A doctor recounts a Covid encounter that was not
September was the peak of Covid-19 in India. The number of positive cases, hospital admissions and deaths were splashed all over newspapers. It was during this period that a large number of acquaintances, friends and relatives had one or more family members down with the virus and sought medical advice from me.
A young couple contracted coronavirus in the beginning of September. They were asked to buy a pulse oxymeter and a thermometer but how could they go to a chemist? I managed to help them out by getting things dropped at their doorstep. I could sense fear in their voice over the phone and video calls. Despite my reassurances, they were worried and apprehensive. I realised how difficult it was for such a family with two children to feed and keep them isolated and follow medical advice by way of taking periodic temperature and oxygen values, prescribed medicines and diet. To top it all, the lady of the house was spending hours daily, making a bitter herbal concoction her neighbours had advised. She reluctantly agreed to utilise her time better. Luckily, they both recovered though after the initial scare.
Seeing my patients recover was gratifying. But one evening in the middle of September, I developed fever and body ache. Soon, I had vomited a number of times. Stomach upset is not common in Covid patients but with the scare in my mind, I tried to recollect how I could have got the virus. Was it from colleagues or from a Covid-control meeting or from the hospital rounds?
Shaken, I ordered an oxymeter, thermometer, and the vitamins. I instructed the house help to leave my food outside my room and shut the doors. Not confident of treating myself, I consulted one of the doctors who had just finished his Covid hospital duty. The next day, I had headache and fatigue, symptoms typical of Covid. I went for the RT-PCR test and tested negative.
The Covid specialist assured me that it’s not the virus but I was unconvinced. I repeated the tests two days later with the same result. By then, the fever had settled but I had weakness, which convinced me that I had Covid with a false negative RT-PCR. Despite being told that I must have had another virus, a stomach bug, not coronavirus, negative thoughts played in the mind. What if I develop complications and need hospitalisation? What if I don’t return from the hospital? What will happen to my family? The whole six decades of my life flashed before the eyes. Thankfully, I got better in a few days and joined duty. I felt I had emerged victorious and immune, like what Donald Trump had claimed.
A few days later, I met a virologist in the parking lot. When I recounted my experience, she said, “Let’s confirm whether you had Covid or not by the antibody test.” She took my blood sample and declared in five minutes that there’s good news and bad news. I had no detectable antibodies to Covid-19 which meant I had never contracted the dreaded virus. And the bad news was that I was still at risk of acquiring it! email@example.com
The writer is a professor of gastroenterology at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh