68 days of isolation and 22 swab tests: A Singaporean’s long COVID-19 journey after a night of partying in the UK
SINGAPORE: When Daviest Ong turned up unannounced at the door of his family's flat in Whampoa last week, his reunion with his parents and elder ...
BookmarkSINGAPORE: When Daviest Ong turned up unannounced at the door of his family's flat in Whampoa last week, his reunion with his parents and elder sister was a teary affair peppered with hugs.The 24-year-old was finally home after 68 days in isolation with COVID-19.
AdvertisementAdvertisementOn Friday (May 30), he tested negative for the illness, after a total of 22 uncomfortable swab tests. With that test result, he was able to take the first steps out of his home for more than two months - a single-bed ward in Gleneagles Hospital.
“When I went down to the lobby, and smelt the fresh air, it felt very good, because I couldn’t even pop my head out when I was in the ward,” he told CNA in a phone interview.“When I found out I was going to be discharged, that was the happiest day of my life.”
Being discharged has allowed him to enjoy the small pleasures he had missed during his isolation, such as having a meal with his family or being able to step outside whenever he wants to.AdvertisementAdvertisementREAD: Can COVID-19 patients keep testing positive but no longer be infectious? Here's what you need to know
“It’s the simple stuff that count, the things that I was deprived of,” he said.By the time he was discharged, Daviest had not seen his family for eight months. Before he fell ill and had to be warded, he had been studying at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom
.HANGING ONTO HOPES OF A NEGATIVE TESTDaviest's life in hospital centred around the four days he had to wait after each swab test, hoping each time for a result that would allow him to go home.“It was very demoralising to keep taking the test. Every time, you go through the pain hoping for a negative result,” he said.
“It gets very tiring.”Daviest Ong was warded in hospital for more than two months after being diagnosed with COVID-19. (Photo: Daviest Ong)In the first two weeks of the illness, Daviest suffered from the common symptoms that come with COVID-19 - nausea, shortness of breath, dry cough and the inability to taste or smell.
While the sickness was unpleasant, at least it felt like he was in hospital for a reason. But as time wore on and his symptoms improved, the days in isolation became more of a challenge.“It got very claustrophobic. I felt trapped and alone, and I didn’t know what to expect,” he said.
CREATING A LIFE AS NORMAL AS POSSIBLEOne way of dealing with the emotional strain was through exercise.“I tried to recreate life outside (on the) inside. I had to do it for my sanity,” he said. Studying was also a welcome distraction, as he continued to have examinations.
His loneliness was only staved off each time a nurse came in, but that did little to satiate his need for social interaction.Daviest kept in touch with friends who were going through a similar experience, and took some solace that there were others who could share in and empathise with his misery.
He was also thankful because, as he saw it, he was not in the worst possible situation. Other patients he knew were struggling much more than he was.His stay may have been made worse by the realisation he might have only himself to blame for his predicament.
A NIGHT OF ABANDONWhile there is no way for him to confirm how he got the illness, his best guess is a rare night out of partying in the United Kingdom. That was when he threw caution to the wind.There was no washing of hands, plenty of face-touching and cup-sharing, and touching of tables and chairs, as he and his friends celebrated at a club after their victory in a regional school competition for table tennis.
“I let my guard down, I agreed to go for the party,” Daviest said.The Daviest that night was a far cry from the one he had been for about a month. He had been going to school and grocery shopping with not just a mask, but gloves on too.Life was still going as per normal in the city - there were no government-mandated precautions to take, school was still on and COVID-19 seemed a distant reality. Yet, with stories from Singapore bringing home the urgency to protect against the disease, he took the precautions, at the risk of sticking out like a sore thumb.
“Even at the grocery store, I would only touch things I needed. I’d discard the gloves after that in a box outside my house,” he said.Daviest Ong outside Newcastle University, where he read his degree in marketing and management (Photo: Daviest Ong)While studying at the library, he would regularly make for the toilet with an urgent need to wash his hands. Hand sanitisers became a new accessory.
He took strict precautions, except for that night.“If I got the infection that night, I regret going for the party. I could have avoided it,” he said.THE POSSIBILITY OF COVID-19Shortly after, the Singapore Government appealed for students overseas to return, and Daviest did on Mar 20, along with three friends.
READ: 'Special arrangement' made to fly Singaporeans, PRs back home from UK amid COVID-19 outbreakIt was when he was back and on a Stay-Home Notice (SHN) that he realised something could be wrong. Two of his table tennis team mates, who had attended the party with him, called to say they had been infected.
He had a fever that at times hovered close to 40 degrees Celsius. He sought medical help, and shortly afterwards found out that he also had the infection.“When we were at the party, my friends showed no signs. We were very relaxed,” he said.Daviest Ong with his family during Chinese New Year two years ago. (Photo: Daviest Ong)
Daviest had taken additional precautions even during his SHN. Instead of returning to live with his family, he received a kind offer from his aunt to stay at her place, while she went and stayed with her mother.“I didn’t expect to get the virus, but I didn’t want to take chances,” he said.
He also took extra care on the flight home. “My friend wanted to drink out of my cup, but I told him no,” he said. He realised how important hygiene is in preventing the transmission of the disease, he said.Life has somewhat returned to normal for Daviest, and the only faint sign that he went through an illness for more than two months is his slight lack of smell. But still, he continues to heal from the experience.Read more: CNA »
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