A positive result for COVID-19 is not automatically a death sentence

By Anna Tarhata Basman
Photos by Dr. Jasper Aquino and Dr. Pedrito Tagayuna / PGH

TAGUIG CITY (MindaNews / 14 April) – If you’ve ever met our family, you’d know how guarded we are about our private lives. But, perhaps to help in curbing the stigma and lend a bit of reassurance to those who may chance upon this, I was tasked to share our family’s own experience throughout this lockdown.

Jannah Basman donates her plasma, which may be used as cure for those with serious conditions due to COVID-19, at the Philippine General Hospital.

In one of their random phone conversations (before the Enhanced Community Quarantine or ECQ), my mom and sister Talia were discussing people’s increasing paranoia over COVID-19. Mama mentioned that even her 38-degree temperature – which lasted for all but one hour – made her anxious. Since Mama assured Talia that her temp was back to normal, they ended their talk on a happy note.

A few minutes later, Saud (Talia’s husband who happens to be a doctor) called my mom back and asked her to go get tested. It was quite late already so Mama was saying she (meaning we) would go the next day. Saud insisted on doing it right away. So, by 10 p.m., we made our way to RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine). My other sister Jannah and I thought that we’d try to get tested as well for peace of mind, even if we barely exhibited any symptoms. We got there, relayed our stories – no travel history, no exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case – and enumerated to the doctors what we think might be our symptoms. Only Mama got swabbed while Jannah and I were given instructions to self-quarantine for 14 days.

We got home and thought nothing of the test while strictly observing the directive to self-isolate. By then, Metro Manila was placed under ECQ so it wasn’t much of a difficulty nor an extraordinary adjustment.

A few days later we got a call informing us that Mama’s test came out positive. Per DOH data, she is PH150.

All of us in the household were told to go to RITM to get swabbed. This time, I need only tell the doctors that I have chronic asthma to qualify for a test, even if I was still asymptomatic. The rest of our companions were not swabbed and were likewise only given orders to self-quarantine.

Mama was admitted to RITM. I was told that I needed to stay in a hospital, too, because of my pre-existing condition, while waiting for my test results to come out. But because RITM was already full, they had to find another hospital for me. At that time, not a lot of medical institutions were accepting suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases so it was hours of waiting.

While we were in the hospital, Jannah told us that the CESU [City Epidemiological Surveillance Unit] decided to get all of them tested at home.

Days later – and after a CT scan and a daily regimen of blood tests, chest x-rays, vitals checks, and medications – I was informed that my results came out negative and I was discharged from the hospital the next day. I had to spend a few days in my brother’s home because we still wouldn’t know the results for the other members of our household until a few days later.

Everybody tested negative. Except Jannah. She is PH 484.

Because she was asymptomatic, she was told not to go to the hospital (as they were all full and they had to prioritize patients with more severe symptoms) and to just stay home and monitor her condition.

Days later, Mama got her first negative test result. Per protocol, she needs two to be allowed to go home. Jannah, meanwhile can only get tested two weeks after her first swab as the CESU officials who performed her test had to undergo self-quarantine. Mama came home, but had to stick to her room as she needed to self-isolate for at least 14 more days. Jannah received her two negative test results weeks later and had to also remain in her room for almost a month to complete the additional 14-day self-isolation period.

Because we had two “patients” at home, we had to device our own system. Their food were brought to their rooms and the utensils they used were exclusively theirs. No one from our house came out even to purchase necessities. Our brother Tani would drop by once in a while to get us groceries but even he won’t stay long and would stay only by the front door. We regularly disinfected the common areas in the house even if our patients were not allowed out, just to be on the safe side. To keep our spirits up, we also had nightly video chats to check on everybody, including our brothers and sisters who lived in separate homes. We are aware of and are always thankful for the privilege of having the space and resources to institute these measures that helped us through the ordeal.

News would reach us that there were rumors circulating in our neighborhood about the confirmed cases in our household. Though not laying any blame nor attributing malice to anyone (we understand that people only want to be careful), we would find ourselves without a quarantine pass for the duration of the ECQ, until two days ago.

It was a rollercoaster for the past weeks. Though mostly asymptomatic, we were all kept on our toes for any possible escalation of conditions for both Mama and Jannah. At least Mama was in the hospital where she was regularly monitored. Jannah had to constantly watch herself and rely on the instructions and reassurances of our CESU, all given over the phone. We are also blessed to have friends in the medical profession who would patiently answer our questions as we try to understand everything that’s happening to Jannah by ourselves.

Jannah Basman donates her plasma.

Our journey started on March 13. Today, Jannah was fetched by PGH (Philippine General Hospital) doctors so she can donate her plasma as a possible cure to those with serious conditions due to COVID-19. She is donor number 8 in PGH. Alhamdulillah, she is not bothered by needles and injections. She can only donate every 14 days but says she is willing to donate as often as possible. Since the next one falls on Ramadhan already, she’s made arrangements with the PGH doctors to get the procedure done at night for her second round.

Why do we share this?

First, to laud and pay homage to the medical front liners, particularly the compassionate and dedicated doctors, nurses, orderlies, and other personnel in the RITM, Asian Hospital and those from the CESU/RESU who’ve been excellent at providing the services and support we needed. In that time of uncertainty, the CESU generously assured Mama that they will perform the contact-tracing themselves and instructed her to shut her phone off and focus only on getting better. Props also goes to the doctors and medical practitioners in the PGH for making Jannah comfortable during her plasma donation.

Second, to send the message (without trivializing the pain of those whose loved ones succumbed to or are still battling the disease) that a positive result for COVID-19 is not automatically a death sentence. In our case, it has only brought our family even closer as we set out to fight the virus together.

And third, to show that there is nothing to be ashamed about being a COVID-19 positive. In fact, people who’ve beaten the disease now have the antibodies to protect themselves and help those who badly need it.

Our journey has not ended. As with the majority of the populace, most of us in the family have not been exposed to the virus and are therefore still susceptible. But with reasonable precautions and lots and lots of prayers, in shaa Allah, we’ll get through this and come out stronger as a unit.

(Anna Tarhata Basman is a Member of Parliament of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Her mom, Ann, is 57 and Jannah is 27. Anna posted this on her FB page on 14 April 2020. MindaNews was granted permission to publish this piece.)