Coronavirus: Case 48's emotional roller coaster to recovery

Case 48, the 34-year-old church worker from the Grace Assembly of God church in Tanglin, was the first from that coronavirus cluster to be discharged. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - The coronavirus patient known as case 48 was sent on a week-long emotional roller coaster when he was isolated in hospital for Covid-19 on Feb 10.

Nasal swabs were taken 24 hours apart and the tests would come back with different results: positive, equivocal and negative.

The uncertainty ended on Monday (Feb 17), when the 34-year-old church worker from the Grace Assembly of God church in Tanglin was the first from that coronavirus cluster to be discharged.

Cases 48 and 49 were the first two cases from the church, which is the biggest cluster in Singapore with 22 confirmed cases.

"I've always had a clean bill of health," he told The Straits Times. He did not want to be named.

When he did not feel well earlier this month, he saw general practitioners in three clinics on Feb 2, 4, 7, 9 and 10.

On Feb 10, he was referred to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) for tests. That day, the Ministry of Health called him and, in under an hour, he was taken in an ambulance from his Bukit Batok home to be isolated in NCID.

The patient, who also published a first-hand account on Salt&Light, a Christian online publication, said his isolation room was fairly large, with two glass doors and a hatch in the wall for food trays and medication. A tracker was attached on him to monitor his movement, and medical professionals communicated with him via a phone by his bed.

"I felt like a prisoner," he recalled.

The next day, tests for Covid-19 were done. His results for the first nasal swab test was negative. Tests done in the following days showed mixed results.

"Nasal swabs are done 24 hours apart. It felt like a roller-coaster ride. When the results came back positive or equivocal, I was very discouraged, like I was led on to feel hopeful and then like a spanner in the works, it all went south.

"There was also a sense of guilt because of the possible risks that my family would be exposed to, both from catching the virus from me, and the possibility of being stigmatised by being linked to a confirmed case," he said.

"While in isolation, I missed my family, friends and, of course, my freedom. But I understood that it was a necessity and it was only temporal."

He was never fully alone while isolated. His mobile phone was constantly buzzing, with family, friends and the church community rallying behind him.

An immense boost was a text message filled with words of faith from his wife. He said: "As a Christian, I remained optimistic and hopeful because I trust in God, and I know there were many people praying for me and my family.

"I am also confident of Singapore's robust healthcare system and that the doctors would do what's right and necessary."

He had up-close encounters with empathetic doctors and nurses who worked round the clock, their leave frozen. "Let them not be forgotten, under-appreciated or treated like the plague," he said.

On Monday, his doctor walked into his room, without protective gear, to congratulate and inform him that he was free from the coronavirus.

"I was simply overjoyed and grateful that I had recovered."

The "Covid-19 survivor", as he described himself, took a taxi home. "I hugged my family the first thing I got home," he said. "They are equally glad and grateful that I've recovered and finally reunited with the family."

He is already back at work. "Now that I am discharged and quarantine-free, work continues and I will still have regular discussions with my colleagues as we prepare to resume church operations."

Church services and activities were suspended for two weeks as a precaution, with the premises closed till Feb 25.

"While it may be heart-wrenching to see the increasing number of confirmed cases linked to our church, our church remains steadfast and confident that this dark cloud will pass," he said. The church will celebrate its 70th anniversary this year.

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