regular clinical work. He felt lethargic and by early evening started having a headache and felt a fever. He had night duty that day, but by 11 pm he was feeling so unwell that he got worried and decided to visit the hospital’s coronavirus screening clinic. The area was packed with anxious and frightened patients waiting for their turns to be screened and angry attendants trying to get done with the process quickly and return home. Abdullah proceeded straight to the family physician and mentioned his complaints. He was advised to get tested immediately.
“It was the most painful test sample that I had ever given and I hope I never have to go through this procedure again!” he recalls. As standard protocol, Abdullah was asked to go home that night and stay in quarantine until his result was reported. As he anxiously lay in bed, all sorts of questions started erupting in his mind. His mom was a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy and his father was elderly and frail. He lived in a joint family system with children. What would happen if he transmitted the disease to them? He didn’t remember dozing off but woke up late the next morning with a mild flu and a headache. With only one concern on his mind, he took out his phone and entered his credentials, only to see the dreaded result.
“I was concerned about the health of my parents more than my own. The thought of having immuno-compromised elderly parents living in the same house as myself, now a COVID-19 carrier, was terrifying. I confided in my elder brother, who then broke the news to the rest of the family. It was difficult to explain to them that I have to live in strict isolation for at least 14 days in the same house.” Abdullah hurriedly called his seniors and informed them about the situation. He then made numerous calls to his fellow residents with whom he had been in close contact during the last few days, asking them all to get screened, fearing some of them might have acquired the disease. By afternoon, he had received calls from the hospital’s employee health service as well as the government’s health department, who informed him about all the precautions that he had to take as well as clinical signs which should prompt an immediate visit to the hospital.
As he lied down to sleep that night, he reflected upon how a quick turn of events can alter one’s life. ‘Isolation’ sounded so petrifying, but he was lucky to have the support of his colleagues, friends, and family who encouraged him to indulge in positive activities while staying within the confines of his bedroom.
“I followed a routine. Every day I would wake up early in the morning at 6 am. After prayers, I exercised in my room for an hour, cleaned my room, and washed my clothes, followed by a quick warm bath. After breakfast, I would watch a TV show for an hour. Two of my fellow colleagues at the hospital had set up a schedule according to which we would study some topics daily in the afternoon, and then would video chat and discuss in the evening. After that, I would again exercise, eat dinner, talk to my parents and the rest of the family on the phone for an hour, and finally sleep by 11 pm. I was provided with disposable cups and plates which I would discard after use. My room was kept locked at all times so that no one would enter even by mistake. All these measures were taken to prevent the disease from spreading. I followed this routine every single day for the isolation period, and during this time it felt like I was rediscovering myself. The time spent in ‘isolation’ had disciplined me, brought me closer to God, my family and friends, and above all, strengthened my empathy for our patients.”
Abdullah tested negative for COVID-19 on 3rd and 4th April. “I was delighted. I hugged my mom and dad. They had been my real strength all along. I have now rejoined the hospital with positive energy.”
Abdullah is just one of thousands of healthcare workers who have been infected with COVID-19. Maintaining social distancing, exercising hand hygiene, and wearing personal protective equipment remain the only means of controlling the spread of this potentially deadly disease among healthcare workers.
DISCLAIMER: Copyright belongs to the author. *Name changed for privacy. This blog cannot be held responsible for events bearing overt resemblance to any actual occurrences. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of CCIT or AKU.
About the Author
Saqib Bakhshi is a final year neurosurgery resident at Aga Khan University Hospital. He loves to read, is an avid storyteller, and an equally passionate writer. His literary work which is primitive, yet soothing for the heart, can be read on his blog, ‘Perseverance