Alone with Covid-19: What to do

Nini Cabaero
·7 min read

(Nini is a Covid-19 survivor. She spent 10 days in a hospital after the novel coronavirus attacked her lungs. She continues her recovery at home.)

  • Where, when, how to seek help

  • ‘Alien’ in hospital

  • Prone is key

We’ve heard stories of persons who lived and died alone from the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), their bodies recovered after neighbors complained of foul smell.

These persons got sick and never got the chance to ask for help. Medical experts have said the novel coronavirus can make the fever go up fast and cause breathing problems within a short period of time. When these happen, access to medical help becomes crucial.

Among those who died of the Covid-19 are people who lived alone. In a metropolis, it is common to see professionals who chose to live on their own, away from their families, in their apartments or condo units. They never expected or prepared for the complication that is the Covid-19. Once sick and weak, they will find there’s no one to help or call for an ambulance. But there is help. Know how and where to get it to save your life.

I do not live alone but I was left on my own after a kasambahay who has been with the family for decades got sick of Covid-19 and was hospitalized. It does not matter how or where she got the virus or if I got it from her because Covid is a real threat and there are many ways to get infected. This is the reason people are reminded to stay home, wear masks, practice distancing and wash hands frequently.

While my companion was at the hospital, I was on my own in the house. Then, four days later, I got sick. The fever was my first Covid-19 symptom. It was a different kind of fever because onset was sudden, my temperature went up fast and I felt weak. From 37.7 degrees Celsius my temperature went up to 37.9, then 38.1 in minutes. The next day, I informed Julius “Jayjay” Neri Jr., SunStar Publishing Inc. president, editors and the Human Resources head that I was sick and won’t be able to work. They knew I was alone and my helper was at the hospital.

“Proof of life?” editor Cherry Ann Lim asked in a text to me. The next day she asked, “Sign of life?”

I’m still around, Cherry, I replied. Editor Michelle So sent prayers and the best advice, “Eat, Ni, eat.”

Although alone, I was with colleagues and family members who were checking on me online and praying with me. When my condition worsened, my fever shot up to 38.9 degrees Celsius, I felt weak and had difficulty breathing. I was afraid and alone, it was past midnight.

What helped me was that, even before my condition grew worse, I connected and reached out to the barangay, health workers and the Cebu City Government.

Being alone and sick with Covid-19 means fending for yourself when you’d rather just lie down, not move, not speak. There are ways to get help so you don’t have to do this alone.

If you think you were exposed to the virus, have yourself checked early. Reach out to your barangay. People there will arrange for your testing. The barangay health worker will fetch you and bring you to the cluster testing area for a swab test and bring you back. The transportation and test are free. You get to talk to a doctor about your exposure and possible symptoms. You get free lunch when you’re done.

The health worker will allow you to isolate at home because you live alone. If living with others, you will be brought to the barangay isolation center pending release of your swab test results. From that day on, you will send two text messages -- one in the morning and another in the afternoon – stating your body temperature. That’s how the health worker monitors your condition. If you have concerns, the health worker is a text or call away.

Innovation in testing such as a drive or walk-through makes getting tested easier now.

When my condition worsened, I reached out to Renzo del Rosario of the Cebu City Covid-19 Command Center and asked for an ambulance to bring me to the emergency room. The use of the ambulance was free of charge.

At the hospital, I was relieved that I was no longer alone.

Where, when, how to seek help

‘Alien’ in hospital

On my first night of confinement at the hospital, around 4 a.m. of July 17, 2020, I was awakened by an “alien.”

The room was dark, the “alien” in white stood out. I woke up, startled to find the “alien” beside my bed holding an attachment to my finger. I sat up, shouted and pulled back my hand. It was the nurse (later found out he’s a doctor) wearing what appeared to be an alien suit but was actually a hazmat (hazardous material suit).

That same day, in the afternoon, the “alien” visited me to introduce himself and show me he has a name and a face. This time, he was in personal protective equipment (PPE), not the bulky hazmat.

He apologized for scaring me. He said I shouted and pulled back my hand. I told him I thought he was an alien about to cut my finger. He said he usually makes his rounds that time. Then, he said, my main doctor ordered a change in my sleep medication. I get my melatonin three times a day. Starting that night, evening meds will be stronger so I don’t have to see another alien.

Anxious confusion has been noted in Covid-19 patients with some needing medication or psychiatric help.

Those “alien” suits are there to protect doctors, nurses and other medical personnel.

Prone is key: A frontliner-patient’s advocacy

Dr. Janiel Aguilar

Dr. Janiel Aguilar is a frontliner who, after surviving the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), now approaches his work differently.

“Before, I just did my job. After my experience with Covid, I cared more for my patients. Before, I did the work because it was my job. Now, I do it because I care,” he said.

Aguilar cares for his patients by pushing an advocacy that, based on his experience, helped Covid-19 patients recover and bring down deaths. He is now a proponent of the prone positioning where a Covid-19 patient is placed lying flat on the bed with the chest down and the back up. It might seem trivial but, Aguilar said, the prone position would allow the lungs to expand and, in the process, let the medicine to cure the lung damage caused by the virus take effect. If supine, the medicine will run only along the central part of the lungs.

This saved him as he struggled with the disease. He said he caught the novel coronavirus while working as a resident doctor at the Chong Hua Hospital in Mandaue City. His lungs got affected and he suffered a Cytokines Storm that has caused some Covid deaths. Cytokines are high levels of immune system proteins that go on overdrive to attack the novel coronavirus. In the process, the blood thickens and this raises the risk of the patient forming blood clots.

Aguilar, now recovered, said he now lives a “more meaningful life” because of this advocacy. “I want to share it kay dili sad ko ganahan mag lisod sila,” he said.

He saw his survival as a “blessing from God.”

“Appreciate even the smallest things. Water. Food. Air. Be more patient. Gracious. Appreciate the simple things in life,” he said after his near-death experience.