‘No fever or cough, but I was COVID-19 positive’: A first-hand account of Telangana’s COVID-19 fighter

By Amritha Mohan  Published on  24 March 2020 2:48 PM GMT
‘No fever or cough, but I was COVID-19 positive’: A first-hand account of Telangana’s COVID-19 fighter

Hyderabad: How does Gandhi Hospital’s isolation ward look like?

“Spacious. A lot of lights. Everyone is really friendly here,” retorted the Warangal-based lawyer, who is Telangana’s Coronavirus Patient No. 16.

Anand (name changed), like all other Indian students from the United Kingdom, had rushed back home in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. But this 24-year-old student did not really think the mild sore throat was really COVID-19. “The day of my travel on March 16, I had a mild sore throat. It was barely noticeable. So, in general circumstances, you wouldn’t even consider it abnormal,” he said.

However, after Britain decided to back off from its ‘herd-immunity’ policy in tackling COVID-19, Anand felt that there could be a chance that he might be infected as well. “Herd immunity refers to that condition where they allow enough people to get mild illness so that they become immune to the virus. As part of this, they had initially not closed down public spaces or banned large gatherings. So, it is quite possible that most of us students might have caught the disease,” he said.

Britain later went back on the ‘herd immunity’ policy after foreseeing that their health services might be too stressed with the outbreak spreading rapidly. The country shut down its universities, asking students to leave on March 15, as part of their social distancing measures.

Anand, a student of human rights law at the University of Edinburgh, was one of them. He immediately booked his flight back home on March 16, and landed in Hyderabad via Mumbai, in the early hours on March 19.

‘Coughing, sneezing in the flight’

“Most passengers who traveled with me on the flight were students. A few of them were continuously coughing and sneezing,” said the student, while talking about the journey back home.

Interestingly, he also noticed how several people were found taking paracetamol tablets to dodge thermal screening at the airport. “All of them were educated people, who were resorting to such measures to escape quarantine. So, nobody was really caught at the thermal screening test. I don’t really have the right to confront any of them, but I had later alerted the authorities over this risk,” he said.

‘Thermal screening not enough to detect coronavirus’

The COVID-19 patient is also of the opinion that thermal screening at the airports is not enough to detect the virus given it only check body temperature. In Anand’s case too, he did not run a high fever, but he was still tested positive for COVID-19.

“I did not have a fever after three days of being admitted to Gandhi hospital. So fever is not a compulsory feature for the detection of COVID-19. Upon your arrival in India, you may absolutely be normal with zero fever, zero cough, and zero everything. You may very well pass through the thermal screening at the airports as it only catches those with high body temperature (I did clear too, and so did all other positive subjects around me here). That doesn't at all mean that you are not carrying the virus inside you,” he said.

The journey to the hospital

After reaching Hyderabad, the law student felt that it was important to isolate himself, and asked his family not to meet him at the airport. Instead, after checking into a hotel, he took rest for a while and immediately reported to Gandhi Hospital on March 19. “I took care not to have contact with anyone at the hotel. Later, after providing my travel history and other details at the Gandhi hospital, I was tested for COVID-19. And as expected, the results came the next day, and I was tested positive,” the student said.

How does he feel about isolation in Gandhi Hospital?

“It doesn’t really feel like you are sick, because you don’t have acute symptoms. As of now, I feel okay. There is a little breathlessness, minor respiratory congestion, and exhaustion. Apart from that, there’s nothing highly noticeable. It’s basically a test for your mental strength to not give up,” said the 24-year-old.

All the patients are expected to be fully decked in their hazmat suits. And they do get to see the other patients, albeit at a distance. “Sometimes, in the evening, some of us just step out of the room and say hi to each other. A day before yesterday, we even clapped for the doctors and the health workers for their service. But they were like, why are you clapping, go inside and take rest!” he added with a grin.

‘Health workers not paid properly’

The student managed to make friends among the health staff, who are his contact for the past four days. “Most of the health workers here, who clean the sheets and the room, and ensure that I am properly fed, are outsourced employees. They get meagre salaries. The government really has to do something about this,” he said.

As far as the facilities are concerned, the isolation ward at Gandhi hospital is perfect, and the doctors are really friendly, says the patient. “The room is spacious with a lot of ventilation. For breakfast, I get idly vada, upma, uthappam, normal breakfast cuisine. For lunch, it is usually, dal, some curry, white rice with a boiled egg. We also get dry fruits, along with tea and coffee in the evening,” he said.

However, he admitted that it does get boring in the isolation ward. “I do have my laptop and internet to go on with work. And doctors come to check on me usually after breakfast. They take routine throat and nasal swab tests while customizing treatment for each patient depending upon their symptoms. I also keep in touch with my family constantly over the phone. I am also designing a project with the help of Clinton foundation, so that work keeps me occupied. So far, so good,” he says.

The law student hopes to get discharged soon, in ten days. “Doctors have been positive about my health status. If it goes on like this, without many changes, I will be discharged in a week,” signed off the COVID-19 fighter.

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