When Dubai-based Filipina expat Nikka Aguirre first realised that she may have been exposed to the dreaded coronavirus, she was angry. The 31-year-old had been extra careful. From staying home to maintaining good hygiene, she had done everything by the book to avoid being affected by the virus that had led to a global pandemic.
Sharing her experience with Gulf News from an isolation ward in a private clinic in Dubai, Aguirre said: “I was so angry when I found out first... My hands were worn off washing, I had not stepped outside for days, I had been careful in sanitising surfaces. But, I knew I had been infected for sure when one of my flatmates, his wife and their two-year-old child had been tested positive.
"It all started in the last week of March, when one of our flatmates, who was at that time still leaving home for work, suddenly had high fever. Since news about the coronavirus had already spread, he went to a private clinic to take a test. Initially, the result was negative. All of us who live in the sharing accommodation were so relieved. However, the following day, on March 28 around 4am, he received a call – he had tested positive, the earlier result was a false negative. He was taken away the same day in an ambulance to be isolated.”
Following this, the man’s wife and child also tested positive and were moved to the clinic. The wife’s result was enough for Aguirre to conclude that she was also infected: “I was almost certain I had been infected. I had close interaction with her, and I would not be surprised if I was infected too.
“My initial reaction was anger, I had done everything that was required in terms of maintaining social distancing and hygiene, I had been extremely careful, but I felt that still I had been exposed for no fault of my own,” said Aguirre. The next stage was anxiety: “The anxiety hits you hard, when you know it but have not been tested yet. I was still unsure but constantly felt I had been infected. My biggest worry was becoming an asymptomatic carrier and infecting others around me. I decided I should not wait and headed to the same private clinic where my other flatmates were.”
Taking the swab test
On April 2, Aguirre did the nasal swab test for the novel coronavirus. Since she was already expecting positive results, Aguirre went a step further to isolate herself from her other flat mates, making sure she was eating alone, wearing gloves and masks at all times, ensuring she santised surfaces like doorknobs to make sure she was not infecting another person.
On April 5, the results returned positive. The same evening, an ambulance came to transport her to the isolation ward. She said: “While the test was free, the doctor’s consultation was Dh580. But, the cost didn’t matter, I wanted to ensure I was in an isolated room under medical care soon and not infecting other people. Somehow, knowing the result put me at ease. For the first time in days, I felt relieved. Now, I knew for sure and I could focus on recovery as opposed to worrying.
“It is possible to get the free test too,” Aguirre added. She said: “For those who don’t have the luxury to spare that much money for hospitals, they can do what my other flatmates did. They contacted the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), and after the initial assessment and confirming that they had been in touch with a COVID-19 patient, my two flatmates were given appointments for the test. They both also tested positive but the entire process including the swab tests were free of charge. There is no reason to be scared of the test, if people feel they have been exposed, they should go and take it."
Aguirre who shares a room with three others said: “Out of the four of us, only two tested positive. Thankfully, the other two remained negative.”
The next step was telling her family. Aguirre who moved to Dubai eight years ago, has cousins in the UAE, as family. Her parents live in the Philippines. “They were so worried,” she said, “I am their only daughter and they were in shock and panicking. But, I explained to them that there was nothing to worry. I was feeling okay, I had no symptoms like cough or breathing difficulties. I explained to them about asymptomatic patients and strong immunity and this calmed them down.”
Tests and medicines
After April 2, Aguirre’s next nasal swab test took place on April 6. Her ECG was also monitored and she was administered Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) an anti-malarial drug that has reportedly been found to be “effective against coronavirus" as a preventative medicine in laboratory studies
Aguirre added: “Since there is no cure yet, for now I have to take HCQ twice a day and the nurses also give my Vitamin D supplements and foods that will help strengthen my immunity.”
The next and latest test was on April 10, she is waiting for the results. It will take two negative results for Aguirre to be discharged from hospital and be allowed to return home. But, that won’t be the end of it. The quarantine continues for another two weeks to ensure she is completely cured.
Isolation: A break from busy life
Aguirre who is a content creator for a Dubai-based company has been in isolation since Monday, but sounded very optimistic and high-spirited during the phone interview. “I am considering this as a mini staycation. Though it might be boring to be in isolation for so long, I am blessed to have health professionals taking care of me and supporting me. I am taking this time to meditate, do yoga and take a step back from the otherwise busy work life. The clinic gives me nutritious food and all necessary care. I have nothing to worry about.”
Dubai’s taking excellent steps to fight COVID-19
Aguirre is grateful with the way Dubai health professionals are dealing with the situation. She said: “From the moment I came for my test up until now, I have received so much care and support. The healthcare staff in the frontline are overworked, yet, do their work with 100 per cent dedication, they are available to address the smallest issue I face. The doctors and nurses have instructed me to inform me of the slightest discomfort I feel health wise, so, they can immediately address it. The Dubai Police also called me to ensure I was admitted and in isolation after my flatmates tested positive. Restricted movement was ensured in our building where we live, in Al Wasl, near Business Bay, as soon as the positive cases were recorded.”
“Moreover, I am lucky I am in the UAE at this point, the country has access to latest medical facilities. This country is one of the safest places to be right now, their response and coordination is so fast and professional.”
Aguirre urges UAE residents to follow the government’s orders and stay at home as much as possible. She said: “People need to take it seriously and stay indoors. Eat healthy, keep your immune system healthy, and most importantly, maintain social distance. You could be an asymptomatic carrier. Your immunity could be strong, but it would not be fair if you pass it on to someone with a weaker immunity, especially an elderly person.”
She added: “Keep monitoring yourself, don’t take flu symptoms lightly, get it checked or talk to a healthcare professional at the earliest. And isolate yourself. It may seem boring, but we have to think of people around us. We are in this together and this is the only way we can stop the pandemic.”