Defiant MERS patient gives his version of events

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Defiant MERS patient gives his version of events

Amid the shadow cast by the outbreak here of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), no patient made more headlines than Patient No. 141, whose allegedly defiant behavior was the subject of a multitude of news reports and online conversations.

The 42-year-old was exposed to the virus in Samsung Medical Center’s outpatient ward when he visited with his father on May 27, the same time Patient No. 14 - who went on to transmit the disease to more than 80 people - was being treated there.

He then traveled to Jeju with his family from June 5 to 8, when he went to a horseback-riding course and a theme park. The hotel at which he stayed was also sealed off on June 18.

The patient was also reported to have taken a taxi on June 12 to Gangnam Severance Hospital, instead of an ambulance provided by a local health care center, where he allegedly broke out of the room in which he was isolated.

Other reports stated that he had run out of the facility, shouting that he would “spread MERS to everyone.”

It was also later rumored online that he visited entertainment establishments in Seoul, where intimate contact could have easily spread the virus, before departing for Jeju.

The 42-year-old was confirmed to have MERS on June 13, and news of his behavior soon spread and was scrutinized and picked apart.

In a telephone interview with the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday, the 42-year-old, staying at Seoul Medical Center for treatment, complained that he had been falsely accused and the rumors about him were groundless.

“I didn’t break the latch and break out of the room because there was no latch in the first place,” he said. “I also didn’t go to entertainment establishments either like the rumors said online.”

Q. How are you now?

A. I’m getting better and better. It’s been very painful and difficult to endure every minute and every second, but I’ve heard my condition has improved.

What happened at Gangnam Severance Hospital?

I visited a separate tent [for visitors who thought they may have been exposed to MERS] in front of Severance Hospital’s emergency room. I said that I had been at Samsung Medical Center and that I suspected I had MERS symptoms. A woman wearing protective clothing said I should go back to Samsung hospital because that was where I had been infected.

When I complained and asked if I should take a cab and go directly to the hospital myself, she answered that that was the rule. After I kept complaining, they collected a sample and left me there. I stayed there for about an hour and a half, and a woman, probably a nurse, gave me a note that read, ‘Your results will come back around 10:30 p.m. We will do our best.’

What do you have to say about reports stating you broke the latch on the door?

I just turned the doorknob and pushed the door, and it opened. It’s 100 percent true. If there’s no lock on the door, how can I break it? When I came out, the woman who gave me the note ran over to me. I asked her, ‘Why are you keeping me waiting? I’m sick and I need treatment.’ But it is true that I screamed and swore at her.

Some reports claimed that you shouted before leaving Severance Hospital that you were going to spread MERS to everyone.

I didn’t mean it. They kept refusing to give me medical treatment so I ripped off my [face] mask and said: ‘I don’t know whether the test will be positive or negative, but it’ll be a big problem if I test positive. I’m going home, but if I’m positive for MERS, the virus will spread to everyone on my way.’

Why did you take a taxi to Severance Hospital?

I called a local health center [about my symptoms] and they told me to wait for the ambulance, but I waited 40 minutes and it didn’t show up. I was furious and took a cab, but I was wearing a face mask.

Why did you go to Jeju Island while you were suspected to have MERS?

I’d had a cough for nearly a month, and I didn’t have any MERS symptoms until I went to Jeju. Do you think I would take my wife and 4-year-old daughter with me if I thought I had any MERS symptoms?

Have you visited any entertainment establishments recently?

I’ve heard those rumors, but I didn’t go this month.

The JoongAng Ilbo also asked for explanations from the local Gangnam health care center about the ambulance and Gangnam Severance Hospital about the patient’s accusations that staff there initially refused to treat him.

The local center admitted that it took time to send an ambulance to the man’s house.

“It’s true that we kept him waiting for more than 40 minutes,” an official from the health center said, “but we couldn’t help it because we only had one ambulance.”

Gangnam Severance Hospital had insisted until Monday that there was a lock on the outside of the door, but flipped its account on Tuesday, saying that officials were mistaken and that there had been no latch on the door.

The hospital also noted that Patient No. 141 may have misunderstood staff members’ attempts to ask him about his medical background.

“We repeatedly asked him which area of Samsung Medical Center he visited,” a hospital official said, “and he probably misunderstood we were trying to advise him to go back there.”

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