Post-vaccination era: We are still vulnerable

Ng is given oxygen support (left) so she can breathe easier and nebuliser (right) that delivers medicines to treat her lungs and blood in phlegm.

Follow and subscribe to DayakDaily on Telegram for faster news updates.

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, Sept 6: A 38-year-old Kuching woman experienced one of the scariest times in her life after coming face-to-face with Covid-19 which started with just an uncomfortable dry throat but rapidly escalated into something more severe which sent her straight into the hospital and strapped on oxygen support.

Before her ordeal, Alicia Ng was healthy with no known medical conditions except an allergy towards bee stings (anaphylaxis). She already had received the first shot of the AztraZeneca (AZ) Covid-19 vaccine. Today, she is grateful to be alive after a brush with death due to a severe case of Covid-19.

Ng told DayakDaily that she took every precaution in her daily activities to avoid getting sick because she had vulnerable elderly family members at home.

“I was shocked and anxiety kicked in because things happened so fast and I never expected to end up in hospital. I had no pre-existing health conditions. I am working from home. I did not dine-out, stopped group running, exercised at home, wore double masks when out to run errands and essential shopping, only accompanied elderly family members for check-ups at the health clinic and sanitised everything frequently.

“I couldn’t have been more careful. It could happen to anyone,” she warned.

Vaccine is important, so are SOPs

Despite that, Ng strongly advocates the importance of getting vaccinated against Covid-19 to provide added protection for the body from being wrecked by the virus on top of adhering to all standard operating procedures (SOPs).

She was only 10 days away from getting her second vaccine dose before she contracted Covid-19, but in the hospital ward, she observed that most of the fully vaccinated patients (in medical term “Covid-19 breakthrough cases”) she saw had symptoms which were mild and less severe, but they were nevertheless monitored for co- or multi-morbidity like hypertension, diabetes and other diseases.

“I shared a ward with a lady taking care of her father who was put on a ventilator with a hole in the neck (a tracheostomy procedure). He is vaccinated, so it appears that we are still vulnerable to the virus, especially the high-risk groups but vaccines in some ways help protect people with weakened immune systems.

“When I left the ward on the fifth day, her father was better and could walk faster while escorted by his daughter. He smiled and waved at me. I hope he is now off the ventilator and can breathe on his own.

“So even when fully vaccinated, we must stick to the SOP because we can still be infected. Don’t assume you are fully protected or have developed antibodies after being positive and out of quarantine. (We) still need to adhere to SOP. So please stay safe and don’t take things for granted.”

Ng also advised people to take their quarantines seriously including asymptomatic and suspected cases so as not to spread the infection to high-risk groups especially old folks and those with morbidities because “Covid-19 is not an ordinary flu”.

The aftermath from Covid-19 with arm bruised from injections.

Covid-19 is really no fun

Ng was diagnosed with Covid-19 through private screening on Aug 9, four days after she began experiencing symptoms of cough, fever, blocked nose, and fatigue. She was hospitalised three days later after experiencing elevated heart rate, streaks of blood in phlegm and trouble breathing.

By then she had already lost her sense of taste and smell. Her 69-year-old mother who is comorbid with hypertension and hyperthyroidism and her 76-year-old aunt who is a cancer survivor also had mild symptoms and tested positive but their conditions were much better.

“They still had their sense of taste, why did I lose mine? I could only taste the saltiness of the food but not other flavours. My coffee tasted so bad and sour and I couldn’t even taste the toothpaste,” she recalled.

During home quarantine, Ng noticed her increased heart rate even though her oxygen level was normal, then blood appeared in her phlegm on the seventh day.

An hour after she reported her health condition to the Health Department, an ambulance was sent to pick her up. Upon arrival at the Sarawak General Hospital (SGH), she started gasping for air and nearly fainted as she walked to the Covid-19 ward on the 8th floor.

A doctor informed Ng she would be treated for Category 4 Covid-19 (lung infections and requiring oxygen). She was strapped with an oxygen tube, an intravenous drip was inserted on her arm to infuse drugs, and an x-ray and electrocardiogram (ECG) was taken.

Two days after being hospitalised which was also the fifth day after testing positive, she was excited that her sense of smell had returned although not entirely, “Yes, yes, yes. I can smell the banana but my sense of taste is still lacking.”

Her sense of taste only returned on the ninth day.

“But after just three days in hospital, my arm looked so beaten, it was horrible with all the bruises from needle injections. Covid-19 was really no fun.”

Ng was finally discharged from the hospital on Aug 16 after spending five days in the ward. She was transferred to the Youth and Sports Complex quarantine centre which houses those still under observation after a severe bout of Covid-19. Here, the monitoring level is high to ensure recovering patients are healthy enough to be released as compared to the low-risk quarantine centres.

She spent seven days there and was transferred to the Batu Lintang Teachers’ Institute quarantine centre that caters for low-risk cases who are asymptomatic or with mild symptoms but without a conducive home quarantine environment to continue her remaining isolation period.

During the quarantine period, she took small steps toward recovery while on and off strong medications. She returned home on Aug 27 and is now recuperating.

“After 16 days of ‘roller coaster’ from hospital to quarantine centres and in a haze of drugs from corticosteroids, dexamethasone (for lungs), heparin (blood thinning to prevent blood clots), nebuliser and oxygen aid, I still wonder how did I managed to get to Category 4.”

The grim-looking Covid-19 Ward at SGH where patients are cared for while they fight off Covid-19.

A bow to all medical frontliners

Ng is grateful to the doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and the rest of the medical frontliners for their swift response, best care given and helping her through the toughest days of her illness.

“I am truly appreciative of the proper care received at SGH from the professional and kind doctors and nurses that have saved my life. These are all paid by the government. In a way, I felt so blessed because there was no way that I could afford a private hospital with no guarantee that I would get better too.

“Everyone is working really hard round-the-clock to help and care for patients in hospitals and quarantine centres. There are patients struggling to live and some have been in the hospital for weeks. They even send people to the quarantine centre at 2am.”

She also commended the State government for providing decent facilities for people to quarantine that are not overcrowded because it actually helped to keep up the momentum to get better.

“Getting quarantined in centres, especially for cases like mine, is so much better than at home. At the centre for recovering patients, nurses do their rounds to check on patients throughout the day to give us medications, injections and monitor our health status. There is also a treatment room where patients go for specific treatment.

“At the low-risk centre, there are even young children including a two-day-old baby being quarantined but those who are here, I would say they are doing alright because only those with complications will be in the ward. Here, there is less monitoring but patients can call the emergency line of that specific centre in the event they needed help.”

Observing the overwhelming workload faced by the medical frontliners as cases have surged, Ng urged people who are not sick or not urgent cases not to flood the Accident and Emergency (A&E) and Emergency Room (ER) as it will only place a heavier burden on the medical team.

“But if you or family members are in the midst of waiting for an ambulance or transport to a quarantine centre but your health conditions suddenly deteriorates like experiencing difficulty in breathing, dropping oxygen saturation levels, elevated heart rate, coughing blood, lips and nails turning blue or purple and chest pain, go straight to the A&E or ER.

“In the event that you rush to the hospital on your own but prior arrangement had been made for an ambulance or transport service from the Health Department, don’t forget to inform the officer who had called to cancel the transport arrangement. Otherwise, the name will still be on the list for the ambulance or transport to pick up.”

She also expressed her heartfelt thanks to her friends and family members for their concerns, their prayers, food and essential deliveries as well as helping to take care of her family’s needs including the temporary shelter for dogs that she is currently running as well as her bosses and colleagues for their understanding, support and covering for her while she was fighting off her Covid-19 infection.

Covid-19 is really no joke

Until today, Ng is unsure how she contracted the virus when she had taken all proper precautions. She hopes others realise the dangers of this virus and continue to practise SOPs and only go out when necessary.

She advised those who tested positive to not panic and recommended that everyone have an oximeter at home as it is an important instrument that has saved her life.

“We have to take Covid-19 seriously and take the precautions seriously because we can actually get severely sick and maybe even die from it. We need to be responsible people who adhere to the SOP so that we won’t get infected or infect other people.

“While the percentage of severe cases is low, not everyone will get their treatment on time and not everyone will survive their fight. Every life counts and everyone needs to play their part seriously.”

For now, Ng is still recovering and recuperating at home and could face a long journey head to full recovery. She still feels tired when walking and talking fast and doctors have advised her to do physio and breathing exercises to strengthen her lungs.

“I believe this is temporary and will go away slowly after my lungs are fully recovered.”

Her follow-up medical check-up is due in a month’s time and she learned that Sept 15 is the last date for the AZ vaccination. However, it is still uncertain if she can get her second vaccination shot as it will depend on the doctor’s assessment of her condition then. — DayakDaily

The orderly environment at the Batu Lintang Teachers’ Institute quarantine centre (top) and Youth and Sports Complex quarantine centre (bottom).