Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Never thought COVID-19 would be a topic for our story, and neither would I be sharing this experience myself. My journey chased by the Coronavirus started from China to Taiwan, Italy, Paris, and eventually came back to Taiwan to battle with the virus.
How It All Started: The Great Escape
In early January, when I was in Shanghai for work and heard about a new virus spreading from Wuhan, I cut the trip short and went to Taiwan for Chinese New Year with my family. As the outbreak worsened, Taiwan put the travel ban to visitors from Mainland China in early February. Many people started to wear masks and carry hand sanitizers in public.
I was worried about getting stuck in Asia as there were still upcoming commitments in Europe, so I flew to London first then went to Sicily, Italy for projects. During my journey in Sicily, we heard that 14 towns in northern Italy got locked down, and COVID-19 started to spread in Europe. Soon enough, entire northern Italy went on lock down, but I still had a flight through Milan to Paris for Fashion Week. I had a lot of anxiety flying through the hotspot during the outbreak as I heard many people in Asia got contracted by the virus during transit at the airport. I was one of the very few wearing masks, goggles, and gloves the entire flight from Catania to Milano, then to Paris. I received quite a lot of attention on board, but I cared about my safety first.
The Parisian Charm Until The Lock Down & Flee
When I arrived in Paris, the city was still in a festive mood for fashion week since there were only a few cases diagnosed in other parts of the country. On March 6th, right after fashion week, my friends and I organized dinner for 12 people from all over the world in a trendy restaurant. Then we had an afterparty followed the dinner in a famous nightclub. Everyone had a blast that night, and that was when I lowered my guard. Next Tuesday, I received a call from a couple from the dinner saying they started to have coughs and fever. They suspected they might have caught the flu from another friend. As I was feeling alright, I continued my busy social calendar and joined a group dinner with my fashion crew the next day. I asked my friends at the table if they were concerned about the outbreak, but they were optimistic about it. "We are Parisians, and we enjoy life till the last minute!" said by a friend. We were not genuinely practicing social distancing yet.
After I got back to the hotel that night, I started to feel fatigued, and my temperature was rising. The fever went away quickly after a hot bath and some emergency medicine, but it was just the beginning. I got a sore throat on Thursday morning, and by the evening, I began coughing consistently and found myself having difficulty to speak. I told my friends about my conditions while they were having high fevers at home, we decided to call the COVID-19 hotline in France together. After 2 hours of wait, we finally got connected. The doctor asked us to perform "Deep Breathing" over the phone and then told us our breathing sounded fine. He advised us to see the home doctor and get Flu medicine. During lunchtime on Friday, I sat outside with a friend at a famous bistro in Saint Germain with some burgers and fries along with a glass of Aperol Spritz. At first the drink tasted like soda, and the burger was still. I was complaining about the food to my friend, and when I dipped the fries into the mustard, I realized the problem wasn't the food, but my taste and smell ability, which I lost completely. I started to panic, and after a few phone calls, I found out half of my friends from the first dinner group were experiencing similar symptoms. I began to picture the worst scenario of the pandemic, and I heard it was complicated to gain access to COVID-19 testing in Paris. Soon after Italy announcing a national lock down, I knew it was not the best idea to stay in Europe. Many EU countries were not prepared for the sudden outbreak. Therefore, I made an executive decision to cancel my meetings in London and booked a flight to Taipei for that Sunday. When President Macron issued a national lock down for France starting at midnight Sunday, I had already begun to pack up everything for my trip to Taiwan. A notification came up on my phone, mentioning my flight got canceled. It was a terrifying moment knowing the possibility of getting stuck in France during the lock down. I started calling every airline, and finally, after another two flight cancellations, I managed to secure a seat on a flight to Taipei in the morning.
The Strict Measures in Taiwan & The Big News
After landed in Taiwan on Monday, March 16th, every passenger was required to fill out a survey listed all the countries traveled in the past 14 days. I informed the healthcare professionals at the airport about my symptoms, then was taken by them to conduct the swab test directly. They told me the result would come out in about 24 hrs and arranged a "Quarantine" taxi for me to get home. At that time, all passengers traveled from Europe had to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days. The CDC in Taiwan had teamed up with local authorities to confirm my arrival at home and inquired about my quarantine conditions. I had to document my body temperature twice a day, along any symptoms during the quarantine period. They also conducted the contact tracing to understand who I had met since I returned to Taiwan. It was like a serious operation in the detective movie.
The very next morning, a goodie bag was sent to my home with healthy food and a cell phone from the local authorities. So they could reach me and make sure I stayed home all the time. (There is a big fine from 100k to 1 million NTD if you break the quarantine rules.) While I was enjoying the healthy snacks on Tuesday evening, I received a call from CDC with the news that the test came out "Positive" for the COVID-19. I asked for 1-2 hours to calm my emotions and get ready for CDC to pick me up. It was the scariest thing to be in the ambulance alone. Since then, I started my battle and treatment in the hospital in Taipei.
33 Days in Isolation & The Road to Recovery
Each COVID-19 patient is isolated and treated separately in the negative pressure room. I did not share the news of my diagnose until after seven days in the hospital: first to avoid unnecessary attention and negative perception from the public and secondly to focus on getting better as my coughing and anosmia continued. Lots of support from my family, friends, and followers poured in from all over the world to cheer me up. During the second week, I started feeling some chest pains, and after conducting a CT Scanning, the doctor found some infections in my lungs. They put me under new treatment and medication, including Hydroxychloroquine, to prevent the infection from getting worse. The medical team told me the second week is crucial for most of COVID19 patients, and I was lucky enough to stabilize and turn the situation around. I had much less coughs, and my taste started to come back at the end of the second week.
Going into the third week, I became asymptomatic, and my energy level recovered. The doctors conducted a new round of virus testing on me. In Taiwan, each patient needs to obtain three consecutive negative results before getting discharged from the hospital. This way, the authority can make sure the patient is 100% virus-free before returning to society. Unfortunately, my second result came back "Positive," so I had to wait for another week for the next round. The recovery became more protracted than expected as we realized the virus continued staying in the body even when the symptoms are gone.
The same drama happened to the second round, and my Covid-19 retreat was extended into the fourth week. Luckily my routine workout and work schedule kept me busy while counting the days in the hospital, and I was trying to document and share the details from the little isolated world. Besides the regular checkups and touch base with the medical team, I had yummy hospital meals three times a day, with fresh wardrobe, desserts, books, and supplements sent in weekly. The convenience of online shopping and delivery had become my life support besides the actual treatment. And thankfully, I had the best family and friends entertaining me via Zoom or Facetime from morning to night, from business conferences to online birthday parties. It was indeed a new way of life in the quarantine.
Finally, I was released from the hospital after scoring three negatives in a row. The hospital even prepared a little surprise party to celebrate my recovery on my last day. Before I left, I donated seven tubes of blood to support COVID-19 related research and vaccine development. We all hope the cure and vaccine can come to life soon so that this pandemic could be ended.
Thirty-three days in the isolation was tough and bittersweet, especially for a people person like me. Patience and Positivity helped me the most carry through this long battle. For me, this experience was an opportunity to pause and reflect, but also a lesson to share with others so they could be more aware and protect themselves better. I decided to accept the invitation and shared my COVID-19 journey on the National News Channels in Taiwan. My wish was to demonstrate the positive take on being contracted by the virus and urge the public not to label and discriminate against the COVID-19 patients. It could happen to anyone, our family members, or our loved ones. Lastly, I want to share my immense gratitude towards Taiwan CDC and the medical team for their hard work, expertise, and dedication to keep our homeland safe and running.
Exclusive interview about my battle against Covid-19 with TVBS News in Taiwan.
(April 15, 2020)
- Full Story (In Chinese) : TVBS News
" I thought I escaped COVID-19, but I didn't!" The nasty virus eventually caught me, but it was a blessing to recover under an excellent healthcare system and to stay connected to people I care about and love more than ever!