Isolated for 21 Days: Our Colleague's COVID-19 Experience


By Natalie Tham
May 5, 2020

In early April, one of our colleagues tested positive for COVID-19. This colleague was hospitalised at NCID, and remained there for 21 days before being discharged. Our colleague recounts his experience from start to finish - from being informed of his test results, to his gruelling 21 days in the hospital, and finally to being discharged.

Q: Could you tell us a little more about your experience?

The illness started as a sore throat and fever for me. I then went to see a doctor and was given 5 days of medical leave. Two days later, I discovered that I lost my sense of smell and taste. This worried me as the news had recently reported that symptoms of the virus included the loss of sense of smell and taste. I waited a couple of days to see if the symptoms got better, but the symptoms worsened instead. My fear that I would spread the virus to my loved ones, friends and co-workers if I was infected with COVID-19 prompted me to seek a second opinion at the same clinic. After considering my symptoms, the doctor referred me to NCID for a swab test.

When the test results came back positive, I was alarmed and shocked. I am quite a hygienic person, and had been keeping to a strict cleanliness protocol ever since Singapore started experiencing its first wave of COVID-19 infections. Till this day, I have no idea where I contracted the virus.

Daily routines in the hospital

My daily routine while I was hospitalised was rather mundane. I woke up at 7am everyday – that's when the nurses did their rounds of providing patients with their medications. We received medications to treat the symptoms of the virus, as no vaccine has been discovered yet.

At around 745am, breakfast would be served, and I would either do some light reading or take a nap until lunch time. After lunch, I would try to take a nap again, as I rarely got good sleep during the night. I am a light sleeper, and I am kept up from sounds from medical equipment in the hospital on most nights. The combination of prescription medication and a full lunch made it easy for me to nap and get the rest I required. After dinner, I would call my loved ones to stay sane. It was difficult for me to be away from my home for such a long time.

Road to recovery

During my stay, the doctors and nurses at NCID were highly responsive and always ensured that the patients were well taken care of. They were also open to providing more information about the virus and my progress as a patient throughout the recovery process.

In NCID, the meals served were very nutritious and I think that the high nutrition definitely aided my recovery process. We were served 2 main dishes consisting of vegetable and meat, a bowl of soup as well as a portion of fruit. I do not usually take fruits, but during my stay, I made it a point to get as much nutrition for my recovery as possible, and even after my discharge, I have been making it a habit to eat more fruits.

One of the meals during our colleague's stay.

Another one of the meals our colleague received in NCID.

Throughout my stay, I had a total of 5 roommates. Most of them were from the affected dormitories and construction industry, and they were all very considerate. While I did have my worries about sharing a room with a fellow patient, the doctors and nurses assured us that recovery is dependent on the individual's immune system. Personally, I think it is good to have a roommate, as it helps to have company and talk to someone who fully understands what you are going through.

I had to test negative for two consecutive swab tests within a 24 hour window in order to get discharged. In total, I did the swab test about 15 times. The swab tests were really uncomfortable, and they felt like a cleaning brush stuck up your nose. Sometimes I could feel it near my throat, which is really uncomfortable.

Struggles faced while hospitalised

Being isolated for such a long period of time was very difficult. The worst thing in isolation was being away from my loved ones. My recovery at NCID was the longest I was away from my family. It also feels terrible to be "trapped" inside the room, without seeing much of the outside world.

I was definitely worried, especially during the start and the latter stages of my recovery when it took what felt like a very long time for me to get the negative swabs in order to be discharged. As time progressed, I grew more and more impatient. My family was very worried, and in order to make up for the distance, we talked every day, and checked in with one another frequently.

Despite the negative emotions that surfaced, I am thankful that all of them were free of the virus and are physically healthy. I'm grateful for the support and messages I received from loved-ones, friends and colleagues on a daily basis as they provided me with the positivity and strength to stay focused on my recovery.

Eventual discharge and final thoughts

I finally got discharged after a long three weeks. The first thing I did once I got home was to sanitise all my belongings, clean the room, in my best effort to ensure that my family stay safe from the illness. After that, I cleaned myself and shaved my facial hair for the first time in 21 days, the clean shaven face was a great sign that I am back, physically healthy again.

The recovery process was not easy, and having gone through it, I think that it is luxury to be with your loved ones. To end off, I would like to remind everyone to maintain the rules of the current circuit breaker in place and practice good hygiene in order to stay safe from the illness.

We thank our colleague for taking the time to share with us his experience. It was a difficult time for him and we are glad that he has fully recovered and are now back with us. Having read about our colleague's experience, we hope that it gives everyone a better understanding of what it is like to go through COVID-19. We echo our colleague's sentiments; indeed, let us all continue to be law-abiding citizens and keep in mind the need to maintain good hygiene. We cannot let our guard down until Singapore is free from COVID-19. And we sincerely hope that the day our beloved city is free from COVID-19 will come very soon.