A doctor who beat the novel coronavirus recounts his days in isolation

Over the March 14 weekend, I did a 70 kilometre cycle ride near my home in Birmingham in preparation for an upcoming (now cancelled) 400 kilometre cycling holiday from Copenhagen to Berlin. There was no difficulty during the practice session, but the next day I felt unusually tired and rested the whole of Sunday. The next three days at work were problem-free. On Wednesday evening, while I was leaving the hospital, I began to feel feverish with abdominal pain. Being a doctor, I worked on my instincts. I called my wife and asked her to organise the room at the back of our house with all the stuff I may require for two to three weeks.

I knew our hospitals were struggling with the COVID-19 patient load. So, as per advice by the UK government, I chose to quarantine myself at home. By the next morning, I had developed a cough and low-grade fever (100 to 101 degree F). ). I called up a pulmonologist friend who was treating COVID-19 patients. He prescribed Paracetamol tablets for the fever and aches. The first seven days I felt extremely fatigued and slept a lot. As my symptoms continued, I got a swab test done on March 25. Three days later, the report revealed I was corona positive. That is when it hit me hard.

A doctor who beat the novel coronavirus recounts his days in isolation

The pain of isolation

When you are sick, you like to be taken care of, but the novel coronavirus mercilessly throws you into forced solitude that grips you in a fear of the unknown. My mind refused to rest wondering whether the disease will progress or deteriorate, whether I will be alive at the end or die alone at a hospital without embracing my loved ones.

“My medical knowledge was both an advantage and curse. I constantly reasoned and analysed every single thing happening within me.”

My medical knowledge was both an advantage and curse. I constantly reasoned and analysed every single thing happening within me. Commonly, it was seen that between days 10 and 14, COVID-19 patients suddenly deteriorate due to an inflammatory condition called cytokine storm that puts pressure on the lungs. Lying on the bed, I kept imagining it could happen to me as well and practised different sleeping positions to improve the lung function.

A doctor who beat the novel coronavirus recounts his days in isolation

I also maintained a meticulous record of my illness: temperature, pulse rate, oxygen saturation rate in the blood and every discomfort such as nausea, confusion, body ache, and head ache. I shared it regularly with my family and friends, including my MBBS batchmates in Madurai, who are on the frontline, treating COVID-19 patients. It gave me a sense of peace that they were supervising me remotely.

When tested positive
  • Use salt and warm water to gargle and soothe the throat; forcible coughing to push out the phlegm and clearing of throat and chest by sneezing and forcible expulsion at least twice a day.
  • Perform deep and slow breathing exercises with prolonged exhalation to improve the oxygenation. Combine it with a cough to open the lung tubes and air sacs.
  • Drink plenty of warm water to protect the kidneys from damage.
  • Close the lid of the toilet seat while flushing, to avoid the plume with the virus spreading. Virus is shed via cough, saliva, faeces for up to 3-4 weeks.
  • Discard all infected items safely in double bin liners or plastic bags.

Sleep deserted me

Most days were filled with anxieties and nights with morbid thoughts. I felt out of control, slipping into moments so low I almost panicked. I did try to remain positive by saying my prayers, pushing away negative thoughts and doing some basic stretching and bending exercises. I also extensively read all novel coronavirus-related research and news.

I am not sure how I contracted the disease — it could have been from a patient or while buying groceries. I made a list of all the people I had met during the week preceding my sickness and cautioned each of them to take necessary measures in case of any symptoms. Thankfully, nobody has reported sick.

A safety message
  • It can be helpful to monitor O2 Saturation in the blood using a ‘finger pulse oximeter’. The device is available in pharmacies and online and costs ₹1,000 upward (depending on the brand). Many patients unaware of reducing oxygen saturation level compensate by breathing deeper and faster. This is referred to as ‘silent hypoxia’, which can occur in approximately 20% of patients, leading to respiratory failure. If the saturation level is below the normal 97-100%, it is best to go to the hospital immediately and seek medical attention.

Facetiming with my wife and children gave me so much joy and made the loneliness a little more bearable. For hours, I sat by the window watching my two teenage boys play football in the backyard of our home. I was particularly worried about my older son, a second year intern at Ealing Hospital in London, who continues to be posted in the COVID-19 ward. I conversed with him daily, asking him to be extra cautious and safe, rest in between duty hours, and also eat well.

During my days of illness, I became intolerant to many foods. Every morning, I ate oats and fruits, and the other two meals were soft diets — rasam-rice or dal-rice with some vegetables. My wife would place the hot, freshly prepared food outside my room. I also force-fed myself water to keep my body well hydrated.

Even on Day 16, none of my symptoms had subsided and my morale hit rock-bottom when I saw my family stressed out. On Day 18 (April 5), it was almost magical — I felt a little energetic for the first time in so many days. I chose to keep myself in isolation for another 10 days. I asked for a repeat swab test and registered myself as a plasma donor. I feel blessed to have recovered. With my experience, I can understand and help all those infected in a better way. Mostly though, I can now empathise.

(As told to Soma Basu)

Dr Mehboob Ali is a graduate of Madurai Medical College and is currently working as Consultant Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon in Russells Hall Hospital, UK. After a month’s battle with COVID-19, he returned to work on April 15

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 2:08:53 PM |

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