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Wendy Hocking tested positive for coronavirus while passing through Dubai en route to Melbourne from London Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: “I had no idea that the UAE had such excellent health care system and I feel the timely help I received at a UAE Hospital played a great role in helping me recover from COVID-19,” said Wendy Hocking, 55, an occupational therapist from Melbourne, Australia.

Happy, healthy and feeling positive after a 17-day stay in a negative pressure room at Prime Hospital, Dubai, Hocking who underwent four consecutive negative tests for Covid 19, was finally declared free of the virus and is now undergoing a 14-day quarantine at a hotel apartment, while her husband who subsequently tested positive, is still undergoing treatment at the same hospital.

Hocking shared her story with Gulf News because she wanted people to know there was hope and if one followed the protocols of testing, isolation and quarantine, it was possible to combat this pandemic.

My temperature was detected on the thermal scanner at the airport

On March 12, when the COVID-19 global pandemonium was just about unfolding, Hocking and her husband were flying back to Melbourne from their holiday in London after meeting family and had a three-day stopover in Dubai. “Then only China, Italy and Iran were on the news and we had no idea that UK was such a hotspot for the outbreak and since I suffer from travel sickness, we had pre-booked a three-day stopover in Dubai. Then there was no pre-boarding screening at Heathrow and we boarded the flight. En route, there was a lot of turbulence and I thought it was the travel sickness that was making me feel ill. I had a headache and felt very tired.”

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Wendy Hocking attributes her speedy recovery to the UAE's healthcare service Image Credit: Supplied

When the Hockings arrived in Dubai they walked to the visa on arrival counter and were granted visas. “Everything seemed fine. I was feeling a bit under the weather but I attributed it to the stress of a seven-hour flight. However, as we were walking through the hall and had undergone a thermal scanning, we were asked to step out as the scanner registered my temperature to be 38 degrees. We were advised to go the nearest hospital which was Prime where they asked me questions, took my throat swab and advised me to self-isolate at the hotel room until the results came back. Being a health professional myself, I took all precautions for self-isolation. This included complete social distancing, ordering groceries online and even food would be placed at my door which I would pick up after the room service personnel left. I suffered from mild symptoms of headache, sore throat and fever but by March 16 when the hospital called to say I had tested positive, I was immediately admitted to its isolation ward which initiated the full COVID-19 protocol. I was shocked about the results as we had no idea that UK infection had such a high rate of transmission. I was really relieved that the airport and hospital had been so proactive in screening, testing and admitting me and that played a big role in my recovery.

While Hocking was admitted, her husband’s throat swab was taken as well and he continued isolation at the hotel room. The hospital and hotel were in touch and staff was briefed on refraining from any panic and sanitising the place said Hocking.

Amazing round-the-clock medical care and emotional support helped me recover

In the next 10-days Hocking experienced stronger symptoms. “I never had shortness of breath because I feel the virus never reached my lower respiratory tract or lungs owing to the quick intervention. Doctors gave me symptomatic treatment. But the symptoms are similar to flu however multiplied ten-fold. I had headache, severe fatigue, so much so that I felt I had climbed up a mountain and descended and even a small thing as eating breakfast required monumental effort from me. I had severe nausea and loss of appetite and when I could eat food, I was put on IV fluids.. I feel I was so fortunate because the slightest discomfort I felt or suffered from insomnia, all I had to push a button and had a nurse administer a pain killer or sedative or give me IV fluid. The nurses were so kind and gentle and would gently coax me to eat a little, have a little water, I was touched by the kindness of the doctors and nurses who would enter my room covered thoroughly with complete Personal Protection Equipement (PPE). I got better because of the round the clock care I received at the hospital or else I could have been worse. This is my first visit to the UAE and I had no idea this place had such an advanced level of health care and also did not know I would spend my first visit to this country mostly in quarantine.” Said Hocking.

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Wendy Hocking may have recovered but her husband remains in hospital Image Credit: Supplied

In the meantime, when the swab tests of her husband too returned positive he was admitted to the isolation ward as well.

Hocking began showing signs of recovery by March 23 when her first swab test returned negative. In a week’s time she underwent three more swab tests every alternate day. When they all turned negative, she was discharged and went back into quarantine at her hotel room.

I am presently in a 14 day quarantine post recovery

“I continue to practice strict quarantine protocols and meet no one at the hotel. I do not leave my room, order online and ask the delivery person to leave my groceries or food on the door. My family has been supported. My sons in Melbourne who have been in touch throughout talk me over phone. I keep in touch with my husband who has tested negative for the first time. It will take another week of negative tests for him to be declared recovered after which his self-quarantine will begin.”

Hocking who feels very positive and cheerful about her whole experience added: “Until now we had only heard of pandemics like the Spanish Flu etc and now we are undergoing one. My son often tells me 10-years from now a child in a school somewhere in the world will be doing a school project where I will be able to tell him what it felt like have witnessed it at close quarters!”

Hocking had a word of caution for all: “I would like to tell people, please do not take any flu like symptoms lightly. Reach your nearest hospital. I was able to recover because of the excellent care I received. It is also very essential to practice self-isolation if you suspect you have the virus, please contact your nearest hospital. One must not be afraid to seek help and post recovery the 14-day quarantine is must. For healthy people it is mandatory they stay at home and break the chain of transmission.

The Hockings will have to spend a long time in Dubai after recovery and wait for international travel to resume. In the meanwhile, their travel insurance has helped them cover this unprecedented health crisis and provide financial respite in this difficult hour, said Wendy who want to return to Dubai in happier and healthier times to be able to enjoy the beauty of the place.

We have a dedicated COVID-19 team

Dr Adil Mohamad Yasin Al Sisi, Chief Medical Officer specialising in Intensive care and Emergency Medicine at Prime Hospital runs a dedicated core COVID-19 team at the hospital. A segregated ward that is sealed off from the rest of the hospital and a dedicated team of doctors, nurses, paramedics and lab technicians exclusively form the core COVID 19 team and are handling a few positive cases at the hospital.

“I take extreme care, assigning, delegating staff to this team and make sure we have adequate PPE, practise international standards of hygiene, sterlisation and isolation. We are working hand-in-hand with the health authorities and government to combat this and we follow international protocols and the government COVID 19 protocols very strictly. With successful recoveries, my staff has gained confidence in battling this pandemic,” said Al Sisi.

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Dr Adil Al Sisi Image Credit: Supplied

Talking about the Hockings he said: “When patient’s come with suspected coronavirus, we first conduct a swab test and until the results come the patient is asked to be in self isolation as per the World Health Organisation Protocol. Once the result is positive the prognosis is decided on the basis of the classification of the patient as high or low risk. High risk are those who are above the age of 60, have comorbidities such as hypertension, Cardio Vascular Disease, diabetes, any chronic respiratory diseases or have an immune compromised system such as patients who may have had organ transplants taking immuno suppressant drugs or patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Wendy fell in the low risk group as she was 55 and had no other underlying diseases. Her prognosis was good. We started her treatment with symptomatic medicine to give her relief from pain, fever, nausea and when she could not eat food to replenish her nutrition through IV fluids. The most important thing was to provide tremendous psychological and emotional support and prevent any kind of depression that the isolation can trigger in the patient. Our team of doctors, nurses, paramedics did not just provide medicines but took special care to be kind, patient and understanding and extend emotional support as well. We are so happy that she has recovered and will be able to back home with her husband who is also on the road to recovery and be reunited with her two sons.”

Dr Al Sisi also added that patients who recover from COVID-19 develop anti-bodies against the virus and have an immunity against contracting the virus again. “There are not enough studies carried out so far to know how long this immunity will last, though,” he added.

What is a negative pressure room?

Special hospital rooms for treating patients in isolation are negatively pressurised to prevent air from the room contaminating any person, equipment or ventialtion with any virus, fungus or bacteria. All COVID-19 patients being treated at any UAE hosptial are placed in such designated rooms. The negative pressure helps contain airborne contaminants within the room. Viruses, bacteria, fungi, yeasts, molds, pollens, gases, VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and the like within the room and keeps the outside environment contamination free.