[FIRST PERSON] Diary of a Filipina who survived coronavirus in Berlin
“Ihr Test auf Corona-Virus war positiv.”
Those were the words of the German doctor who called me last March 19. Alone in my apartment in Berlin, I learned that I was positive for COVID-19.
Five days earlier, I told myself, “It was just a sore throat.” I thought it was normal since I was fond of eating sweets and drinking soda, so I ignored it. To ease the pain, I just drank lots of water. The next day, however, it was worse. Aside from the sore throat, I also experienced a persistent headache the entire day. I slept early, hoping that it was just because of stress or fatigue, having just arrived from a trip to Brussels with my classmates.
But two days passed, and the symptoms did not subside. On March 16, at around 3 am, I woke up feeling feverish and cold at the same time. My head was throbbing painfully. I managed to get up and check my temperature. It read 38.1.
My mind raced through the symptoms of COVID-19: sore throat, headaches, fever, chills. And with my recent travel history, I started to panic. Back home, in the Philippines, it was just around 10 am. So I immediately called my family, informing them of my symptoms. They tried to calm me down. Get some more rest, they said. We hoped that it was just the flu. (READ: 'COVID-19 Patient No. 4' shares a story of strength and faith)
I woke up feeling a bit better, but still with fever. Since I was anxious about my situation, I decided to go to the nearest coronavirus testing center in Berlin, which was around 20 minutes away from my apartment. I went there protected, wearing a face mask, even carrying a small bottle of sanitizer in my bag.
After 8 hours of waiting, I finally found myself being interviewed by the doctors at the testing center. I did not withhold information about my symptoms and travel history. I told the doctors everything that they needed to know – that I was in Brussels for 5 days, from March 9 to 13; that I took the train from Berlin to Brussels via Cologne on the 9th and took the flight from Brussels to Berlin on the 13th; and that I’ve been experiencing some of the symptoms of COVID-19.
Right there and then, I was tested, with the doctors taking a deep nasal swab and a throat swab from me. I was told that the results may take a maximum of 7 days. In the meantime, I should stay at home, monitor my symptoms, and if my symptoms worsen, call 116117, a 24/7 medical service hotline, or 112, if I needed an ambulance. I followed the doctors’ advice, went back to my apartment, and never went out again.
On March 17, a day after I got tested, my fever broke. My temperature was back to 36.5. I was not sure if it was because of the paracetamol I’d been taking or because I wasn't getting enough rest. I was just thankful that I no longer had a fever. The sore throat was still there, though. It was increasingly becoming difficult for me to swallow or even drink water. I also noticed that my senses of taste and smell were a bit faint.
Even if everything tasted bland, I decided to eat more to gain my strength back. I drank my vitamins and lots of water. I busied myself by reading journal articles for term papers that I had yet to draft. I watched Netflix and happily distracted myself with Crash Landing on You. I was in constant communication with my family and friends, updating them on my health. I even started monitoring my symptoms with a chart my sister got from the University Health Service of UP Los Baños. Day by day, I felt better. I thought – no cough, no colds, no more fever. Just the sore throat. Everything will be ok.
Just 3 days after the test, though, on March 19, I received the call from the Berlin-Mitte Gesundheitsamt (Central Berlin Health Office) and got my answer. I was COVID-19 positive. I was not prepared to hear those words; I was in denial. "But I’m getting better," I thought. Holding back tears, I listened carefully to the doctor explaining what I should and should not do. (READ: [FIRST PERSON] I became PH253)
The doctor’s first advice was for me not to panic. She did not sugarcoat the details and told me that I was young, I didn't have any underlying respiratory condition, and because of that, I would recover from this disease. “You will not die,” she bluntly said. The doctor instructed me to continue my self-quarantine for the next 14 to 16 days. She reminded me to continue monitoring my symptoms and that in case of any severe pain or intolerable difficulty in breathing, I should immediately call an ambulance.
There were no medicines prescribed to me. Instead, the doctor advised that I should boost my immune system by taking vitamins and getting enough rest and exercise. The doctor also assured me that health officers would call me every day to check up on my progress, which they did.
Finally, the doctor explained to me the contact tracing that must be done as part of the protocol for COVID-19 cases. On the same day, I received an email from the Berlin-Mitte Health Office, with a contact tracing form I should forward to people I have been in contact with 2 days before I felt the symptoms. I immediately sent the forms to my Master’s cohort and program coordinator, who were with me in Brussels.
Immediately after the call, I updated my family in the Philippines on the results of the test. I sent messages informing my close friends, Master’s cohort, program and scholarship coordinator, and the Philippine Embassy in Berlin. As expected, everyone was worried. As if I was also reassuring myself, I repeated to my family and friends what the German doctor told me – that I should remain calm and level-headed, and that I would fully recover because compared to others infected, I was young and without any pre-existing illness.
I took to heart what the doctor told me and found solace from my family and friends. I convinced myself every single day that I would get better. I had to get better. The following days, however, were not easy. There were times when I would find myself gripped by anxiety and fear, overwhelmed with thoughts of what would happen to me in the coming days. While I slowly recovered from my sore throat, there were still instances when I could not breathe well. I noticed that I would catch my breath even if I was not doing any physical activity.
During my self-quarantine period, I reminded myself that I should exert all efforts to make myself get better. I had to be my own cheerleader. As with any illness, I realized that the struggle with having COVID-19 was both physical and psychological. And I had to conquer both.
Aside from keeping myself healthy, I remained optimistic and found encouragement from my family and friends who prayed and regularly checked up on me. I was motivated by unexpected messages of support on social media and from acts of kindness from the Philippine Embassy and the Filipino community in Berlin, some of whom I hadn’t even personally met.
I am writing this today with a grateful heart, having recovered fully and having been cleared officially from COVID-19. On March 27, I completed my 14 days of self-quarantine. Two days later, I was informed by my doctor that I was no longer infectious and that I may already leave my apartment. She said that another test to confirm if I was negative for COVID-19 was not necessary, following the protocols set by German health authorities.
Having COVID-19 made me realize that this virus may infect anyone, including young people in their early 20’s, millennials like myself. Young people, who are presumably healthy and with stronger immune systems, are not invincible to this disease. No one is.
The difference is that while the young are likely to recover, the same might not be the case for the elderly or for those with pre-existing conditions. That frightening thought of me possibly infecting others who may be unable to recover was enough to keep myself isolated, as soon as I got tested. It was the responsible thing to do.
During my self-quarantine, I watched, from the admittedly comforts of my apartment in Berlin, how different countries responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a Filipino student learning about public policy in Germany, I couldn’t help but notice that despite the various challenges and strategies of countries, a common thread is on the critical importance of equipped health workers and efficient health care systems in fighting this global crisis. I am humbled and grateful that I was given immediate medical assistance in Germany. My hope and prayer is that Filipinos back home could be afforded the same attention, care, and fighting chance to survive this illness. – Rappler.com
Racquel Helena “Kelly” Dicolen Abagat is a 24-year-old Filipina currently taking her Master’s Degree in Public Management major in Global Public Policy at the University of Potsdam, Germany. She is a graduate of BS Human Ecology major in Human Settlements Planning at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.