Test of fortitude in mind and body

The Delta strain currently accounts for nearly all cases in Singapore. Three former patients tell ST health correspondent Linette Lai about their experiences of being diagnosed with the virus.

Woman found out she had Covid-19 six hours before she planned to give birth

Six hours before Poh Wen Ching was due to undergo a caesarean section for the birth of her second child, she got a call at midnight delivering some bad news.

A routine pre-admission test at Thomson Medical had found her and her husband Lee Shao Hao positive for Covid-19, derailing their plans to deliver the baby girl on Sept 23.

The couple also have a two-year-old daughter.

They live with his parents, who are fully vaccinated.

Poh, an accounts executive, had decided to get vaccinated only in August – about six weeks before she was due to give birth – after reading an article about a pregnant woman in Malaysia who had died of Covid-19.

The 29-year-old had both doses before she tested positive.

“Everyone told us not to do it. A lot of people said she should finish the confinement, then go for it, since she was already near the end of her third trimester,” recounted Lee, 32.

“But for us, our question was: ‘What if we don’t take it and something happens?’.”

They also looked up articles on whether vaccination was safe for pregnant women and consulted their gynaecologist who gave them the green light.

Throughout the course of Poh’s pregnancy, the family took extreme precautions to keep themselves safe.

These included taking showers immediately after coming back from running even simple errands such as collecting letters or buying food.

After the couple were found to have the virus, the rest of the family got themselves tested.

They ended up testing positive but experienced only mild symptoms that subsided after three days.

Their daughter – the only one not vaccinated because of her age – had a fever that lasted five days, as well as a cough and runny nose that persisted for around 10 days.

In the 48 hours after that midnight call, the family barely slept as they waited for confirmation on what would happen next.

At the time, the home recovery programme, introduced as a pilot scheme on Aug 30 and expanded to more patients on Sept 15, was still new and plagued by some issues.

Poh was eventually taken alone to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) on Sept 24, as Thomson was not equipped to deal with her situation.

The caesarean section was carried out on Sept 28 after doctors determined she was no longer infectious.

Although she was allowed to hold the newborn, the rest of her family could meet her only after Oct 2, when their 10-day quarantine was over.

Lee was also quarantined at home.

The baby was not tested for Covid-19 as KKH told the family there was no need for it.

“Vaccination for pregnant ladies is very important,” said Lee, who is co-founder of media site Sure Boh Singapore.

“It’s really very fortunate that we went ahead to do it.”

He urged others to mentally prepare themselves to deal with Covid-19, adding that much of his initial fear arose because he had not done so.

“For the first 24 hours, I was at a loss,” he recalled.

“If you prep for it, it will be shocking – but not to the extent that you don’t know what to do and develop severe anxiety.”

Mental health affectedWhen Umma, 50, came down with a fever on July 7 – two days after her first dose of the vaccine – she assumed it was just a side effect of the shot.

But over the next few days, as her family members began developing a fever one after another, she knew something was wrong.

The housewife’s household of nine tested positive for Covid-19.

Only her fully vaccinated 92-year-old father was spared.

“At that time, the number of community cases was very low, in the single digits,” said Umma, who declined to give her full name.

“So when we got it, we were very shocked.”

The family – most of whom were either unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated – ended up in different hospitals.

This was before the home recovery programme was implemented.

Umma, along with her husband, mother and son-in-law, spent most of their recovery time in the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.

Her two grandchildren – aged five and three – were taken to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, along with their mother and domestic helper.

Meanwhile, her father was taken to a hotel for quarantine.

All their symptoms were relatively mild, with most of the family experiencing only a fever that faded after a day. The children were asymptomatic.

Umma herself experienced a four-day fever and was hospitalised for eight days before being moved to a community recovery facility.

The experience left her on edge for a month, even after she had physically recovered.

In hospital, she asked to share a room with her 80-year-old mother, who was fully vaccinated, for emotional support.

After her discharge, she avoided reading any news about Covid-19 and developed a fear of being reinfected.

“If I used hot water to wash myself and my body felt hot after that, I would take my temperature to see if I had a fever. Even if I sneezed because of dust on the floor, I would be scared,” she recounted.

Umma’s mental health has since improved.

She plans to take a second dose of the vaccine as soon as she is medically cleared to do so and urged those who have not gotten their shots to do so.

“Previously, I was a very brave person. Whenever anyone had problems, they would come to me and I would calm them down. But when it came to Covid, it was like I was the most cowardly person.

“My mother, who was vaccinated, was strong and confident nothing would happen. But because I was not fully vaccinated, I was more worried.”

Hooked up in ICU

Four days after testing positive for Covid-19, Ng was in the National Centre for Infectious Diseases’ intensive care unit (ICU), hooked up to a tube of high-flow oxygen to help him breathe.

The 60-year-old’s blood oxygen level – which in a healthy person should be at least 95% – had fallen to below 90%.

But the medical issues the virus created had crept up so stealthily that Ng missed the signs that he was in serious trouble.

It was his mother and sister, speaking to him over the phone the day after he tested positive, who first noticed the difference.

They had temporarily moved out of their shared flat after he tested positive.

“They said I was breathing heavily, which I myself did not know,” said Ng, a stallholder at Chinatown Complex, which was closed for three days in early September after a virus cluster was found there.

“I sort of sensed it, but not to the extent that I found difficulty in breathing.”

He had tested positive after a routine swab test on Sept 10 and called an ambulance the next day.

After two days in the hospital’s general ward, he was transferred to intensive care.

Ng, who wanted to be known only by his surname, said he was conscious at the time and still did not have difficulty breathing – just some “discomfort”.

But the decision to move him made his family members very anxious, he recounted.

“When they heard the word ‘ICU’, they thought it must be very serious,” he said. “They saw me wearing the (breathing apparatus) mask and were very worried.”

He was not able to give them regular updates due to his worsened condition.

“I didn’t talk to them much. I was very tired and sleeping most of the time,” said Ng, who otherwise texted or spoke to his family on the phone.

Ng spent three days in the ICU – a relatively short time, given that some patients require intensive care for more than two weeks.

Doctors believe he was protected from the worst effects of the virus because he was fully vaccinated.

Approximately 1.5% of patients need oxygen supplementation in hospital for two to five days while another 0.2% end up needing critical care.

An Israeli study has also shown that people over 60 who had received their booster shots were about 20 times less likely to have severe Covid-19, compared with those in the same age group who had received only two jabs at around the same time period.

Apart from supplementary oxygen, Ng was given a cocktail of medication: antiviral drug remdesivir, a steroid called dexamethasone and a blood thinner as some Covid-19 patients are at risk of blood clots.

He was then moved back to an isolation ward before being discharged on Sept 24.

Ng spoke warmly of the healthcare staff who looked after him despite the onerous protocols they had to abide by.

Each time someone entered his room – even if it was just to take his temperature or tidy the place – they would have to don a fresh set of personal protective equipment.

“And when I was in intensive care, once my oxygen levels dropped off, they would quickly come into the room, so I believe they are truly monitoring every patient,” he added.

“It’s a lot of work.” — The Straits Times/ANN

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