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Dr Saniya Khan: My Story Of A 14-Day Quarantine On Coming Back From A Gulf Country

Posted: April 1, 2020

Dr Saniya Khan returned from the Gulf on 8th March, and on reaching her hospital in Bijapur, was asked to self-quarantine, according to the protocol declared on 11th March by the govt. Here’s what she found.

At this time when the world is gripped by COVID-19 pandemic, quarantine and social distancing seems to be the only option for one’s own and the community’s security and safety.

To have some insight on the COVID-19 situation and what the quarantine experience in India is like, we reached out to Dr Saniya Khan, who was asked to self-quarantine after she returned from Kuwait. 

Dr Saniya Khan is an Indian citizen who grew up in Kuwait, and is an ENT Surgeon, a medical officer in the District Hospital, Bijapur. She did her medical education in India.

Returning from Kuwait

Dr Khan had gone to Kuwait to get her visa renewed. She came back to India on March 8th, and spent 2 days in Mumbai at her flat alone, because the buses going to Bijapur were cancelled on account of Holi. She then rebooked her ticket for 10th March and then travelled on, since she wasn’t asked to quarantine at that point of time by either the airport authorities or any medical body.

The advisory from the government to quarantine came 3 days after ahe set out for Bijapur, and she reached sometime in the midst of it. Hence, once she reached, Dr Khan was asked to self quarantine as per the guidelines of the protocol released by the Government of India on March 11th.

According to the protocol, anyone who has visited any country outside India after February 15th and come back to India has to self-quarantine. This was to be done irrespective of a person showing any symptoms or not, and is implemented as a safety and precautionary measure. 

“Hence although I didn’t show any symptoms as such, still I was asked to self-quarantine as soon as I reached my hospital premises, for safety and precautionary reasons,” described Dr Khan. 

How prepared were our airports then?

Flights have stopped operating since the 24th midnight, but before that, after the protocol that was released on March 11th about strict checks, quarantine stamps and proper schedules were given to both incoming and outgoing travellers who had travelled since February 15th.

But even before the strict protocol guidelines were released, airports in India were prepared. 

“On March 8th early morning I landed at the Mumbai airport. All travellers who were coming from high-risk countries like China, Italy, and south-east Asian countries were taken off into a separate quarantine line and were processed separately. For people like me who came from low-risk countries like the Gulf countries at that point of time, were allowed to go through a thermal scan to check our temperature, and if that was fine then we were asked to give an affidavit about our medical history and further contact details,” explained Dr Khan. 

With community help, quarantine was not tough

Dr Saniya reached the District Hospital of Bijapur on March 11th. This was the time when the quarantine protocol had come into action, and hence she was asked to self-quarantine. As she had come back after almost 2 weeks she was in urgent need of groceries and daily requirements. In managing this, the hospital administration and her neighbours helped her a lot. 

“I came back to the hospital on March 11th and was asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. The administration, and all my fellow doctors stay over here in a doctor’s hostel. Since I was back after 2 weeks, I was really in need of groceries. My neighbours helped me a lot at that time. I gave them the list, so that they would get the things and leave them outside my room and give me a call, and then I would pick it up. I also used to cook my own food at that time rather than letting someone else get me food, for precautionary measures,” she said.

So at a time when we hear the news that neighbours and administrations have a discriminatory attitude towards doctors treating corona patients and people coming from abroad, Dr Khan’s hospital administration and her neighbours give a positive example of humanity and selflessness.

Dr Khan continues, “I was given very clear guidelines to not leave my room, and to avoid physical contact with anyone. I also had our CMHO checking up on me to see if I was showing any symptoms or not. For 14 days I wasn’t allowed any sort of human contact, notwithstanding emergencies. After 14 days, since my OPD has been shut by govt directives and we can work only emergencies, I’ve been allowed to see only emergency patients as needed, and limit my movements to the hostel premises using a mask and sanitary precautions.”

“Since then the new directive has come which says that all international travellers, symptomatic or nonsymptomic, need to be quarantined for 28 days. But since I’m still asymptomatic and we are short staffed, I’ve been allowed for to see patients for emergencies, and to leave my room following social distancing protocols,” she ends.

So who are at high risk?

Dr Khan answered this question. “COVID-19 is a new disease and there is limited information regarding risk factors for severe disease. But based on currently available information and clinical expertise, older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19

~ Those over 65, or those who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility.

~ People with already existing serious illnesses like chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, those with diabetes, renal failure or liver disease.

~ People who are immuno-compromised. These include those on cancer treatment, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, or those taking steroids for any reason.

~ Pregnant women may be at a higher risk, as well as those severe obesity with a body mass index more than 40.

Current guidelines put fever or flu with cough as a TOP priority in the list of symptoms. If shortness of breath is also added to the symptoms then a medical opinion is a must. 

When to visit a doctor

The COVID-19 pandemic right now is a big concern but what’s scarier is the building anxiety. People in various parts of the country are still rushing to hospitals and medics even without proper evaluation of their symptoms. This not only burdens the doctors but also increases the risk of catching the virus outside home.

So the big question here is that when should one visit a doctor?

Dr Khan, who is a doctor herself and also a person who was self quarantined, answered this question. “The COVID-19 pandemic like any other pandemic or viral outbreak, has a set protocol. 

~ The virus will incubate in your body or bloodstream for a while, and symptoms will occur depending upon how resistant or immune you are to the virus itself.

~ A lot of people will just have normal flu-like symptoms like an itchy nose or congestion or difficulty in swallowing or breathing. Normal seasonal allergic flu-like symptoms. Most of us would be having that.

~ Some of us, the high risk ones listed above, will have a more severe reaction to the flu. 

~ Usually, it takes 7 days for any flu to resolve. From the day you get your first itchy nose till the day the same resolves it takes 7 days. If this resolution does not happen and your symptoms are persistent and worsen, then you should start worrying about it, and should visit a hospital or refer to any online counselling service available.

Note, though, that you should avoid going to hospitals just because you have the basic flu symptoms. Only visit hospitals if your body is not recovering and symptoms are worsening, or if you feel respiratory depression and strive to breathe properly.

Why is quarantine important?

In the current scenario when there is no treatment of this disease, quarantine and social distancing seems to be the only option to prevent COVID-19 and contain the virus.

Even though there is a lockdown, people are still seen violating the rules and norms of social distancing. By this, we are just allowing the coronavirus to breed in our community. 

“It does not matter what socio-economic backgtound we come from – no one in the country as a whole properly respects the social distancing protocols. Which means the enforced lockdown is very necessary. It is important to realize how severe the situation is so that they follow some semblance of what they are required to do,” Dr Khan commented.

How prepared are our doctors?

A lot of people out there right now are very anxious about how much our doctors are prepared to handle the coronavirus pandemic, and every day there are reports that are worrisome. When I asked Dr Khan this, she said, “I can speak for my hospital – here, we have masks, we have protection kits, a ventilator or two for our size of the population, we have isolation wards and also a fund kept aside in case something goes wrong.”

She also mentioned on a personal level how dedicated and prepared doctors are. 

“I have seen that most of the doctors here refuse to go home, and live on the hospital premises. Because they fear community spread. Even if they see a suspect case they don’t want to go to their family because they can never be sure. So the level of dedication that we expect from doctors, nurses and healthcare services is at its peak right now.”

Let us stand match the dedication of these doctors by doing what we as citizens need to do, and follow social distancing protocols.

Editor’s Note: This was Dr Saniya Khan’s personal experience with self quarantine, medical facilities, and the way protocol was being observed. We would, however, like to point out that this was probably true at the beginning of this pandemic, and given the increasing numbers since then, there have been shortages found by many medical personnel, along with hostile attitude towards those in close contact with COVID-19 patients, as multiple news reports show.

Image source: Dr Saniya Khan

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