Abu Dhabi: When her eyes began to turn red and she was surprised by a cough, Kinana Al Sharif, a TV reporter, thought that the hay fever she used to get every season in Washington, DC, had attacked her yet again.
As usual, she took the allergy medication and as her symptoms improved, Kinana, 32, an American of Syrian origin, went to sleep, though her feelings were tinged with anxiety over all that was going on around her with the coronavirus outbreak.
The novel coronavirus spread in Virginia, where Kinana was a resident. Soon, harsh quarantine measures were imposed on citizens in Virginia and the former reporter from Orient TV feared contracting the virus.
A sharp and dry cough awakened her from deep sleep. She felt a terrible stiffness in her shoulders. Kinana said: “It was a very strange feeling ... I told myself: Is it lack of sleep? Is it lack of food?”
Soon she started shivering from the cold and thereafter started sweating profusely. These were all Covid-19 symptoms that she had been following closely over the past few days. She knew she needed to go to the hospital immediately.
But Kinana was alone in her apartment, as she had sent her four children to Texas to spend time with their father there, for fear of the coronavirus outbreak in Virginia. She had to call a friend at dawn to take her to the emergency department of Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Kinana spoke about her experience to ‘Al Sharq Al Awsat’ newspaper and said: “I entered the waiting hall wearing a mask and gloves ... I felt like I was entering a space agency, and I barely saw the eyes of doctors and nurses. As soon as I entered, they told me to remove the gloves immediately, but keep the mask on. A nurse in a yellow suit with a mask and a plastic face shield examined me. I was very afraid at the time and I wished that my situation would not be so bad, because I did not want to stay there.”
No time to choose a doctor
The symptoms were clear: High blood pressure, high temperature in addition to dry cough and fatigue. So the nurse ruled: “You have all the symptoms of coronavirus. But our laboratory tests are very few. We will not be able to perform the examination without your doctor’s permission.”
Kinana was confused as she did not have a private health insurance and although she had just managed to get registered for Medicaid, a public health-care assistance programme for low-income Americans, she had no time to choose a doctor for herself. However, even upon explaining her situation, the nurse said calmly: “I am sorry ... we do not have enough Covid-19 tests [kits].” Standing at a distance from Kinana, the nurse continued: “We will do a chest examination and if the result is bad, I will speak to the doctor on duty in the emergency ward and we may be able to provide a laboratory test for you.”
The X-Ray was done and it didn’t reveal any major damage to the lungs. So Kinana was told: “There is no laboratory test, though you are infected with coronavirus. So you have to self-isolate and do not return here unless you feel short of breath and your life is in danger.”
Kinana was particularly upset while narrating this part of her trauma: “How come a country like America treats citizens this way?”
Four weeks of pain
Kinana, who was born in Saudi Arabia to Syrian parents and lived there until she was 22, continued: “How is it possible that they would send me back home without any clear directions? All the nurse told me was that I should come back to the hospital only if I could not climb the stairs! “I had to speak to a doctor from the Syrian community, who guided me during this phase of the ordeal and I owe it to him for having overcome it,” she said.
Kenana lived through four weeks of painful and frightening symptoms. She had no appetite, her cough was constant and her blood pressure was high. Although some of these symptoms began to improve slightly four days later, the sweating and fatigue did not subside.
‘Fear of death gripped me’
“And I suddenly lost my sense of smell and taste,” Kinana said. “The illness peaked on the tenth day. I started hallucinating: Where am I? Where are my children? Fear of loneliness, fear of death gripped me. My headache never stopped and I felt an intense congestion in my chest.”
Kinana said that her mother — currently in war-torn Syria’s southern province of Daraa — was in constant contact with her through video call and that was the lifesaver while she mostly lay on the sofa in her living room throughout the day and night.
After four weeks of symptoms, fatigue and exhaustion, Kinana’s condition improved and she recovered. Her sense of taste returned, though her sense of smell had still not been restored completely.
Kinana said jokingly in her beautiful Syrian accent: “All my life, I’ve had a nickname that only my family uses because of my supernatural sense of smell: ‘Abu Kalabsha’ — a popular character from Syrian drama, who used to say his nose never made a mistake. Now I have lost that title!”