Dubai: It was 6pm on July 8. Arthur Marasigan had just dropped his sister off at the Dubai International Airport. She had recently lost her job, and was returning to the Philippines. That is when the Filipino expat got a call. “You have been tested positive,” said a Dubai Health Authority official on the other end. Recalling his experience, Marasigan told Gulf News: “I froze for a good minute. Sure, I had been feeling slightly off, but coronavirus was the last thing I was expecting.”
Marasigan, who lives and works in Abu Dhabi, was only visiting Dubai, to spend some time with his sister before she left. He had taken the COVID-19 test that morning only because it was a mandatory requirement, as he would have to travel back to Abu Dhabi, later that night.
He said: “I told the official on the phone that I lived in Abu Dhabi, and had no place in Dubai to stay. He told me not to worry, that they would find me a solution, and asked me to remain where I was.”
Dismissing the signs of COVID-19
A few minutes later, an ambulance arrived at the airport, for Marasigan. He said: “An ambulance reached there to pick me. The officials had done contact tracing, and my sister, whose flight would take off in ten minutes, was asked to get off the plane.”
As he sat in the ambulance, the 36-year-old who had taken precautions, worn a mask, socially distanced himself and was staying home always, could not understand what went wrong.
Slowly, the news settled in, and things started to make sense. He understood that COVID-19 was probably the reason he could not taste, or finish, his otherwise favourite breakfast, fried eggs and hotdogs with rice, and a cup of coffee, the previous day. And, the reason he was not able to smell his otherwise strong perfume, when he put it on, a couple of days back.
“I suddenly understood that what I had been feeling for the past six or seven days, were signs of COVID-19. I had dismissed my body pain and slight fever, thinking it was only because of excessive workout that I had done recently, at the gym in my sister’s building. I had spent an hour and a half there. I now think the gym is how I got it, because that’s the only public place I visited,” he said.
Once the ambulance reached the hospital, Marasigan was immediately taken to the emergency room. He recalled: “The paramedics checked my body temperature. It was 39.5 degrees Celsius. By now, I was starting to feel short of breath, so, I told the doctor. They took my X-ray, and I was admitted right away.”
Marasigan, who has been in the UAE for eight years, was told he would have to remain in the hospital till July 22.
He said: “The next few days, I was given medicines and vitamins to recover. An antibiotic for a bacterial infection, and some painful injections in my tummy. But, the toughest part of it was … how lonely it got.
“No family or friends can visit you, and doctors and nurses who were extremely helpful, would come by to check on me and administer medicines, but one can’t expect them to stay back and chat, for their own safety.”
Meanwhile, his sister’s COVID-19 test returned negative. She was given accommodation at the airport for a few days, and was allowed to leave on July 13.
Marasigan, who suffered from bouts of panic and anxiety even before COVID-19, found himself feeling low, from time to time. Stories of the infection getting worse scared him, and thoughts about not being able to see his family started bothering him. Realising that this mood would adversely affect his health, Marasigan decided to push himself to stay positive. He started finding ways to keep himself occupied, he made TikTok videos, spoke to his siblings and prayed.
“I still had not told my parents, because my mother already has heart problems, and I did not want her to worry. So, my siblings and I kept it a secret.”
Hospital staff became family
“As days passed, I got familiar with the nurses and doctors. They saw me down and started giving me hope and inspiring me. They told me we were in this fight together, and we will succeed. They would come to help me whenever I called, 24 hours of the day. I saw them work tirelessly, with such good hearts, making every patient’s problem their own problem. They are really the heroes of this year.”
Marasigan gradually recovered and left the hospital, on July 22. He returned home to Abu Dhabi, where he stays with his friend. However, he does not step outside. “It’s like post-traumatic stress. When I go out, any surface I touch or anything I hold, I feel like it has the virus. So, I will stay at home for now as my health recuperates.”
He added: “Ever since I returned, all I want to do is go to the Philippines and see my family. I want to give my parents and siblings tight hugs. The time fighting alone, away from family, makes you realise their importance all the more.”
On September 3, on his birthday, Marasigan finally informed his parents of his COVID-19 experience. “They were in tears, when I told them about it,” he said.
Thanking the UAE
The Filipino expat added: “I want to say thank you to the UAE. To the hospital staff for being my family when I was alone. I want to thank the UAE and Dubai Health Authorities for working so hard, and keeping the residents safe. It’s a job well done, kudos to them.”
For residents, he has one message: “COVID-19 is real, don’t take it lightly, follow the safety protocols, wash your hands and stop touching your face after touching public surfaces.”
And, to those who are diagnosed positive for coronavirus, he said: “The infection will weigh you down and make you feel weak, like you want to be in bed all the time. But, think positive and push yourself, stay active and do things to keep your mind engaged. Tell yourself that you will fight it and survive.”