Guest Column: Reflections of a Covid-19 survivor
As someone who has suffered from and survived Covid-19 and after reading up extensively on it, I think there is no need to panic. Consider these thoughts of a layman, who is not a doctor, scientist, economist or an expert in financial matters.
This disease is not the monster it’s made out to be and is a lot like any other virus, but only with a very aggressive spreading rate (highly contagious); and in some cases, the potentially deadly Covid pneumonia.
Everyone will get this disease. It normally will not kill if you are proactive when you feel unwell by starting to monitor the symptoms, keep a check on some health parameters and take timely treatment. The two most important checks to be done are for fever and oxygenation (oxygen saturation in the lungs) using a thermometer and pulse oximeter. Both give immediate readouts. Fever means you are fighting some infection in your body and fall in oxygen saturation percentage indicates there is infection in the lungs preventing them from functioning normally. Oxygen saturation of a normal person is between 94% and 100% (smokers, people with asthma or damaged lungs or any other ailment are likely to have a lower oxygen saturation level).
NEGLECT COULD KILL
The killer (or the ‘silent killer’) in this disease is Covid pneumonia, which is different from regular pneumonia with chest discomfort and breathing problems.
Covid pneumonia starts silently and the person feels no chest/respiratory discomfort, pain or shortness of breath. There are absolutely no signs or sensation of breathing problems, but it can initially cause a form of oxygen deprivation – a ‘silent hypoxia,’ which is hard to detect.
Respiratory discomfort is felt when the oxygen levels become alarmingly low and moderate to severe pneumonia sets in (50% oxygen saturation). This is a critical condition and develops into ‘acute hypoxia,’ for which the person has to be put on a respirator/ventilator. At this stage, chances of respiratory failure and multiple organ failure are high due to lack of oxygen causing death. This Covid pneumonia takes about two weeks to develop and reach a dangerous stage. Initial start might be slow, but later progression into acute hypoxia stage is fast.
Only about 35% of the people who get Covid-19 get the Covid pneumonia, of which about 25% cases, like I have, recover as the pneumonia is detected at an early stage. About 8% to 10% go on to the ventilator of which about 3% die.
WHAT TO EXPECT
SPREAD: Covid-19 is very aggressive and spreads quickly. Everyone’s likely to get it unless we get a vaccine (which is not going to happen soon, the earliest being a year). Lockdown, isolation, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other preventive measures are only going to buy time for our countries/states to be better prepared to fight the pandemic and to some extent reduce stress on our hospitals and medical care systems.
SYMPTOMS: From none to varied, with cough, cold, headache, bodyache, shortness of breath, fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, loss of taste and smell, diarrhoea, stiffness or stretched feeling around your chest and back. Some don’t feel unwell at all (and develop antibodies). Duration varies too with one feeling feverish for half a day and recovering and another for three to four days and yet another for two to five weeks. Some, unfortunately, do not survive.
TESTING: The most common swab test is useless for the following reasons:
1) It’s not in real time and you get the results after three to four days, which could mean the difference between life and death if silent hypoxia or Covid pneumonia has set in
2) Results are 70% accurate.
3) Acute shortage of test kits.
4) Lack of information on testing centres, both in India and abroad for people who suspect they have got Covid.
5) Testing expensive for the poor.
I feel using a thermometer and pulse oximeter could be a better indicator as both give immediate readouts. A CT Scan or an X-Ray of the chest will further determine infection in the lungs or Covid pneumonia.
TREATMENT: Viral infections have no treatment, only therapy (therapeutic treatment). Paracetamol is administered for fever and aches, antibiotics for any infection (pneumonia) and any other medication which would help, that the doctor advises. In my case I was given hydrochloroquine whereas a friend of mine being treated in The Hague was given codeine, an opiate used to treat pain, coughing, and diarrhoea.
Being healthy and having good immunity is important to fight the disease. Older people and others with medical ailments have to be more careful. To win you need to detect Covid pneumonia and nip it in the bud quickly.
Educating the public about the disease is vital. They have to be made to understand the disease and its novel characteristics which differ from other viral infections. Everyone should know that sooner or later they will get it. They have to be told not to take it casually but know that it will normally not kill if they monitor the symptoms, keep a check on health parameters and take timely treatment.
I recommend that people also buy a pulse oximeter and log in readings taken twice a day in a spreadsheet to detect any drop in their oxygen saturation levels.
The government should also set up small camps, booths in as many localities as possible for these checks and send suspected cases for treatment.
A lockdown is only good for buying time.....so once the government has control over the situation, it should be lifted and business should be allowed to run as usual to prevent an economic crisis.
(The writer is an actor and a captain in the merchant navy. Views expressed are personal. Any recommendations made in this article should be first checked with a doctor)