I tested positive for the coronavirus on Feb. 7 while I was quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. It was a stressful six weeks, full of uncertainties, frustration, isolation — and finally relief. At the end of it, I recovered. But my journey wasn’t over.
My symptoms were mild all along. I had a dry cough and light fever for about a week; the symptoms resolved within three days of being admitted to a hospital in Tokyo. The doctors and nurses monitored my vitals but administered no treatment to fight the disease because there is none.
Still, I was trapped even after my symptoms passed because, to be cleared and discharged, I needed negative results on two consecutive nasopharyngeal coronavirus tests performed 24 hours apart. The doctors gave me 14 tests over my 28-day stay, some just the throat, some throat and nasal, and in the end just nasal swabs, per the Japanese testing guidelines.
We can manage with a few changes right now, and it will make a big difference in the long run. Then, let’s hope that tens of millions soon will be able to say what I welcome gratefully: I had the coronavirus, and I beat it
Although the test was readily available at the hospital, the results were taking anywhere from a day to a week to come back. It took three weeks for me to get my first partial negative result (nasal positive, throat negative). And then the results kept flipping back and forth. After 28 days in an isolation room within the hospital’s infectious disease unit, I finally received my two negative nasal test results and was discharged March 5.
Whisper of spring
Once discharged, I was free to do as I wished. I was ecstatic. I had begun to wonder whether I would ever be truly free again. I revelled in the bright sunshine of that late winter afternoon. I basked in its healing warmth and felt the wind on my face, the whisper of spring in the newly budding flowers.
A rebirth, it seemed. I was finally reunited with my husband, who had waited in Tokyo for me. (He never contracted the virus.) For the 28 days we were apart, I survived by texting, calling and FaceTiming him from my hospital room. He even came to see me a couple of times.
He would stand in a parking lot outside my window to see me because he wasn’t allowed to visit. It is a true test of marriage to go through something like this and come out OK on the other side. We were overjoyed when I knocked on the door to his hotel room and were finally reunited.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said I could come home after a five-day wait in Japan, to ensure I did not have a recurrence of symptoms, after which I would be removed from the Do Not Board list and permitted to return home to Portland, Oregon.
But there is still one crucial piece of the puzzle we don’t yet have: Epidemiologists still don’t know if I am immune to the coronavirus. The disease isn’t understood well enough. And I wasn’t given any particular guidance on how to behave. My husband and I are abiding by the state and federal mandates the same as everyone else.
It was weird being around other people at first. In Tokyo, people dined at restaurants, shopped and took the subway. At that time, almost nobody had gone through what I had. There was no social distancing yet, let alone the lockdown that is probably inevitable.
We tried not to go into crowded spaces, while still attempting to experience some of the vacation we had planned. We did a bit of sightseeing but also just rested and tried to decompress and process all that we had been through.
On March 10, the CDC emailed that we could return home on a commercial flight. Because we had been on the Do Not Board list, there was a bit of a delay checking in at Haneda Airport, but officials soon reviewed our CDC note and we received our boarding passes.
A customs agent at San Francisco International Airport asked me and my husband whether we had been on the Diamond Princess. Our passports must have still had a warning on them. We were escorted to a makeshift CDC checkpoint, where officials asked to see our hospital-issued immigration paperwork (which confirmed we were virus-free) and the CDC email. We made our connecting flight.
Once we returned to Portland, the virus was already here. I was concerned about any stigma I might bear, not just from having contracted the virus, but for having been on the cruise ship. Once it was public that I had tested positive, I received threatening messages not to come back to the United States because people thought I would bring it back home.
Our faces have been all over the news, and we were among the few people speaking about those events. It was a risk, but we believed it was important to get the word out.
Instead, the people who know us have been extremely supportive. Our employers, friends and family are thrilled to have us home and aren’t afraid to be near us. (But we aren’t going around shaking hands or hugging gratuitously.) In observance of the scientific consensus, I am working from home.
I don’t go out unnecessarily — just trips for groceries or takeout. I stay the appropriate distance from others when I am in public. These are common decencies everyone has been asked to follow, and my husband and I do not consider ourselves exceptions.
Still, I find my personal odyssey so reassuring. I did recover, as many thousands have also done now. If you find you have contracted the disease, all hope is not lost. I am acutely aware of the impact of losing certain freedoms for the month I was trapped in a small hospital room.
(If you have a mild case and can spend the course of the infection in your own bed instead of in the hospital without endangering others or your own health, you should.) And, yes, that period was insanely difficult. But it can be done, and my liberation made me so grateful for the quotidian things I had taken for granted: the gym, fresh air, decent food, human contact, grocery shopping, house cleaning, the daily grind.
If we collectively succeed in limiting the spread of covid-19, the fear surrounding it will subside. We can manage with a few changes right now, and it will make a big difference in the long run. Then, let’s hope that tens of millions soon will be able to say what I welcome gratefully: I had the coronavirus, and I beat it.
— Rebecca Frasure works in customer service for a health insurance company.