I Got “Corona” in Egypt: Isolation, Favoritism, Death and Destruction

Khaled El-Masri
Egyptian Journalist

This is my journey with a virus, that is no more than a few nanometers in size, which kept me home and terrified my whole neighborhood of me and my family. This is my journey with Corona.

“Who will provide for my family? How will my wife manage the cost of living and my children’s school fees, bearing in mind that I repeatedly refused to let her go back to her previous job? What’s going to happen to my mother whose heart will break over her own flesh and blood? How will I leave life without a trace proving that I was here one day? Endless questions were running through my head, after suffering from symptoms similar to those associated with the Coronavirus infection, including fever, shortness of breath, nagging cough, head pains and a persistent headache.  

My Wife’s Worries and My Neighbor’s Panic

My wife seemed anxious, although she tried so hard to hide it. We both feared saying it or even the mere thought of it, it’s a fatal possibility. My wife tried to reassure herself―before doing the same with me―by insisting that it’s just a “flu” caused by the change of seasons, and that the shortness of breath was caused by the dust in the air and ‘Khamsin’ winds that blow each year during this time, so there’s no need to worry. Once my temperature rose, my wife quickly approached our neighbor―a pharmacist―to ask him to check on me and prescribe me some medications. After asking my wife about the symptoms, she told my wife: “You can go and I’ll be right behind you.” When she was late my wife went to her once again but our neighbor responded―without opening her door―that she’s not coming, justifying her behavior by explaining that she doesn’t want her toddler to get infected with the “Coronavirus”. However, she asked her to record an audio of me coughing and send it to her via ‘WhatsApp’. Of course, my wife refused to do so out of anger, and decided instead to call one of her doctor friends and told her about the symptoms; the doctor prescribed me some medications. After two days of not getting better and suffering from increased severity of shortness of breath, her friend advised her to consult our nearest doctor, but I refused completely. Many patients visit doctors under these critical medical conditions and it’s highly possible that I would be in close contact with a large number of patients in the doctor’s private clinic, which would’ve increased my anxiety instead of reassuring me, so I rejected the suggestion completely. “We have to do something, if you are not afraid for yourself, please think of our children,” My wife and my mother―who lives in another governorate―kept trying to pressure me in order to make me consult a doctor. My mother told me that she will send me my brother to accompany me to the doctor, but I strongly refused. I didn’t want to be close to anyone for fear of getting infected with the “Coronavirus” or on the other hand transferring it to anyone else. I don’t know, maybe my brother has it and will transfer the virus to my family, or I may have it and transfer it to my brother and his family. Such a bad suggestion!

The Reason Behind My Refusal to Go to the Hospital

The main reason behind my fear of visiting doctors’ clinics and hospitals was the frequency of a huge number of patients visiting such areas, especially those that have tested positive for “Coronavirus”, and are rushing to the hospitals and clinics to be tested and to get checked. They don’t often apply any social distancing rules, and they accumulate in areas not exceeding a few meters wide, which heralds the spread of the virus among all, in case of someone having it. But when the episodes of my shortness of breath increased, my wife resorted to turning to my brother to convince me to go to the hospital to perform the necessary checks. Still however, after a minute phone call, I strongly refused my brother’s suggestion. I convinced him that I would get the virus there if I didn’t have it already, as a result of being in a crowded place. Eventually, I thought convinced him and they stopped nagging me. As the sun rose, I heard my phone ringing and I found my brother telling me that he was under the building in which I lived.

Fears of Quarantine and Separation Without Saying Goodbye

I sent my son to open the door and let him in. I refused to shake his hand and asked him with a sharp tone in my voice: “What made you come here during the curfew and security and health risks the country is facing?” His answer calmed down my mini-revolution, “I came to check on you, you are refusing to go get checked, and we are worried about you.” He asked me to put on a change clothes to go to the nearest hospital to get tested and make sure that everything is okay, but I refused and re-explained the risks I will face there. If I test positive, I will be isolated from my family for two weeks and I will not see them unless I beat the virus. If I was uttering my last breath, we won’t be able to say goodbye. The second possibility, which is if I do not have the “Coronavirus”, I will probably get it from anyone who pays the hospital a visit. The Minister of Health confirmed that there may be positive cases―that recover and turn negative without being discovered by the ministry―and certainly I will be among people who have the virus and will possibly get it from them. After a short conversation between my brother and mother, my brother immediately called 105, the ministry’s hotline used to report cases of “Coronavirus”.

The Ministry’s Hotline Was Cold

My brother and wife spent three hours, attempting to call the hotline in vain. When one of the representatives finally answered, my brother explained my condition, and they asked to speak with me directly. After asking me about the symptoms, and after posing other endless questions about when I started feeling such symptoms, how my cough sounded like and many other questions, they asked me if I had recently came into direct contact with people who have come from abroad, or people working in the tourism sector or even ones who tested positive, and my answer was no. I was keen to inform them however that I usually leave the house to buy some food and medicine for my home. In other words, I exchange paper money with the sellers and I mix with them and I might have got the virus one way or another. Still they told me that as long as I did not deal with anyone that meets the above criteria, then I am alright and all are symptoms of seasonal influenza, and I have to take some medicine and to focus on consuming immunity-boosting foods. Surprised by the unexpected response, I asked, “Are you a doctor?” He replied, “No.” I hung up the phone immediately, as I thought that any further discussion would be useless. A few minutes later, my brother told me that he could call an ambulance to examine me and diagnose my case, but I refused that too, so he started to try yet again convince me to go to the hospital to get checked. After my mother pleaded with me on the phone, I gave in to their wishes. My brother gave me a mask and a pair of gloves, out of his bag.

An overcrowded hospital and the secret behind the minister’s approval of testing

I finally went with my brother to the ‘Himayat Al-Abassia’ Hospital, one of the largest febrile hospitals at the center of the capital of Cairo. I was shocked to find hundreds of people at the reception area, which does not exceed 20 square meters. I could not stand to be in the midst of that overcrowded area, but my brother went to register my name and took a number, while I remained outside the hospital to breathe fresh air, away from that unbearable reception room. Six full hours later, and after dozens of phone calls to friends and acquaintances, one of them mediated for us to enter the examination room and perform some tests, after I had another episode of shortness of breath (dyspnea). The doctor put me on a ventilator, got my chest X-rayed and gave me a blood test. She told me I needed to have a PCR test, which would determine whether or not I had coronavirus. She said she would tell her manager to contact the ministry and explain my case, to get permission to perform that test on me. After another two hours of waiting, the doctor came back to tell me that the ministry refused to get me tested, because I had not been in direct contact with confirmed cases of coronavirus infection. After arguing with my brother and me, she told me that she must get the ministry’s approval in order to take nasal and throat swabs off of me to test them. My brother immediately called some of his influential acquaintances to intervene to get the test done, but some of them said that this would require the approval of the minister’s deputy personally. After failing to get this approval, I asked the doctor’s advice. She said she suspected I had coronavirus, and that I should isolate myself from the world, especially my family, and eat immunity boosting foods, like garlic, broccoli, honey and lemon, in addition to beetroot and vitamins C and D.

The Officer’s Handkerchief

I could hardly walk out of the hospital, my feet barely carried me, as if the weight of the world rested on my shoulder. I walked in the street, distracted and aimless, so much that I was almost hit by a car as I crossed the street, had it not been for providence and my brother’s vigilance, who was totally silent and did not utter a word… The silence was only broken by the police patrol which stopped the Uber car we were in, asking us why we were out in the street during curfew hours. The officer said we should be detained and pay a fine for violating the curfew law. We were only saved thanks to the test results and X-ray scans we had, which proved we were at the hospital. As soon as the officer became aware of the possibility that I was probably infected with the coronavirus, he adjusted his mask, which had previously fallen off his nose, took a few steps backward, and took the test results and scans, holding them with a paper handkerchief from his pocket to show them to a higher-ranked officer (adorned with an eagle and two stars on his shoulders), to explain to him what the situation was. He returned to us and allowed us to leave without writing a ticket. The same thing kept repeating with 5 other police patrols, before we reached my home at 6 October city.

Unpaid Open Leave

Throughout the two and a half hour trip between the hospital and my apartment, I was thinking about my family, neighbors, and colleagues at work. I had been working from home for some time, but this will not last forever, especially since the period the government had set for decreasing the number of employees at workplaces was about to end. Will they agree to let me go back to work, and deal with me normally, or will they totally avoid dealing with me? My suspicions were confirmed when my manager told me I was on leave until full recovery, after calling to tell him I wouldn’t be able to go to work the following week, as was decided earlier. He said that the company would deduct the previous period from my annual leave days, but that the coming period would be deducted from my own salary on my own expense. Although this is illegal and unconstitutional, I do not have a choice; I couldn’t refuse or complain.

Isolation Besieges My Family

had a severe fit of crying, and after my brother and I’s attempts to calm her down, she told me that our doorman has refused to buy things for us, the neighbors have refused to let her use the elevator with them, and that the dry cleaner had stopped dealing with her, after they all knew I was possibly infected with the virus upon the warning they received from our other neighbor, the pharmacist. Now my wife had to go buy all the house supplies and medication herself, in addition to the burden of taking care of me and our three children. But she is facing a harder, crueler test; the fear of loss.

This is my journey with a virus, that is no more than a few nanometers in size, which kept me home and terrified my whole neighborhood of me and my family. This is my journey with Corona.

لتصلكم نشرة درج الى بريدكم الالكتروني