Surviving COVID-19: What it is Like to Have the Coronavirus
Discharging a Contagious Patient
Today is Monday, March 22nd, 2020 and I am a patient at a hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia. More than a week ago I was tested for the novel coronavirus and received a positive result which prompted the hospital authorities to put me in a special isolation room. Since my condition has significantly improved, I had another test a few days ago and will find out the result tomorrow. However, the hospital wants to discharge me as soon as possible even if I am still contagious. How did I get to this point? Everything started about 3 weeks ago.
I work full-time as a Christian apologist and travel internationally speaking at churches, universities, and schools. If you’ve never heard of an “apologist” or “apologetics” then understand that it’s not about “apologizing.” Apologetics is about providing reasons as to why Christianity is objectively true; it involves presenting the best evidence from the top scholars in various academic fields including philosophy, history, science, and religious studies. Many people think that deciding between competing religious claims all comes down to blind faith. That’s simply not so. I’m convinced that an objective assessment of the evidence points decisively in favour of Christianity. Jesus’ claim to be “the [one and only] way” is an objective fact (John 14:6).
It’s this conviction that prompts me to write, speak, and travel internationally. I’ve been coming to Asia for about 7 years and this time, about 2/3 of the way through my trip, I found myself walking around a mall, feeling cold and a little unwell. I got home and still felt unusually cold; so I had a hot shower and went to bed. That first day of my symptoms was Monday, March 2nd and the next day I accepted the fact that I needed to see a doctor. I had a fever, felt weak, and was experiencing a dry cough – all signs of the coronavirus. But the doctor at the medical clinic ordered a chest X-ray which showed no signs of any infection in my lungs. That meant I didn’t have COVID-19 and didn’t need to be alarmed. So I was prescribed some antibiotics and sent home.
The next few days were some of the most unusual sick days of my life. For several hours during the day, I had no fever, felt fine, and could sit and talk with people as if nothing was wrong. I might occasionally cough a little but other than that, I felt and looked good. However, when evening came, things would change. During the evening and on into the night, my fever would shoot up, often reaching 40°C or 41°C (104°F – 106°F). (Anything over about 39.5°C is considered a high fever.) I would experience the “chills” to such a degree that I’d put on a winter coat, two layers of pants, two layers of socks, a hat and gloves, cover myself in a blanket, and still shiver because I felt so cold. Then a few hours later I’d start to feel so hot that I’d strip off my clothes to try and cool down. Meanwhile, the room temperature remained the same.
Several days after I first began experiencing symptoms, I had a “scary” night that was different from any of my previous nights. I woke up every hour or so and found that I had been sweating so much that my sheets, blanket, pillow, etc. were all wet. So I’d move over to a dry area, only to wake up an hour later and find the same thing had happened. After several hours my whole bed was wet from perspiration. All of this was pretty unusual for me to experience while sick but the scariest part started around 4 am. I woke up to find that my hands felt numb, swollen, and yet tingled all at the same time. My body felt like it had the jitters – similar to what you feel when you’ve had too much caffeine. Parts of my lower leg felt cold while the rest of my body was warm. But the behaviour of my heart was the most alarming of all. It seemed to be racing or somehow behaving oddly. What was going on? Was I about to have a heart attack? I wasn’t sure whether I should get to the hospital or just stay in bed. I ended up choosing the latter option and fell asleep after about two hours.
Unsurprisingly, the next day (Saturday, March 7th) I was back at the medical clinic as quickly as possible. Another chest X-ray showed no signs of infection in my lungs but a blood test revealed I had dengue fever. Dengue fever! Well, in some ways that was a relief. At least I didn’t have the coronavirus. But dengue fever is still serious enough that I required hospitalization. At the hospital, further blood tests revealed a bacterial infection that was so severe, I was told I had sepsis. If you look up sepsis on the internet you’ll see that it’s much more serious than dengue or the coronavirus. My family was understandably alarmed and my brother considered flying halfway around the world to be with me. I would wake up from sleep and feel horrible. I had no energy, felt dizzy, experienced deep muscle aches, and just found it hard to even get out of bed. My mouth was always dry no matter how much I drank and I had no appetite. I even felt (sort of) sick after eating food I would have otherwise enjoyed. But as in the previous days, I could also experience several hours during the day when I felt pretty good and could enjoy talking with guests who came to visit me. My doctor started me on some serious antibiotics which, thankfully, began to have a positive effect. But I was now also experiencing shortness of breath and another chest X-ray revealed an infection in my lungs. That meant I might have the coronavirus and needed to be tested.
A coronavirus test isn’t the most pleasant thing in the world. It involves a swab being inserted deep into your nostrils, and another swab that swipes the back of your throat. Having anything go that deep into your nose (or throat) isn’t fun. Still, I wouldn’t describe the swab as “painful,” and if you are showing symptoms then it’s something that has to be done. My test was done on Wednesday, March 11th and I was eager to know the results. Testing positive would mean that I had potentially infected a number of other people; people I had been around before hospitalization and people who had visited me in the hospital. That was the last thing I wanted. The fact that I could have the coronavirus meant I was transferred to an isolation room where I would be by myself. Being an introvert, this didn’t seem like such a bad turn of events. In fact, I was, in a sense, being upgraded from a shared room to my own room. I guess some diseases come with benefits.
In Indonesia, the test results are supposed to be returned after 3 days. But when those 3 days fall on a weekend, it takes two extra days. So 5 days after my test I was still waiting to find out my status. That was a long wait. What made it even harder was that the doctor that had been attending me when I first came to the hospital – Dr. Theresia – fell ill a few days after I arrived. Whether I was responsible for her illness or not, is something I don’t know. So now I had a new doctor, a lung specialist that I had only seen once or twice. Furthermore, after 5 days the nurses seemed to know my result but they couldn’t say anything; only a doctor was allowed to tell me if I was infected. And I was also told that my lung specialist was actually too busy to see me that day. Was I going to have to wait 6 days to know my result? 7 days? More? Fortunately, late in the evening on the 5th day, my doctor arrived at my room, and offhandedly mentioned that I had tested positive. By now I was starting to feel better and recovering from the dengue and sepsis. But having the coronavirus was a whole new ballgame. How long would I have it? And what would this mean for me in terms of getting home to Canada? Flights were getting scarce and borders were closing. The Canadian embassy has been helping me but they were (and still are) short-staffed. Thankfully, God has given me a number of friends in Jakarta who have kindly helped me with things like getting my visa extended. (Something I’m still waiting on.)
One of the bizarre things that I discovered after I got my positive result was that (as far as I can remember) no one in the hospital told me to warn all the people I had previously been in contact with. In fact, it was only a physician friend from a church I had recently preached at that talked about this and warned some people on my behalf. I had been in contact with quite a number of people before (and even during) my time in the hospital so it wasn’t easy to get in touch with everyone. I also wasn’t quite sure how far back I needed to go. A few days for sure. But what about a week? Or two weeks? And was I supposed to start counting days from the moment I felt symptoms in the mall? The complicating factor in all this was that I didn’t really know when I had started to experience symptoms of COVID-19. I had been diagnosed with dengue and sepsis so when did I actually contract the coronavirus? Had I been misdiagnosed as having dengue when in fact I had COVID-19? Or had I contracted the coronavirus after being admitted to the hospital? I still don’t know the answers to these questions.
Discharge from the Hospital
For the past several days my fever has been gone and my blood tests show that I have returned to normal. I’ve also been told that my lung infection has cleared up (or almost completely cleared up.) I feel good and am thankful to God for my recovery. The only strange thing I experience is the feeling that I have a “residue” (or something like that) on my tongue and in my mouth. Whether this is from the virus or the medicine I’m still taking is unclear.
Last Thursday (four days ago) I got another swab test to see if I was free of the virus; the results should be available tomorrow. The thing is, my hospital is getting a lot of patients coming in; these patients are far more sick than I am and they need to be in my room more than me. So the hospital wants to discharge me as soon as possible. However, I am still potentially contagious. Even if I get a positive result tomorrow, they still want me out. Where will I go? I certainly don’t want to stay with friends as I could infect them. The best option seems to be to self-isolate myself in an Airbnb condo or something along those lines. But if I tell the Airbnb owners that I’m potentially contagious, will they all refuse to have me? Is it ethical for me to not tell them? Also, the virus can stay on surfaces such as plastic and metal for up to three days. So should I pay for an extra three days after I leave the Airbnb and warn the owner not to let anyone enter? Or should I just pay for the time I actually stay in the condo and simply inform the owner when I leave? Hopefully, my insurance company will cover the Airbnb nights as I’ve been told that if my test results are positive, I need to self-isolate for at least two weeks. Will there even be flights back to Canada then? I’ve also heard that the government is opening up some dorm-apartment like facilities that are normally used for athletes competing in international competitions. These facilities will be available for COVID-19 patients but I don’t yet know if I will be eligible to stay there.
I have a number of unanswered questions and my future is uncertain. But my trust and hope are in God to provide. Regardless of whether I am in self-isolation in Jakarta or am able to fly back to Canada, I look forward to sharing the good news of Jesus with others. There really are excellent reasons to follow him. I’m excited about starting a new podcast later this year in which I share all the good reasons I’ve discovered. The plan is to begin the podcast by playing a clip of someone objecting to Christianity and then spend the rest of the podcast providing the best responses from top Christian scholars. Keeping each episode relatively short (i.e. 15min), including some background music, and putting in some “fun moments” should, I hope, make for a great podcast.
God has been gracious in restoring me to health and I’m trusting him to be completely free of the coronavirus soon. I know there are many others who are suffering and that this virus could wreak havoc on the world in the coming months, if not years. I don’t know what God has in store for the world but I trust that he is good and that he has a good reason for what he will do. I hope you trust him too.
Ps. If you’re interested in hearing more about why God allows evil, and how evil actually points to God’s existence, you can watch a video of me speaking about this here.
For information about the coronavirus/COVID-19, the World Health Organization is a good place to go to.
First Update – March 25th, 2020
Good news! Yesterday I received my test result and it was negative. I had been under the impression that if I got a negative test result I would be free to leave the hospital and fly back to Canada ASAP. However, the medical authorities informed me that I need a second negative result before I am truly deemed clear and free to travel. (I guess I should have anticipated this as I’ve heard that is the normal procedure in other countries.) So I’m a little disappointed but also glad that I’m moving in the right direction. The hospital does still want me to leave and self-isolate while I wait for the results of this third test. Fortunately, a friend of mine, who is living in Canada right now, told me that he has an empty apartment in the area which I can stay in for as long as needed. God is good! And so is this friend.
My hospital also said that, since today is an Indonesian holiday, they have scheduled my next (i.e. third) coronavirus test for tomorrow. The results from this third test should be available after 5 days (i.e. March 31st). My only concern is whether there will still be flights available to fly back home after 5 days. As of right now, an online search reveals that one-way flights are available but they are quite expensive – equivalent to an entire round trip under normal circumstances.
Since I feel pretty healthy, I’ve started doing my normal work again. Much of this consists of studying history, philosophy, science, etc. so that I’m informed of the best evidence for (and against) the Christian worldview. I’ve actually got quite a bit of catching up to do as I have something of a schedule I follow. It’s good to be “back in business.” A friend of mine – Jojo Ruba – has also invited me to share my experience on his podcast called Everyday Conversations. So if you’re interested, stay tuned and I’ll be sharing the link to that once it’s available.
Stay safe everyone! God bless
Second Update – April 6th, 2020
Last night I arrived back at my apartment in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. I had a scary moment or two during my trip but right now I’m just grateful to be home after such a long ordeal. My return trip involved three flights; one long layover in Korea (more than 7 hours); two nights with little sleep; and a total of more than 33 hours traveling. It was definitely a long trek! But I’m finally home.
Here’s what has happened between my last update and my arrival back in Canada.
After my third test was taken on March 26th, the hospital discharged me the next day. As I left, a nurse informed me that I needed to self-isolate, not simply until I received my second negative result, but for two weeks. Two weeks! The longer I stayed in Indonesia the longer it seemed that I had to stay there. Fortunately, my friend’s apartment turned out to be very nice with a beautiful view of Jakarta. I spent most of my time studying subjects related to apologetics and reviewing information I had previously learned. My interests are varied and I like to roam, so I focused on a variety of issues ranging from Einstein’s theory of special relativity to studies of the “historical Jesus.”
I was expecting to get my third test result back after five days, as was the case for my previous two tests. But on the sixth day I still had not heard from the hospital. Then I got a message from one of the nurses saying:
the result maybe 7 until 14 days or more. If the result finish, we can tell you. thanks
What on earth?! Was I now going to have to wait more than two weeks to find out my result? How long was this going to take? The Canadian Embassy called the hospital on my behalf and found out that due to an increase in the number of tests they were asked to process, the results would take longer than before. I was grateful for the fact that my friend said I could stay in his place for as long as needed but I wanted to get home. In particular, I was concerned because my insurance company told me that I no longer had any coverage with them. As far as they were concerned, once I was discharged from the hospital, my medical emergency was resolved; my policy entitled me to an additional 5 days of coverage and then that was it. I repeatedly told them that my situation was not actually resolved but to no avail. This made me alarmed since, if I needed further medical treatment for any reason, I would have to pay for it myself. I was also concerned because the Canadian Embassy was issuing warnings that 1) the situation might escalate so that Indonesian hospitals became overwhelmed and 2) flights back to Canada might completely disappear soon. Many flights had already been canceled and there were only a few expensive ones that remained. It was also possible that Indonesia could go into full lockdown mode with no one able to leave. How would everything play out? The future was just hard to predict.
I was in a (somewhat) dire situation and concerned that there might not be any flights available once the hospital gave me the green light. What was I to do? If I tried to leave the country, could I get arrested at the airport? In Canada, people were literally getting arrested by the police for violating orders to quarantine. I certainly didn’t need that in my life.
Once again the Canadian Embassy helped by contacting the Indonesian government to clarify my situation. I found out that if the hospital had not given me an official written quarantine order, I was free to leave the country. At this point, I did not want to risk infecting anyone as I traveled but I had already received one negative test result, and I’d been symptom-free for about two or three weeks. So, since the hospital had not actually given me an official quarantine order (just verbal instructions), and since the government was therefore okay with me leaving, I decided it was time to go. It was not an easy decision to make but hopefully, it was the right one. More than one week after leaving the hospital, I was on my way back home.
As I mentioned before, my trip back was one of the longest I have ever taken. I was happy to be going but knew that I was not out of the woods yet. There was still the chance that if I got sick again while traveling (regardless of what caused me to be sick), I might not be allowed to finish. I was starting my journey in Jakarta and had two layovers – one was in Seoul and another in Los Angeles. At any airport, if I started showing symptoms, the authorities could deny me the ability to board my flight. In Asia, they are constantly taking your temperature with an infrared “gun” that they point at your forehead. Every time you walk into a supermarket, or an airport, or try to board a plane, they check your temperature. If you have any type of fever, they will know. On my first flight from Jakarta to Seoul, I thought I might be getting a sore throat. Fortunately, that feeling went away but I had a more serious scare about an hour into my flight from Seoul to Los Angeles. As I sat in my seat I started feeling cold, generally unwell, and my heart was racing. These were all symptoms that I had experienced when I was sick in the hospital. What was happening?! Would I end up really sick by the time I got to L.A.? Would I be forced into an American hospital that eventually gave me a huge bill to pay and no insurance to cover it? The very thought of that sent my heart racing even more! But then I remembered a few things. First, I might be cold simply because the airplane was cold. Second, my heart was probably racing because I was watching an exciting movie – Terminator: Dark Fate. Third, I probably felt unwell because I hadn’t slept much the previous night on the other airplane. It turned out that all of these factors were probably correct.
Yesterday evening I finally arrived in Toronto. As a precautionary measure, everyone who returns to Canada after being in a foreign country needs to self-isolate for two weeks. The authorities are quite serious about this and insist that those returning cannot even stop for groceries, etc. So my brother kindly brought my car to the airport with a bunch of groceries in the trunk. I drove home to my apartment in Guelph and began my two weeks of isolation. Today is my first day. I figure I should be good at this since I’ve already had a lot of practice and experience. 🙂
Other than my present isolation, the only loose end of my whole ordeal is to get the insurance company to pay up. They’ve asked for a bunch of forms and documents and I have yet to send all of them. I’ve had a lot of stress dealing with them but hope that everything will be resolved amicably in the end. Please pray that this last loose end will be resolved in a timely manner.
God has been gracious to me. A medical doctor in Canada who knows of my situation told me that I could have easily died from all I went through. And someone else told me of a young (Canadian?) man who taught at one of the schools I spoke at in Jakarta; he just died from COVID-19. Life is short and one never knows when God will call us to our ultimate home in heaven. I know God has more for me to do in this world and I’m grateful for the chance to do it.
P.s. As promised in my previous update, here is the link to Jojo Ruba’s podcast (i.e. Everyday Conversations) featuring my experience with the coronavirus and related issues: Can You Trust God’s Goodness During a Crisis?