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Everyday stories happening in Wuhan and other regions affected by the Coronavirus outbreak

FEATURED STORY

Today is January 24th, Chinese New Year’s Eve, the second day after the lockdown of Wuhan.

I can’t say much about what happened before and after the lockdown. Since I haven’t fully recovered, my partner has been the one who goes out to snap up food and medication for me. Having been staying indoors for quite a few days, I have to depend on my partner to update me with the latest information when he comes back, like a papa penguin. I have yet to be involved in the Wuhan epidemics, but I somehow experienced a few historical moments during the outbreak, which then remained unknown to the public.


A SARS-like virus might have appeared in Wuhan


At the end of December 2019, a friend told me that a SARS-like virus might have appeared in Wuhan. The virus originated from the wild animals sold in Huanan Seafood Market. I had only been in Wuhan for three months and had very little knowledge about the enormous Three Towns of Wuhan, nor did I have any idea where the Huanan Seafood Market was. I believe this information came from the eight people who are very likely to be medical professionals. I wonder if they are alright, after being summoned by the authorities and being ravaged by the virus.

(Editor's note: the eight people who spoke about the discovery of a mysterious SARS-like virus in early December 2019 were detained by the police for “spreading rumors”. Word has it that they are all medical professionals, but it has not been officially confirmed when the post was published.)


After New Year’s Day, my partner and I saw the official news regarding the virus discovered in Wuhan, as well as the reports regarding the “necessary steps” taken towards the eight “rumor-spreaders". My partner immediately ordered two large boxes of N95 face masks. I asked him if the ordinary masks would work since we already had some at home. My partner insisted that we use the N95 as they were professional level antiviral masks. The two boxes of masks cost us over CNY 300, quite expensive. For the first half of January, not only did we keep an eye on the latest updates about the virus, but we were also concerned about my granddad’s health. On the evening of January 8th, my grandpa passed away in my hometown in Jiangsu. I immediately bought a ticket to go back. Since it was almost Chinese New Year, train tickets were tight. I only managed to get a High-speed Railway ticket departing from Hankou Station on the morning of January 9th. Before I left, my partner repeatedly told me that I HAD TO wear masks. I put on the N95 and I felt very uncomfortable. I asked him if I could take it off, as the news said the virus was not that serious. My partner insisted that I needed to keep it on. As I got on the train, I realized that I was the only one wearing a mask in the entire carriage. Quite a few people even gave me looks. When I arrived at the Hankou Station, I took off the mask to go through facial recognition. Hankou Station has already started using electronic tickets. It was my first time looking up train schedules by scanning a QR code, which was a brand new experience to me. The station was packed with tens of thousands of people, yet I saw no one wearing masks. There were no signs at the station asking passengers to wear masks, nor was there any monitoring of body temperatures. I started to wonder if my partner was making too big of a fuss. After all, the news kept saying that the virus was “preventable and controllable” and that there was “no human-to-human transmission”. The number of infections increased by very little every day. After getting into the train, the poor ventilation in the carriage made it even more suffocating to keep the mask on, so I took it off and did not put it back on until I exited the arrival station. My relatives in my hometown asked me if the virus in Wuhan was serious, as it did not appear to be a big deal according to the news. I told them no one was wearing a mask on my way home, so it should be fine. After the funeral, I took the train back to Hankou Station on January 12th and returned to Wuhan. Again, I was the only freak wearing a mask on Subway Line 2. I encountered no inspection or any other forms of interruptions on the trip between Wuhan and my hometown.

On January 14th, I started to sneeze and had a runny nose. At that time I didn’t know that the virus has an incubation period and I assumed it was just a common flu I caught from the people in my hometown. I was busy with my work, and the process of falling ill was slow. My partner was still paying close attention to the virus updates, but the number of infected cases showed no growth for a couple of days. I told him that perhaps this time the virus is nipped in the bud so hopefully there would be no mass transmission. On January 17th, I started to have a fever, but we didn’t have a thermometer at home. My partner touched my forehead and said it was hot so he went out to buy a thermometer and some antipyretic. However, the pharmacy gave him a crappy electronic thermometer that came free with purchase, which was not accurate at all. I took some ibuprofen and fell asleep. On the morning of January 18th, I woke up and the fever was gone.


"The virus is very serious now!"


I told my partner that my fever was gone but he insisted that we go to the hospital. In the afternoon my fever started again. After gathering some stuff quickly, we walked to the closest tertiary hospital, wearing N95 masks. (Note: private clinics are not common in China. Public hospitals are the go-to destinations for all illnesses. Hospitals have different ranks, the tertiary ones are of the best medical resources) After check-in, I had my temperature taken in the ER. A man with high fever sitting next to me simply left after having his temperature taken. The nurse asked the doctor if he had been registered, and the doctor said no because there were too many people and he didn’t have time for all of them. The doctor told me that I had a low fever and then recorded my temperature on the registration sheet. Another petite female doctor asked me about my medical history and reproached us for not having monitored the temperature changes carefully enough. After knowing that I’d been to the Hankou Station, she immediately wrote down “(The patient) has been to the Hankou Station near the Huanan Seafood Market” on my case record. I looked up in the map and finally realized that Hankou station was only 800 meters (0.5 mile) away from the Huanan Seafood Market. The doctor took a throat swab and sent me for a blood test and a CT scan. At the CT scan, the doctor asked me to wait, because someone in front of me “had some problem” so they were disinfecting the area. After a while, the disinfection was completed. I didn’t quite understand what “had some problem” meant. I was too drowsy from the fever to follow the radiologist’s instruction. The CT scan result and report finally came in, showing that I had neither Type A nor Type B influenza. The doctor pondered for a long time in front of my scan results and then called someone to register my name and age, and then prescribed some Oseltamivir and Cephalosporin for me to take home. The ER by then was overwhelmed, a huge crowd of fever patients were surrounding the doctors, and many not wearing masks. Some of the doctors and nurses were wearing N95, and some were wearing two surgical masks. The doctor at the center of the crowd was very anxious, shouting loudly: "This virus is very serious now! The situation is extremely serious! Everyone please pay attention to your personal hygiene, and line up one by one…"


"(The doctor) didn't say you were not, did she?"


Walking out of the hospital, I told my partner that I didn’t think I was infected (with the coronavirus), as the doctor didn’t say I was. My partner turned up his nose: “She didn’t say you were not, did she?” I opened my case record, there was no diagnosis, only my course and description of symptoms. I got better after I took my medications at home. My partner and I separated our food and our dinnerware. Three days later, my partner asked me to stay home and went to the hospital again with my CT scan result. This time the number of people waiting there was more than doubled. The doctor reviewed my scan result and said it might or might not be (nCoV). Unless a large area of my lungs was infected, the diagnosis could not be confirmed solely based on the CT scan result. I needed to take the kit test. My partner asked if there were any kits, the doctor said they didn’t have any, as the government authorities didn’t send them any. Even if the hospital had the kits, they would need approval to conduct the tests. My partner asked whether that meant I could never get a confirmed diagnosis. The doctor said that if I keep on the medication for three days and show signs of recovery, then I’ll be fine. If not, then I probably have the novel coronavirus pneumonia and I will need to be hospitalized. But all beds at their hospital were occupied by patients with the novel coronavirus so I would have to look for a vacancy at another hospital.

Now I finally believed that the doctor really didn’t know if I was infected with the novel coronavirus on Jan 18th. The news has been said that large batches of test kits had been dispatched, but why the designated hospitals don’t have any kits? Why did the officials say that only hundreds of cases had been diagnosed and the number of suspected cases was low, but the hospitals, which are not even the major designated ones for the nCoV treatment, have run out of beds? Why did no one remind me of quarantining myself from my partner, when I was likely infected? Why then, did they keep telling people the virus was “preventable and controllable” with “no human-to-human transmission”, which turned out to be a big fat lie? I wasn’t able to figure these things out so I kept on taking my medication.

A friend suggested to me that I should leave Wuhan and head back to Jiangsu. However, considering that the elders in my family are vulnerable, it would be disastrous if I really had the nCoV and then transmitted it to them. My partner and I texted our parents, explained our decision to stay in Wuhan during Chinese New Year, and canceled our tickets back to Jiangsu. By that time, I knew that the epidemic was way more severe than what the official reports. I started to order food online, stuffing the kitchen and the refrigerator full. On the evening of Jan 22nd, someone in my friend group chat asked : “Is the Wuhan lockdown real?” I reckoned that a city with millions of people would not really be locked down, so I went to bed after taking my medication. After I woke up the next day, I was bombarded by so many messages on my phone. Every group chat was talking about the Wuhan lockdown.


Most importantly, I am recovering


My partner saw I woke up and told me that after seeing the news around midnight, he went out several times to hoard food, like instant noodles, cookies, all kinds of convenient foods and large bottles of mineral water. He then went out again, got Tamiflu and ibuprofen, and managed to get the last bottles of alcohol in the pharmacy. He also went to McDonald's to buy me the hamburger that had just launched. As I was browsing the social media and with the hamburger in my mouth, I realized how hard it is for medical staff to get a ride to work, and how difficult it is for residents in remote areas after all public transportation was shut down. We have sufficient supplies and live in an area where everything is within reach. I also have the company of my partner and our cat. Most importantly, I am recovering. I don’t have to risk my life standing in line for the whole day waiting for examination or treatment at the hospital, or to seek out all connections possible just to get a life-saving vacant bed. How lucky am I in comparison to those patients, patients’ families, and medical workers in dire situations.

Thanks to my partner’s vigilance and execution, as well as my own pessimism and hoarding habit, and a bit of luck, we managed to secure the fortunate out of all the misfortunes. My partner thinks that I either have caught the nCoV pneumonia but am a mild case, or maybe, I only have a common lung infection. There may never be an exact answer to that. Should I have the chance again, I would never have taken off the mask on the train, no matter how uncomfortable it was.

My partner and I are originally from Jiangsu but are now trapped in the city of danger. I could only imagine how worried my families were back in my hometown. My dad and my partner’s parents have all canceled the Chinese New Year’s Eve reunion dinner, and have been paying close attention to the updates on the epidemics. The masks I bought for my dad have arrived, and I urged him to get some medicines. In the evening I was notified that the logistics department of our company has been in action, guaranteeing the supply of the food and other necessities. I’m relieved to see the notice, but at the same time, I couldn’t help questioning why the Wuhan government cannot do the same, leaving all medical workers at the front line be in such a short of medical supply?


Pain is never a stranger to this land


Today is Chinese New Year’s Eve. I’m almost recovered, only having some minor coughing. I can’t bear watching the gala filled with sugar coated celebrations. Neither did I dare to imagine how long this siege would last. All I could do was to bury myself in the books and to let my mind wander. I think of the patient in front of me during the CT scan who “had some problems”. Is he still alive? My cat is running and jumping around in a good mood. It is the only one who has a care-free soul. Pain is never a stranger to this land, some from natural catastrophes and some from man-made disasters. Generations after generations of people have been suffering in silence. On the second day of the lockdown, I hereby scribble down my own experience, only to remind myself: Do not forget, Can not forget, Dare not forget.

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