Updated: Sep 21, 2020
By: David Ong Yeoh
David Ong Yeoh relates from the first-hand account he heard from a family on their recent close encounter with Covid19
The arrival of the ambulance made it all too real and with it, heightened fear, worries and anxieties for Stella Tan and her family. The ambulance personnel at the gate in their Personal Protective Equipment gear made it sink home that the family was vulnerable and unprotected from the contagion.
And as Stella’s First Son climbed onto the ambulance and was taken away, he took away the false notion that she had held – not them, not any of the family members would be infected.
Like many Malaysians, Stella Tan was kept updated on the Covid19 pandemic through WhatsApp messages and the deluge of information from social media, which kept her either informed or misinformed.
And the mother of two 20-something sons also enjoyed watching the daily briefings by the Director-General of Health. It would be no way that a member of her family would become part of statistics that the Director-General of Health had been releasing daily.
She would have been in denial had it not been for First Son breaking the news to the family that he had been tested positive for Covid-19. His company required mandatory testing to
get back to work and the results just came in.
That surprise piece of news hit her like a ton of bricks. There had been no signs of infection. No cough. Not even a sneeze! Fever? Not that she knows of.
“Everyone at home practiced proper personal protection and hygiene like wearing a mask, wearing gloves during trips to shop for essentials, frequent sanitising of ourselves, sanitising deliveries, limiting our time outside save for trips to purchase essentials,” said Stella.
Then the ambulance arrived. The family gathered at the gate in silence. She ignored the peering eyes of neighbours. She was in pain in her guts. First Son walked alone towards the ambulance while the rest of the family watched helplessly, albeit calmly. There were no goodbye hugs.
As the ambulance was about to drive off she had her parting words to him, advice that had been passed down to each generation and that was “Please remember to drink more water”. It was instinctively understood that the water must be warm.
His departure shattered the sense of security within the family – that not them, not any of the family members could be infected because of the precautions they were taking.
It jolted the whole family. Their minds went on overdrive. As thoughts of doom ran through their minds and fear gripped them, the stoic father tried to calm everyone and blurted out, “so easy to die meh?”
With the head of the household restoring calm and with clearer heads, the family then tried to recall their recent activities and plot out where First Son could possibly have been exposed to the coronavirus.
“We had to next face the hard truth as to whether we too were infected. That could only be determined by getting ourselves tested. As much as I wouldn’t want to go through the what-I-have-read painful swab process, I resigned myself to it. It is true that just do it is easier than worrying about it,” recalled Stella.
Getting home after that, the family went through the process of disinfecting the house.
Everyone slept in separate rooms and wore a mask at all times unless they were in their personal room. One of the biggest upheavals for the family routine was each of them eating their meals in the personal spaces they had each staked.
Their self-imposed social distancing within the house was not difficult. What was difficult was coping with the mental stress of a devil’s workshop. While they could be updated by First Son, that did not stop Stella from imagining her son with tubes inserted into him and whether the infection would worsen to require him to be put on a ventilator during his birthday.
The next ten days were the longest Stella had ever experienced. The test results for the family came back and they were cleared. Next, the best news ever, was also an all-clear for First Son.
“Our lives slowly returned to normal after the life-changing experience of being near victims of the coronavirus. Till today, we don’t actually know whether my son was negative or asymptomatic. It is not important. What matters most is we are all safe and healthy,” a much-relieved Stella said.
With the close encounter creating a traumatic experience that she would not want to re-live, Stella has a deep sense of gratitude for the good care provided by the medical team at Hospital UKM’s Covid Ward, the Health Ministry officials and also the C19 testing team of the private hospital that tested her family.
*For privacy reasons, names in the article have been changed