From diagnosing and treating the coronavirus in patients to contracting it himself, and from quarantine to recovery: This was the journey of Dr. Ahmed Abdallah, head of the Tuberculosis Department at Damietta Pulmonary Hospital, who spoke to Mada Masr after his release from the quarantine hospital last Friday.
Mada Masr: Tell us about your infection. How did it happen?
Dr. Ahmed Abdallah: On Tuesday, March 10, I did my regular rounds at Damietta Pulmonary Hospital. One of the patients was suspected of contracting the virus. After that, I visited [patients] in the intensive care unit, then I started my shift in admissions, from 10 am to 10 pm.
In that time, I dealt with a lot of cases – several of which were patients who recently came back from overseas and were suspected of contracting the virus. I quarantined three patients suspected of contracting coronavirus. Later, the patients tested positive for the virus.
MM: What were your symptoms?
AA: I went home on Tuesday night after 12 consecutive hours of work, feeling fatigued and with pain in my bones. I thought nothing of it. I went back to work on the morning of Wednesday, March 11, and I learned that the case I attended in my rounds had tested positive. They asked me to do a blood test and swab my nose and throat. The fatigue and pain in my bones persisted, but I ruled out the possibility I had contracted coronavirus because I had not made contact with patients in a way that would allow for transmission. I went by them quickly; I was wearing the [highly protective] N95 mask and adhering to all infection control [protocols]. But my colleagues insisted I take the test, and I did so on Wednesday evening. Along with fatigue, I began to experience shortness of breath.
MM: When did you become sure?
AA: I received a phone call at 10 o’clock on Thursday night from a doctor at the Health Ministry, who told me that my tests were positive. He asked me to go to Ismailia’s Abou Khalifa Hospital, which is reserved for quarantining coronavirus patients.
There was rain and heavy storms that day and I had taken leave to stay home. I asked them to let me wait until the morning, but they refused. I told them I would wait at Damietta Pulmonary Hospital until tomorrow, but they said: “No, you have to be transferred to quarantine today. If you’d like, we can send you an ambulance at home.” I told them there was no need for the extra hassle. I took my car and went to Damietta Hospital. There, I learned that another case I had dealt with had turned out to be positive. I put my faith in God and got into the ambulance. A medical team accompanied me, and we arrived at Ismailia’s Abou Khalifa Hospital at 2 am on Friday morning.
MM: What happened to those you came into contact with in the two days before your test results came back?
AA: The ministry’s preventative medicine and monitoring team came to my house in the New Damietta area. They collected blood samples and [nose and throat] swabs from my wife, daughter, parents, and nieces and nephews who were with me in the same house on Tuesday and Wednesday. All the results came back negative, thank God. We have a lot of doctors in the family, so the whole thing happened calmly, without panic or fear.
MM: How did you contract the virus despite wearing the protective mask?
AA: When I dealt with patients, I was wearing the [highly protective] N95 mask and I was strictly adhering to infection control protocols because I’m the chief of the tuberculosis department at the pulmonary hospital and it is natural for me to take infection control precautions in normal circumstances, not only in a time when coronavirus is spreading. But the real problem for me – and for all doctors across the country – is that we receive many patients who show no symptoms, and patients with regular influenza who drain the energy and attention of doctors, as well as the reserves of infection control equipment. This makes doctors more likely to make a mistake. And that’s when infection happens.
MM: How was your stay inside the quarantine hospital?
AA: Everyone was wearing the yellow Ebola suit. There was a medical team waiting for me and as soon as I arrived, they collected blood samples and nose and throat swabs, and then did a chest X-ray. I was transferred to a separate room and started the doses of treatment on Friday, March 13 for four days. Then, my blood and swabs were tested, and results came back negative. I continued treatment for another two days before retesting, and results came back negative for a second time. After six days of treatment, I did another X-ray to check on my lungs and I left the hospital on Friday, March 20 after doctors cautioned me to rest at home for a week before returning to work.
MM: What advice do you give doctors to avoid infection?
AA: Follow infection control protocols. But the more important advice should be for citizens not to go to regular hospitals except in cases of extreme urgency, in order to avoid the spread of infection among both patients and doctors, and to avoid draining equipment reserves and doctors’ energy, because one person infected with the virus at any hospital’s reception would be enough to infect 50 people surrounding them.