Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When H1N1 Hits Home - Day 1

There has never been a post more difficult to start than this. And I'm not even sure how to proceed.

Maybe I can begin by saying that true to the title, the H1N1 virus has indeed found its way to our very home. It's just too bad that my six-year old cousin, Matthin, had to be its first victim. What worries me is that he has asthma and is therefore considered to be among the higher risk group.

They arrived here in Singapore last Wednesday, June 24, Matthin and her mother. My aunt had to rush home because his father had suffered a heart attack. She had to take Matthin with her because no one could take care of him if he was left here. They came back after making sure aunt's father —who's undergoing therapy because his right side from head to toe was paralyzed— was on his way to recovery after a few scary days in the ICU. As if that unfortunate event wasn't enough, they arrived here to find out a few days later that Matthin had somehow caught the virus.

What purpose does it serve if I share this with the rest of the world? Well, apart from simply telling a story, I think there are lessons to be learned from this. Let me stall no further.

For starters, for anyone who has been outside the country, I think it serves Singapore best that you isolate yourself from society for a few days after you arrive. Actually, even before that, and this has been stated in the news over and over again, travel outside the country only if it's really necessary.

Going back to the idea of self-quarantine, I simply opine that it's the responsible thing to do. Going one step further, maybe it's a good company policy to implement this for employees coming from overseas. One of my clients even require their employees to wear masks for a number of days in the office, after the quarantine period. This idea is also applicable to schools, but I think they're doing a much better job.

In our case, the first judgment error was assuming that there was no way Matthin and his mom could have contracted the virus because they weren't going out too often when they were overseas. Some would conclude that's so naive, but it's a more common conception than we think. It's so easy to be careless. What a cliche, but hey, just because you don't see it doesn't mean it doesn't exist and won't find its way to you.

Because of that initial wrong assumption, another case of bad judgment was bound to occur. Despite us being aware that not going out of the house for at least seven days was prudent, Matthin and his dad went out to watch Transformers that Saturday. He got home in the midst of an asthma attack along with coughs that didn't sound good. He also had a high fever late that night. Once again, because of that wrong premise, it was easier to rationalize the cause than suspect H1N1 was the culprit.

The next day, Sunday, Matthin's parents finally decided to call the hospital and report his condition. An ambulance arrived after about two hours to pick up Matthin and his mother.

"Mommy, I'm excited to ride the ambulance!" Matthin stated.

I saw them being handed a mask before they were allowed to step into the ambulance. Fast forward, about three hours later, they were back at home announcing that the results would only be out after two days. It had become a waiting game.

Day 1 is today, Monday, June 29 — the day we learned of the results. I was in the office when my aunt called me.

"Bad news. Results are out and Matthin is positive." She gave it to me straight.

For a minute there I thought she was kidding and I was waiting for the punchline. She even told me guys from Cisco where coming to that house later at night to install cameras so they could monitor the patient. When no punchline came, I had to ask directly if she was pulling my leg. I believed her when she told me it was no joking matter. When she told me to buys masks, the little doubt or hope inside me dissipated.

I gave myself a few minutes to think things over and decide what was my best course of action. Soon thereafter I informed my boss about the news and I was immediately sent home. It took me three blocks to find 3M N95 masks from a Guardian store in Raffles — a box of which containing 20 pieces cost $60.

When I got home, they've started trying to quarantine Matthin in their room. No one was yet wearing masks. I handed out what I bought and we all tried it out, Matthin included. I found it a bit difficult to breathe through the mask and there's a certain kind of smell that never really goes away.

We started segregating our utensils after dinner. Matthin was told he wasn't allowed to leave the room. My uncle moved one of the TV sets along with the Xbox from the living room to what would be Matthin's own little world in the next few days. Except for his eyes, Matthin looks fine. Well, Matthin is a strong boy. He'll be fine. We're praying for his speedy recovery.

As for Cisco, we waited for them to arrive until way past midnight. They never came.

This is the end of day 1.

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