February 18, 2020

'Knocking on hell's door': What it's like to survive the coronavirus

Daily Briefing

    A 21-year-old student in Wuhan, China—the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak—in late January began feeling feverish and was too weak to finish his dinner. He quickly sought treatment, which started a harrowing, more than three-week long journey toward recovery, Claire Che reports for Bloomberg.

    Our analysis: The 'recurring themes' of disease outbreaks

    A hospital visit unlike any other

    The student, who asked Che to refer to him as the pseudonym Tiger Ye, first suspected he had the virus on Jan. 21, when he felt too weak to finish his dinner. He checked his temperature and discovered he had a fever.

    Che reports that, "At the time, little was known about the virus … but paranoia was rapidly building after authorities confirmed the highly contagious pathogen was spreading between humans in the city of 11 million."

    Ye decided he should seek treatment, and went to Tongji Hospital. He arrived at the hospital at midnight and saw a large number of people in the waiting room with symptoms similar to his. "I was scared," he said. "Countless cases were piling up on the desks, and every single doctor was wearing protective clothes, something I'd never seen before."

    Ye said he knew it would be hours before he would be tested for the virus, so he decided to leave Tongji hospital and seek treatment elsewhere. That night, Ye was able to get medicine from a smaller nearby hospital, though he was not tested for the virus. Doctors told Ye that, since his symptoms weren't severe, he should go home and quarantine himself.

    'I thought I was knocking on hell's door'

    Ye returned to his apartment—where his symptoms worsened over the next few days. "I suffered from a high fever and pains that tortured every part of my body," Ye said.

    Four days later, Ye went to a follow-up appointment at the hospital as his condition continued to deteriorate. "I was coughing like I was going to die," he said.

    Providers at the hospital conducted multiple CT scans that showed Ye very likely had the new coronavirus and that the condition had moved into his lungs. However, Ye's doctors ultimately decided not to test him for the virus. As the outbreak progressed and Chinese officials placed Wuhan under quarantine, tests for the virus became scarce—and providers were reserving the tests for only the most critical patients. Ye's case, they felt, did not warrant a test.

    Ye left the hospital but, overnight, his condition got so bad he thought he would die. "I thought I was knocking on hell's door," Ye said.

    Ye's temperature reached 39 degrees Celsius (roughly 102 degrees Fahrenheit), prompting him to return to the hospital. Providers placed an IV and gave him Kaletra, a drug used to treat HIV that also has proven somewhat effective in combating the new coronavirus. Eventually, doctors were able to get Ye's temperature down to 37 degrees Celsius (roughly 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

    Ye's condition started improving and, on Jan. 29, he was finally tested for the virus. The test confirmed that Ye was infected with the new coronavirus.

    Ye's doctor prescribed him a five-day course of Aluvia, an antiviral drug, and sent him back home with instructions to quarantine himself. Nine days later, a second test showed Ye no longer tested positive for the virus.

    But Ye's saga still wasn't over. Amid reports that patients who tested negative for the virus could slip back into critical condition, the local government required Ye to be quarantined in a hotel that had been turned into a temporary hospital and was guarded by police.

    After five days, Ye was allowed to return home.

    'Thankful he survived'

    According to Che, Ye is "thankful he survived" and is grateful for the doctors and nurses who put themselves at risk to treat him. Ye said some doctors told him that they believed they also had contracted the virus, but they continued to treat patients in need, Che reports.

    Ye also criticized the way Chinese government officials responded to the outbreak, saying they could have acted sooner to warn people about the virus' spread.

    "Hubei has missed one opportunity after another while they were trying to keep things under wraps," he said. "Things wouldn't have come to this point if the government hadn't hidden information a month ago" (Che, Bloomberg, 2/13).

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