COVID-19 SPECIAL

Coronavirus: After 35 days in ICU and losing 12kg, Indonesian retiree eager to go home

Mr Susanto Notowibowo has been in hospital for over 70 days and lost about 12kg. Mr Susanto (right) before he came down with Covid-19.
Mr Susanto Notowibowo has been in hospital for over 70 days and lost about 12kg. Mr Susanto (right) before he came down with Covid-19.PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN, COURTESY OF SUSANTO NOTOWIBOWO
Left: Mr Susanto Notowibowo, 72, before he came down with Covid-19. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SUSANTO NOTOWIBOWO Far left: Mr Susanto at Alexandra Hospital, where he is undergoing rehabilitation to recover from the after-effects of his prolonged bed rest. H
Mr Susanto at Alexandra Hospital, where he is undergoing rehabilitation to recover from the after-effects of his prolonged bed rest. He has been in hospital for over 70 days and lost about 12kg. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Left: Mr Susanto Notowibowo, 72, before he came down with Covid-19. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SUSANTO NOTOWIBOWO Far left: Mr Susanto at Alexandra Hospital, where he is undergoing rehabilitation to recover from the after-effects of his prolonged bed rest. H
Mr Susanto undergoing physiotherapy at Alexandra Hospital last week, with senior physiotherapist Ong Zhong Li.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

While on a trip to Singapore to visit his family in late March, retired Indonesian businessman Susanto Notowibowo came down with the coronavirus and spent over a month on life support here.

This virus is an insidious one, the 72-year-old who is Case 1,109 told The Sunday Times. His 73-year-old wife, who was on the same trip, also tested positive for Covid-19.

"We do not know how we had contracted the virus. We also did not notice anyone who was sick on the flight here," he said in Mandarin.

For 35 days, Mr Susanto fought for his life in the intensive care unit (ICU) of Alexandra Hospital (AH) and later at the National University Hospital (NUH), where he had a procedure done to drain the fluid that had accumulated in his lungs.

His oxygen levels were alarmingly low and the medical team thought they would lose him at one point.

Mr Susanto was eventually cleared of the coronavirus on May 20, but he has to remain in hospital for a rehabilitation programme to recover from the after-effects of his prolonged bed rest.

His wife, Madam Muryani Notowibowo Tjoeng, who is Case 928, was discharged from AH on April 14, after 16 days.

Mr Susanto , who has been in hospital for over 70 days, lost about 12kg and appears visibly thinner.

"When my wife visited me, she couldn't recognise my face. I had to wave at her," said Mr Susanto, who has three sons aged 38, 47 and 50.

The couple, who have been married for 50 years, had flown from Jakarta on March 26 to visit their youngest son Janoto Wibowo Njoo, a Singaporean engineer, and his family. Their other two sons live in Indonesia.

The couple are long-term visit pass holders who travel to Singapore at least once every two months to visit their family members here, including two grandchildren aged six and eight, and would stay with them for at least a week. But when the Susantos arrived in March, they were immediately put in a hotel in Newton Road to serve a mandatory 14-day stay-home notice for travellers.

 
 

The next day, Madam Muryani started feeling unwell and had diarrhoea. She subsequently developed a cough and mild fever, and was isolated at AH on March 30.

Her swab test results for the coronavirus came back positive.

Mr Susanto, who was then put on quarantine orders, said: "I was worried for her. We didn't think that we would come down with the virus."

On April 2, he was taken to AH after developing a mild fever, and later confirmed to have Covid-19.

"I was surprised, because I felt well," said Mr Susanto, who was isolated in a room across from his wife's. However, his condition deteriorated quickly on April 6, and he was rushed to the ICU, put on high levels of sedation and paralytics, while tubes connected to ventilators were needed to pump oxygen into his frail lungs.

His kidneys were impaired and he needed dialysis for about a week to aid his body's fluid balance until they recovered.

His ICU stay "was stormy", said Dr Liew Mei Fong, head of the ICU at AH, adding that Mr Susanto was unconscious for about 20 days because of the sedation and difficulty weaning him off the ventilator.

 
 

"He woke up dazed for many days before being able to obey commands. But he does not remember his ICU stay, a common side-effect of the sedatives and critical illness."

For days, he hallucinated and had vague dreams that he was being cared for at his relatives' homes in Indonesia.

The most difficult part of the ordeal was when he realised later on what had happened to him.

"I couldn't move around because I had no strength," said Mr Susanto.

On May 8, he was sent to NUH for a procedure to drain the fluid that had accumulated in his lungs.

His breathing tubes were removed the next day, but he had to stay in the ICU for a few days before being moved to an isolation ward.

He was cleared of Covid-19 on May 20 - after 49 days - and transferred to a general ward at NUH.

On May 26, Mr Susanto was moved back to AH, where he is undergoing daily therapy to help with his coordination and strength, among other things. He also does exercises to help him breathe better, such as getting to cough to clear his airways.

 
 

Mr Ong Zhong Li, senior physiotherapist at AH, said the prolonged bed rest had affected Mr Susanto's limbs and body strength.

But Mr Ong, 29, added that the once active senior is "very determined", and has made progress, including being able to stand unaided and to walk with assistance.

For now, Mr Susanto, who has seven grandchildren aged between six and 16, is looking forward to seeing his family after he is discharged, which is expected to be in mid-July, depending on how well he is recovering.

"I hope to celebrate together with them," he said. "I am thankful to have survived this ordeal, and to be given a second chance in life."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 14, 2020, with the headline 'After 35 days in ICU and losing 12kg, retiree eager to go home'. Print Edition | Subscribe