Vietnamese Australian nurse's battle to survive Covid-19

By Thoai Giang   August 26, 2020 | 10:30 pm PT
A Vietnamese Australian nurse in Melbourne spent three weeks fighting Covid-19, and in a nightmare one day during his sickness he died and saw his deceased grandparents.

On the night of July 31, Doan Thai, who works at a nursing home, suddenly felt dizzy and chill and could not stand steadily, his entire body ached, and there was sweat all over his back.

The 45-year-old tried to calm himself and told his supervisor, "I think I might have got the nCoV."

On his way home he could not stop wondering how he could have contracted the novel coronavirus since he and his colleagues at the nursing home had been extremely cautious, scrupulously wearing masks, gloves and protective suits.

He assumed it had been airborne while he was taking care of Covid-19 patients.

Arriving home at three in the morning, he went straight to a separate room at the back of the house he had planned to rent out and collapsed on the bed.

The next morning he was woken up by his wife calling and knocking on the door. He had to struggle to make himself heard. He could barely move his limbs.

He told his wife to leave and speak to him by phone instead. When he told her about the situation, she went silent for a while. He understood his wife was not ready though it was a scenario they had already pictured and in fact he had even isolated himself after a colleague got infected.

Soon they came up with protocols: he would stay by himself in that room while his wife and two kids would bring him food and other essential items, leave them by the door and leave.

On the first day he had fever and difficulty breathing, was constantly coughing and sneezing and felt pain around his chest and stomach. His nose was stuffy, his head felt like it was being pounded by a hammer and his heart beat fast. He had to go to the restroom several times because of vomiting and diarrhea.

On top of the symptoms, Thai could not eat even when his wife made the most delicious dishes. He completely lost his appetite along with his senses of taste and smell. So he depended on hot milk and electrolyte replacement solutions.

To prevent his throat from going dry, he sipped warm water constantly even when not thirsty. He also gargled with saltwater to keep it clean.

On the advice of a doctor, he took Panadol every six hours and applied cool towels on his body to bring down the temperature, but for two days it remained at around 37.6 degrees Celsius.

He also took Ventolin, a drug prescribed for asthma, to clear his nose, but it only worked for two hours. So he used a nasal spray to moisten his trachea and expel phlegm. For his muscle pain, he gave himself massages instead of using more painkillers to avoid possible side effects.

"If I take Nurofen I’ll have an asthma attack, if I take Codeine Forte I’ll have constipation," he explained.

Doan Thai, a nurse at a nursing home in Melbourne, Australia breaths with a nebulizer in the first week after getting Covid-19. Photo courtesy of Thai.

Doan Thai, a nurse at a clinic in Melbourne, Australia, breathes in medicine through a nebulizer during the first week after he contracted Covid-19. Photo courtesy of Doan Thai.

On the third day, though it was a challenge to stand up or move, he tried to get up and go to a hospital to get a Covid-19 test since authorities were not providing it at home.

He did not dare ask anyone to take him or call a cab, worried that he would transmit the virus to them.

The test result was positive.

"Though I was prepared, I could not help but feel anxious. But I told myself to stay patient."

For several days after the test he slept so deeply that he missed dozens of calls from his wife and their two daughters, aged 16 and six. The older one always encouraged him while the younger one cried when she learned her father was in pain.

Thai measured his heartbeat and concentration of oxygen in his blood regularly so that he could call an ambulance if anything went wrong. He stayed in touch with his family doctor and kept him updated on his condition.

He was feverish every afternoon and had nightmares almost all night. There was one night when, seeing his dead grandparents in a dream, he woke up with a start and sobbed, thinking he had already died.

To keep his mind calm, he mediated, listened to music and practiced breathing. He would sit still, take a deep breath and hold it for five seconds. He also used a straw to blow into a glass of water as an exercise for his lungs on the advice of a physical therapist friend. Every day he took a hot drink of ginger, honey and lime and stayed away from cold drinks.

Slowly he could eat again, starting with soup and rice porridge. Nearly three weeks after he contracted Covid-19, he got back his appetite.

Though still weak he knew he had overcome the most critical part. On August 18 he went to get himself tested again and this time the result was negative.

"I felt really delighted, but I told myself not to be complacent."

He continues to isolate himself from his family as he waits for another test to make sure he does not relapse.

With his five years’ experience as a nurse he quickly understood that the new coronavirus was dangerous. He therefore took aggressive measures to protect himself and stayed away from his family and friends to the point that some of them got upset and thought he "overreacted."

He had been working under intense pressure since there were as many as 150 Covid-19 patients at his nursing home and just half that number of staff.

By August 27 Australia has had more than 25,300 infections and 572 deaths.

A healthy man with no chronic diseases, Thai said he has only regained 40 percent of his health. He still has body pain and it is still difficult for him to move around or remember things. He expected it to take three months for him to fully recover.

He said people with Covid-19 should pay attention to their mental health, share their conditions with their family and friends to not feel lonely.

"For me, the most important thing a Covid-19 patient should keep in mind is to stay calm. But it is much easier said than done."

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