Recovered COVID-19 patient describes trip to ‘alien planet’ and back

Photo courtesy of Schoko

TAIPEI (CNA) — Within an hour of being informed on March 21 that she had tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus disease, Schoko was in an ambulance on her way to the hospital, carrying some hastily packed clothes, a boxed lunch, and a cup of bubble tea.

It was her first trip in an ambulance and the first time she was being hospitalized, she told CNA in a phone interview.

“I felt like I was in a spaceship, being transported to an alien planet,” said Schoko, a Taiwanese in her 30s, who asked to withhold her proper name.

When she arrived at the hospital in New Taipei, she was allowed to walk on her own to a negative pressure isolation room, followed by two cleaners in full protective gear, disinfecting everything in her wake.

That walk was only the first step on a journey that would take 22 days before Schoko could emerge from her “alien planet.”

Warning signs

It all started in mid-March when Schoko woke up one morning feeling exhausted. By afternoon, she had developed a slight temperature, and she went to see a doctor, who gave her medication to reduce the fever.

A few days later, Schoko realized that she had lost her sense of taste.

“My tongue felt numb,” she said, “Even the texture of rice felt different.”

She immediately went to a hospital and was tested for COVID-19. When the results came back, Schoko officially became one of the 33 locally infected cases of COVID-19 in Taiwan, where the total number had reached 153.

Around the same time, her boyfriend, who had been in quarantine because of his contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient, also tested positive.

Life in isolation

Although Schoko went into panic mode when she received her COVID-19 test results, she started to calm down after she was admitted to hospital and realized that she was in good hands.

For starters, her negative pressure isolation room in hospital was nothing like the stark white space she had imagined, she said. It was spacious, with large windows and an en suite bathroom. The blankets on the bed were pale pink, and the garbage bags, labeled “bio-medical waste,” were a bright fuchsia.

Schoko soon had to get used to a daily routine that started at 6 a.m. with the entrance of medical personnel in full protective gear to collect nasal swabs.

Throughout the day, she would have to check her own temperature, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels, which helped to minimize contact with the medical staff.

They came to her room, however, to bring her meals and medication, staying only a few minutes each time.

A message reading, “There is no trash today,” that Schoko pasted on the door of her room, so that hospital workers can know they don’t have to come in, thereby minimizing their contact with the virus./ Photo courtesy of Schoko

“Even though I was sick, my symptoms were mild, and I wanted to maintain some sense of normalcy,” Schoko said.

She spent time chatting on the phone with her family and friends, cleaning her room, and performing some aspects of her job remotely.

Schoko also set up a Facebook page titled “Chan Ting Yi Hsia,” literally, “Pause for a moment,” which she is using to document her experience since being confirmed as having contracted the disease, as well as to remind her to pause and remember the things she treasures in life, like her loved ones and pet cat.

She hopes the page, which currently has nearly 4,000 followers, can provide a positive message about coping with the disease at a time when there is a lot of panic surrounding the pandemic, she said.

After 22 days in isolation, Schoko was discharged from hospital April 11, and her bill was less than NT$2200 (US$72).

With her national health insurance coverage and government subsidies for patients with transmittable disease, she was required to pay only 1.2 percent of the total cost.

“I really want to express my gratitude for the National Health Insurance (NHI) system and to the medical personnel who took care of me,” Schoko said, “The healthcare workers are all angels.”

Feelings of guilt

None of Schoko’s relatives or colleagues tested positive for COVID-19, but some of her close friends did, and because of her case, the company at which she worked had to close down temporarily.

Schoko said she was wracked by guilt and sent her supervisor a message of apology immediately after she received her test results.

“I’m sorry. I’ve tested positive,” she wrote in the text.

She was also worried about the plight of her colleagues, some of whom were forced out by their landlords during their required 14-day self-quarantine after she was diagnosed with COVID-19, she said.

When Schoko spoke to her coworkers about her feelings of guilt, they comforted her, assuring her that she had done nothing wrong by falling ill, she said.

While negative actions understandably come from a place of fear because of the disease, they do not help anyone and only hurt people who have done nothing wrong, she said.

Not all landlords, however, are that harsh, Schoko said, adding that some of them were sending fruit and meals to her coworkers during their period of self-isolation.

“This is a crucial time when humanity is being tested,” she said. “I hope everyone can show a bit more empathy, offer support to those who need it, and remember that kindness is a choice.”