It has been three months since Sudheep Roy, 51, an expatriate in Brunei who contracted COVID-19 mid-March was completely cleared of the deadly virus, but up until today, he is still anxious on what will come next as uncertainties and unknowns lie with the new virus, despite feeling healthy and normal.
For many recovered coronavirus patients, life may never return to what it was before.
To better understand its lasting impact, the Bulletin during a Zoom meeting also spoke to another individual who contracted the virus, hospitalised and has since made a full recovery.
Individually, their stories do not substantiate any speculation or postulation about the nature of this new virus or the government’s response to it. Collectively, however, they paint a more complete picture of the residual consequences of the deadly virus, especially prolonged sense of stigmatisation or guilt — and the often false assumption that normal life will resume simply because one has recovered.
Since early this year when the onset of the coronavirus spread gained traction from China, Sudheep said he was following closely with updates through the news and the company he has been working with for more than three years also issued precautionary measures, the same time the Brunei Government also issued travel advisories to severely affected countries.
But Sudheep does not travel much, and the last he travelled was in December last year.
Sudheep is staying with his wife and daughter in the Belait District and live a normal and happy life. To keep his fitness levels up, Sudheep also goes on a run two-three times weekly.
It was on March 15 on a Sunday when he was about to go for his run, that he felt his body was aching. “It’s only that and nothing else so I thought let’s not do it this time.”
He came back to work to the office the next day and was still experiencing the symptoms and had to postpone his run again. He later described feeling feverish, with redness in his eyes, but brushed it off as a normal fever that he experienced every now and then.
“I self-medicated as I usually would and took some paracetamol. As the news on the COVID-19 was blowing up that time, I called our company helpline and mentioned my symptoms, where I answered a typical questionnaire checklist and whether I travel recently, have I been in contact with a COVID-19 patients, etc.”
He was advised to see a doctor and a few days later, had to come back because his fever symptoms didn’t subside and was only prescribed with paracetamol.
It was then a few confirmed positive cases were reported in his office, and he called the help line again. “They called the Ministry of Health (MoH). They got in touch with me immediately for the test and I was told that I was COVID-19 positive the next day.
On receiving the news, Sudheep couldn’t believe what he was just told. “That’s like a shock and I’m not expecting it, especially when I have been reading about it since January. I have a lot of notes about the disease, conditions and complications and so yes, when they told me my brain almost froze,” he said.
“The first thing that came up to my mind was why? I have never been in contact with those people who tested positive.. I started worrying about my wife and daughter because I’m here with them.. so if I have been infected for the last five to six days staying at the same house, chances of infection gets higher as well,”
Health officials arrived at his doorstep to transport him to the National Isolation Centre (NIC) in Tutong.
“I had not seen my daughter in the last four to five days at that point of time because I asked her to be isolated so I called my wife.. I walked to my living room and on my way out, my daughter was standing around 10 feet away she was crying and I told her don’t worry I will be back.. in my mind I don’t know what is going to happen.”
Even when he was at the NIC, for the initial two to three days, he was still in a state of shock.
“Because I’m trying to process the information, especially the time when I got the infection and things which can go wrong.
Since his discharge two weeks later after conducting three consecutive swab tests, Sudheep said life has returned to normal for him but he is being extra careful.
“It is more of a mental attitude rather than physical, it’s difficult because there is no cure for the virus yet.. reading what’s happening around the world makes you nervous,” he said adding that he feels fine and doesn’t have any complications.
As a recovered COVID-19 patient, Sudheep said he is coping with the worries of the virus might infect again and what effects it brings in the long-term. “Because this is a relatively new disease, no one knows what are the long-term effects,” adding that despite the commendable Brunei’s Ministry of Health’s tireless efforts in containing the virus and prevent further spread and treating patients, he would like to see a follow up on patients general well-being to see how they cope post-COVID-19 infection.
He said that these days, every little things he experienced, such as a pain in his hand, he felt is related to the virus. “But then again it could most probably not be the case.”
He said that he is constantly thinking about it, even when everything is fine.
“I have a couple of things I wante to talk to doctors and but not sure if this is just my thinking or is it happening. Initially when I was discharged, I had issues with my sleeping pattern, so I can’t sleep well even now.. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m over thinking about it or some other reason.”
He also said that he tried starting running again in April but since then, he thinks that he cannot bring himself on a distance and pace like he would normally do.
“I also have breathlessness but then again, I’m not sure if it is related to this or its just that I have not been active for that month,” although he said physically he does not feel generally different.
On the issue of the social stigma surrounding recovered COVID-19 patients, Sudheep said that It is understood for a small population in Brunei that an infected person would be reluctant to identify themselves.
“It’s the kind of society and that’s how it is.. things like people don’t talk about.”
He said he has heard stories from local Bruneians who were infected or swabbed that some of their close relatives refuses to meet them for fear of the infection. “But there’s nothing you can do but just keep an open mind and carry on normal lives,” he said.
These days, he said he is trying to get on with his normal life as possible but has to reduce activities and take extra precautions. “I usually go to the shop a few times a week but I do minimum once a week these days and I use a mask, wash/disinfect my hands regularly and disinfect my things before I come home and take a shower after going out,” he said.
He said now, he is behaving as if he can get infected again. “Even when I’m cleaning something, I ask myself, am I missing any parts? And start cleaning again although it’s almost impossible to clean 100 per cent.
He also commended the MoH, for what he said a fantastic job controlling the COVID-19 situation In Brunei. “It’s not only them but most of the public who are following instructions, rules and guidelines and it worked, even though we had to endure hardships and sacrifices.