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Former MERS patient describes his recovery

June 09,2015
During an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, one of the first Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) patients to be cured and sent from the hospital reflected on worrying about his family while he was in isolation.

“I had no clue how contagious the disease was,” said the 50-year-old, a doctor and the fifth person to be diagnosed with MERS and the second to win the battle against it, on Monday.

“I was worried about whether my family could have caught the virus just by being in the same room as me, so I called them every single day [while in quarantine] to check their physical condition.”

The doctor, who worked at the now-closed 365 Open Clinic in Gangdong District, eastern Seoul, was one of several medical staff who came into direct contact with the 68-year-old Korean male who became the country’s first MERS patient late last month.

He is still under quarantine.

Here is an edited excerpt of the interview, which outlines the eight days the doctor spent in recovery.



Q. What were your symptoms?



A. In terms of my personal symptoms, there really isn’t much [to talk about]: a bit of muscle pain, indigestion, some coughing and a meager fever just high enough to fall after taking a few pills. The muscle pain wasn’t severe enough to take any painkillers. It hurt a little for about three to four days, but I got a lot better from the fifth. After a week, I started reading.



What was the most difficult pain to endure?

I don’t know whether my case can be comparable with that of other MERS patients. I was pretty healthy before the disease and also diagnosed pretty early, so it wasn’t as tough [as people assume]. I didn’t have trouble breathing. I’ve had the flu before, and if I were to grade the pain that ensued up to a 7, I’d say MERS was a 3 or a 4.



What was your daily schedule?

I had no sense of life during the first several days of treatment, but when I settled down later on I felt like my world was in tragedy. The television was one of my very few tools of connection with the outer world. I saw endless false rumors about MERS on the Internet, and being unable to speak up about the truth was what suffocated me the most. I was also worried about my own patients, and the false rumors that I treated them even after hearing the news I had MERS.



How are you feeling now?

I’m completely fine. I have a small cough, but I feel the same as I did before I had MERS.



As a doctor and former MERS patient, do you have anything to say about the current spread of the virus in Korea?

Fundamentally, I think doctors generally have to reflect upon their [lack of professionalism], because they were ignorant of MERS to begin with. In that sense, I think the outbreak may have been our [Korean doctors’] fault.



Do you have any advice to our readers?

Don’t worry too much. Based on my own case, I think people can easily beat the virus if they act fast by reporting any symptoms. Society’s current level of panic seems quite similar to that of the swine flu outbreak in 2009, but even then, patients were OK as long as they were treated within two days after diagnosis. As long as people aren’t already chronically ill with some other kind of sickness, I think Korean medical technology is advanced enough to cure MERS patients.

BY RHEE ESTHER, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]


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