Dubai’s dedication and commitment to provide world-class treatment for all residents who have suffered severe COVID-19 symptoms is proven once again with a first-hand story of an overseas Filipino worker who suffered from COVID pneumonia.
Maria Elena ‘Malen’ Alba, a PR practitioner who has been in Dubai for over 17 years, shared that she first experienced symptoms in January 2021. She recalls experiencing chills and fever with temperatures as high as 41C.
“January 21 pumasok ako sa office. Malamig ang panahon noon kaya nang mag-chills ako akala ko nilalamig lang talaga ako. I just continued my normal work routine. Pero bandang hapon, parang hinahapo ako at nang pauwi na ako, nilalagnat na ako,” recalled Malen.
When she learned that one of her co-workers tested positive, both Malen and her husband, Abet, decided to take a swab test the following day.
“May ka-opisina ako na nag-test positive and we received an email from one of the bosses, lalo na yun close contact to home quarantine. When I learned about that, which was on the same evening I first had fever, my husband and I decided to have a swab test the next day. Negative results namin,” recalled Malen.
After getting the negative result, Malen experienced low-grade fever for the next three days but continued taking paracetamol to give her temporary relief. However, on the fourth day since the onset of her fever, she started coughing. Days went by and her coughing worsened in a couple of days and she also started feeling fatigued all the time.
“I decided to have another swab test, six days from the first one. This time – the result was positive. I was COVID positive. We informed my family. I didn’t think it could worsen. But it did. My coughing became so severe that my core hurt, my back hurt.
However, she still ensured the safety of her husband who has been taking care of her all this time by taking precautionary measures within their home.
“Even before testing positive, at the onset of my fever – Abet and I decided that we would sleep separately, and I wore mask even at home. I started using disposable utensils for my meals and made sure that I had my own plate/dish, as well as dishwashing sponge. I think those precautions helped keep Abet safe. Even while he was taking care of me before my hospitalisation, he didn’t get infected,” said Malen.
She recalled that when she began experiencing shortness of breath, her husband took her to a health assessment center accredited by the Dubai Health Authority to help determine whether she needed hospitalization or not.
“I was immediately given oxygen when I got to the centre and it gave me relief. After some tests, including a chest X-ray – I was told that I had to be hospitalised but that I would be picked up from home once a hospital is ready to receive me. Abet took me home,” said Malen.
The following day, Malen’s symptoms worsened and Abet took her to the centre once again. It was then that the couple found out that Malen’s oxygen saturation had gone down to a level that that could put her life at risk.
“The next day, as I was feeling much worse – couldn’t walk even short distances (e.g. from the bed to the bathroom) without getting breathless – Abet took me back to the centre. At this point, my oxygen saturation level was at 89. Again, I was immediately given oxygen and had another chest X-ray. This time, I was not sent home and I waited (I was comfortable there and my vitals were regularly monitored) until they were able to confirm a hospital where I could be confined. I was COVID positive. I had COVID Pneumonia,”
“It was already late in the evening when an ambulance finally came to pick me up from the centre to take me to one of the newest COVID/infectious diseases hospitals in the UAE, located in Dubai Industrial City near Jebel Ali. It will be my home for the next 11 days.” recalled Malen.
Malen shared that she needed to be on oxygen for the next eight days. During this time she was confined in a room with two beds and recalled that she had three roommates in a span of her confinement of 11 days.
“My first roommate, who was already there when I arrived – was an elderly Syrian woman. She was discharged on the third day of my stay. In the same evening, a Filipina became my roommate, but she was discharged after 4 days. A Thai lady was my third roommate, and she came early morning of my 9th day in hospital. The severity of our infection varied, but I guess I had it worse than them since I stayed the longest in that room,” said Malen.
“I wasn’t only Covid positive but I had Covid Pneumonia. Ang pinakamahirap kong naranasan yun nahirapan ako huminga. I had to be put on oxygen and I was on oxygen for the 8 days of the 11 days I was in hospital. Then yun paulit ulit na chest X-ray at saka mga injections. I had insulin (I’m diabetic and my blood sugar levels fluctuated on the high side), blood thinners, corticosteroids injected to me. I had bruises because of these,” recalled Malen.
However, she also noted that her biggest challenge was that she had to be temporarily separated with her husband and had to be alone as she recovered from the virus.
“Ang hirap noon kasi ni hindi man lang ako madalaw ng asawa ko. Thank God for technology kasi I would have Google meets with him, and with my family from the Philippines, from Australia and the US,” said Malen.
Road to recovery
Frontliners at the hospital continued to take care of Malen until she had gradually recovered from the coronavirus, experiencing an ease with her breathing as days went by.
“I was on oxygen until my eighth day there, with gradual improvements in my breathing. By the 6th day, I was weaned from wearing an oxygen mask to a nasal cannula (a tube in my nose). And by the 9th day, I was off oxygen!,” said Malen.
She expressed her wholhearted gratitude to the government of Dubai, particularly the DHA, whose frontliners and staff ensured that all of their patients will get world class treatment.
“I’m thankful that I was here in Dubai, in the UAE – when I got infected. I had the best hospital care – and for residents who are COVID-positive and who require hospitalisation, medicines and treatment – these are provided for free. Grateful to the UAE for looking after its citizens and residents. I only had to get better! Having no stress or anxiety about getting hospitalised or buying medicines or where to get them from – were such a big factor in my recovery,” said Malen.
Malen shared that COVID-19 made her appreciate the importance of strong family ties even more, and thanked them especially her husband, Abet who has been by her side in her fight towards recovery from the coronavirus.
“I’m so blessed that I have a strong support system. My husband Abet who took care of me in the best way possible! My family with whom I’d have google meets for prayers and just to chat. My friends who prayed for me and who always asked how I was doing. Thank you all! But I’m most thankful to my Jesus – He gave me peace during those uncertain times, and He healed me!,” said Malen.
She hopes that her fellow OFWs would continue to practice preventive measures and to seek treatment as soon as possible if they experience moderate symptoms to avoid COVID-19 complications.
“People should treat Covid seriously. It is real. I’m thankful to God that I’m alive to tell my story. Many others are not as fortunate. My advice to fellow Filipinos – we cannot be too careful. Let’s always practice safety and health protocols always. Pray to Jesus- He is our great healer. Cherish your family and tell them you love them whenever you can,” advised Malen.