Abu Dhabi: For the rest of the world, social isolation and mask-wearing came as startling new features of a post-COVID-19 world. But for Ansar Babu and his family, everything just seemed like a reiteration of everything they had been following for a year and a half.
Following a diagnosis of a lung scarring condition — idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis — the father-of-two from India underwent a double-lung transplant in September 2018. The eight-hour procedure proved successful, and Babu returned to a life of isolation that would help his lungs recover.
Better prepared than others
“I rarely venture out of my room, and always wear a face mask when I do. I’ve also had to keep my children at bay since they can easily transfer infections from school,” Babu had told Gulf News last March, six months after the livesaving transplant. “In a way, we were better prepared for the precautions necessitated by this pandemic,” Babu added in a recent interview.
The 41-year-old and his family, which includes two children aged five and seven, have been extra-vigilant since his surgery. Long before face masks were mandatory, Babu had been donning them and practising social isolation to keep himself safe. In fact, a trip to the hospital for a check would see him wearing extra layers of clothes, a cap and even an N95 mask.
Risk of COVID-19 higher
With the threat of COVID-19, it has been every more vital for them to ensure he stays safe. “I am on immunosuppressants so that my body doesn’t reject the donor lungs. This increases my risk of getting an infection like COVID-19. And of course, the impact of a disease like COVID-19 will obviously be worse on my lungs,” Babu explained.
Felt like a step back
The Dubai resident explained how he had only begun socialising, and living a more normal life, at the end of 2019. “I had been going to work every day, and finally meeting family and friends. So when the COVID-19 outbreak hit, it did feel like a few steps back,” Babu said.
Before it was declared a pandemic, and even before the first few cases had been reported in the UAE, Babu said he had come down with a series of flus in early February, including a persistent cough. Whenever this happens, he usually goes in for a check-up, and often ends up hospitalised while the tests are run.
Working from home
“My management suggested I start working from home, so I followed their advice and once again isolated myself in my room, especially because my children were still attending school,” the Dubai resident said, adding that he has stayed in his room 99 per cent of the time.
A safe bubble
This changed when schools were closed in mid-March as a precautionary measure against COVID-19. With the children no longer mingling with others, Babu said the home became ‘a safe bubble’ for his little family. “All our meals were cooked at home, and we started ordering in all our groceries as well. For a long time, my wife has also sanitised and disinfected everything that enters our home,” Babu said.
More time with the family
Because the children were at home, and because Babu no longer needed to commute to his office in Abu Dhabi, he said the family were blessed with the luxury of being able to spend time together. “In April, it felt like we were disconnected from the world. We got to spend time together, and for the lucky ones in our current generation, this was probably the most time we’ve had together,” Babu said.
Even when the lockdown was lifted, the family continued to isolate as much as possible, even though they have extended family in the UAE. “Between April and midsummer, I had myself only stepped out [a grand total] of five times, and three of those times were to go to the hospital. My parents live in Sharjah, but we only visited them on Eid in August,” Babu said.
Thereafter, just before school reopened at the end of August, Babu’s wife and his children ventured out a few times, wearing masks at all times and maintaining social distance from other. “But, as we have done since my surgery in 2018, anyone who comes home first takes a shower and changes before approaching me,” he said.
Staying safe during the pandemic may seem difficult, but Babu says it is necessary, and can soon become second nature.
For one, his children, as young as they are, quickly adapted all the measures needed to protect their father. “My wife was very transparent with them from the start. She explained the seriousness of not staying safe, and they learnt not to cough when facing me, and to wash their hands,” Babu said.
“Look at it this way: when everyone was required to home, people found it tough and unsustainable at first. But when they had to go back to the office, they felt it was just easier to continue working from home. So making these changes is possible, but we need to keep reminding ourselves why it is important,” he added.
The family is continuing to take precautions even now, with the children continuing distance learning at present. Babu has also drastically reduced visits to his parents, especially since they are also older, and even to friends who live close by. “We try to keep ourselves safe, not just for our own sake but also to protect the wider community,” he said.
He is also continuing to work from home. “This extended period of staying at home has been good for my lungs and my overall health. However, like everyone else, I have put on some COVID-weight, so I am planning to get myself a treadmill,” Babu added.
Asked how he manages to isolate for extended periods, Babu said he keeps himself busy. After all, the transplant survivor did pen a 285-page book, entitled ‘Who Took My Breath Away?’, when he first had to stay in isolation after his surgery. “I kept myself busy, and we’ve seen a lot of people taking up new activities during this time. It certainly helps to keep oneself occupied when you have to maintain social isolation. In addition, my children have been a massive source of emotional support and cheer in these difficult times,” Babu said.
COVID-19 safety tips from a lung transplant survivor
Wear a mask when going out.
Wash your hands frequently.
Cover your coughs and sneezes.
Sterilise items that you bring into your home.
Shower and change your clothes after returning home.
Remind yourself that precautionary measures are necessary to stay well during a pandemic.
If isolating at home, keep yourself occupied with a task or a hobby.