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Our Covid-19 experience: How an expat couple discovers they have the virus and overcome it

Editor’s note: This is the story of Jane and Steve Miner’s experience with Covid-19 in May/June 2020. Some of you will have already followed their journey as documented on Facebook. They were both fortunate to have had very mild cases and feel that, as more knowledge about this virus unfolds, it is important that we learn from each other.
Jane tells their Covid-19 story.

Like many of you, we thought we were taking all the necessary precautions. We never left the apartment without a mask and gloves, we disinfected our shoes, our shopping bags and anything that entered the apartment, including money, our used ATM cards, groceries, washed our clothes, etc. I did most of the shopping, just a short walk to Supermaxi Don Bosco, bought fresh items at the nearby pop-up mercaditos, and I had taken two long walks to the Remigio Crespo/stadium area to pay bills. That included lines at the Caja Coop and Produbanco.

This the timeline of what happened next.

Monday, April 27: I felt “off” and by 2 p.m. my body ached all over. After a feverish sleep all afternoon I ate a small dinner. By 7 p.m. my fever was 101.8. By 10 p.m. I awoke with no fever and feeling better, but 24-hours later (and still feeling fine), I began recognizing the tell-tale signs of a sinus infection. Because I really didn’t want to go to a doctor’s office, I waited a couple of days before texting my ENT, Dr. Roberto Vasquez.

Jane and Steve Miner

Friday, May 1: Feeling fine, Steve walks to the pharmacy to get my prescriptions. Though I can’t taste anything, five days later my sinus infection is much better and my taste is returning. By Monday, May 4, Steve cannot smell or taste anything. Given his occasional state of sinus congestion, this did not seem concerning.

Tuesday, May 5: Steve was exhausted and, except for small meals, slept for most of the next several days. He had no fever, no headache, no pain, or other virus symptoms whatsoever, other than his loss of taste and smell, which continued for several weeks.

On Saturday, May 9, I contacted Dr. Vasquez who highly recommended that we go to the Santa Ines laboratory to get tested. Now we were really getting concerned. After several attempts and due to the mobility lockdown in place, I was not able to secure a taxi or personal driver. I called 911 to ask for a policeman to drive us: all ambulances were busy, and the police are not taxis. They’d call back. I went out on the sidewalk and darned if there weren’t two policemen right there! The one called 911: they’ll call me back. By the time they called 2 1/2-hours later with an available ambulance (Steve didn’t need an ambulance; we just wanted a ride), we had decided to wait until Monday. After all, how would we get home? Steve was much too wiped out to walk home, which we normally would have done.

Monday, May 11: A taxi ride to Santa Ines and we were standing on our distancing “circle of life” outside the lab. A tech in full Tyvek and face shield came outside to take our information and list of symptoms. I explained that I had no symptoms other than one day of fever and body aches, then had a sinus infection and was by then all better and feeling great; I am thinking asymptomatic if anything.

Steve listed his symptoms and, a few minutes later, I was first in for the PCR nasal swab. Steve was next. While these tests are not always accurate, in order to get a true positive result, it must be necessary to swab behind your eyeballs, at least that’s how it felt. Bearable but far from pleasant. This cost $120/each. We were each given a card with a test number on it so we could check our results on-line 24 to 48-hrs later. Our results would also be sent to Dr. Vasquez.

The hospital ER is next to their laboratory, so we stopped there to have Steve’s oxygen level checked, which was fine. That was done by a nurse in the outside doorway. I then went to the pharmacy for some regular items, nothing was prescribed regarding the virus, then Steve waited while I went up to the tienda on Calle Larga to buy a few things.

How could I do that, you ask? Honestly, looking back, you’re absolutely right. We didn’t have our results yet. The thing is that I felt great and we truly didn’t think we’d test positive. After all, weren’t we supposed to be really sick? Of course, we had to take a taxi home, too. Though Steve was very weak before we left our apartment, by the time we finished at Santa Ines he was feeling much better and his exhaustion never returned. If I hadn’t contacted the doctor and if we had waited one more day, we likely never would have gone for the test. 

Twenty-four hours later, they called with our results: both positive. We were truly surprised. Dr. Vasquez explained that we had to quarantine for the next 15 days and that’s what we did.

We informed the head guard at our complex and our landlord, and they both informed the administrator who then contacted me. At his request, I was able to print our test results. He then posted signs stating that the residents in Apt #-X tested positive and were quarantined. I notified local friends and posted our situation on Facebook and the offers of help and moral support poured in. This made all the difference in our emotional states. Our administrator even took our cash and paid Movistar, deposited our rent, and collected our trash.

The next Friday we received our first call from a rep at the Ministerio de Salud (Ministry of Health), checking on our symptoms and asking if we needed any medicines. Fortunately, my Spanish is just good enough to get the gist of his inquires. He called every three days. I eventually started texting him in WhatsApp because Steve and I had questions regarding retesting. With Google Translate, communicating became a breeze. We took our nearby neighbors and friends, Jackie and Judith, up on their offer to deliver our groceries each week, after their housekeeper, Janina did the shopping for both of us. Another friend went to the ATM for us. We were required to inform the administrator when someone would be coming to make a delivery, otherwise the guards would not let them up.

Wednesday, May 27: Day 16 and, as instructed, we went to a Clinica de Salud (health clinic) in our precinct that also has a laboratory. (There is a clinic two blocks away but without a lab, where we occasionally get a free blood pressure check.)

Yes, we might still be positive but we were in another taxi. Our rep said to be there at 8, so we were surprised to see a line outside and, after showing them our rep’s text, we were assigned numbers 12 and 13 (and the only gringos), and the line continued around the corner and kept growing. The guy behind us said that most were there because they were required to get the test to return to work. After some time, a tech came and collected everyone’s name and cedula number. A pick-up truck delivered a 3’x3’ glass lab booth that was to be the PCR testing site in the parking lot. The testing didn’t start until about 9:10 and we left by 9:20. When you stepped up for your turn outside the booth, the nurse had a bucket of vials marked with everyone’s ID. After confirming your information, the nurse, with her hands extending out the ends of the plastic sleeves of the booth, opened a new set of swabs and proceeded to do a thorough job with the swab.

Wednesday, June 3: Remaining quarantined, I received my result: positive. Rats! I remained in contact with our rep, bugging him really, and sent him a couple of interesting articles about the virus and how long it may or may not last in the body.

Tuesday, June 9, after more aggressive prodding, we received Steve’s result: negative. Because by now I had been quarantined for 14-days after my second positive test I was also released from quarantine. Oh my goodness, what a relief to go beyond our windows and stand in the sunshine and fresh air! After 36 ½-years of marriage, we survived 58 days of lockdown and 30 days of quarantine without so much as a squabble!

So, after all that, people most want to know where and how we think we caught Covid-19. After our quarantine began, we learned that one of our guards had tested positive and was quarantined (he has not returned to work and we don’t know why). Perhaps a week prior to my day of fever, I had stopped to say hello to him out at the guard shack, as I often do, and he did not have his mask on while in the shack. Otherwise, it was possibly the lines at Caja, Produbanco, Supermaxi, or from the ATM. We will never know.

Surprisingly, the Ministerio never inquired as to our contacts leading up to our initial positive test result. All we know for sure is that, even though this really feels like a modern-day Russian roulette, proper and reasonable precautions must be taken. Being slow to socialize, we will continue to wear our masks, wash, disinfect, and repeat.

_____________________________
Jane and Steve Miner
are expats from Connecticut who love living in Cuenca, and have explored many parts of Ecuador, since 2016. Steve’s favorite pastime is hiking with a great group of folks in the Cajas and surrounding barrios. Volunteerism, cribbage, and time with friends fill Jane’s days.