– Kamala KC
Seoul, South Korea
It was a regular Wednesday evening and I suddenly felt feverish while at work. With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, I immediately suspected that it could be the infection, so I went for a test. Usually in Korea, the test result is sent within the early hours of the following day via text message, but I didn’t receive any message until the afternoon. Later in the evening, I got a call from one of the staff from the community health care center, hereinafter, “Staff”, who then revealed me that I tested positive for Covid-19. Over the call, the Staff asked me several questions in Korean, and with my just conversational language ability, I answered “I don’t know”, to most of the medically-termed questions. I had an option to seek out translation help, but since I did not have underlying health issues, and had “mild” symptoms according to the Staff, I felt safe in answering “I don’t know”.
Over the next couple of hours, I received several follow-up calls from the Staff regarding my symptoms, the places I visited, and the people I met with in the past few days. For further verification, they also requested me to send them my two headshot photos, one with a mask on and the other one without a mask, a photo of identification card, and then bank card details. Overall, the follow-up calls continued on that day until the late night with a strict notice to remain within my perimeter until the Staff pick me up for a quarantine facility —a facility operated by creating an isolation environment in a large-scale accommodation and particularly designed for treating and isolating patients with mild symptoms out of the hospital, namely the Residential Treatment Center (RTC), hereinafter, “Center”.
The following day, I received a text message from an ambulance driver to be ready. Within the next 10 minutes, a driver fully dressed in level D Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) arrived outside my house. He maintained at least two meters distance from me until I got into the ambulance. During my travel, I did not receive any information about the Center. Once at the Center, the instructor standing about five meters away, fully dressed in PPE, guided me the direction to my room and the necessary rules of the Center. He then asked me to pick a package left beside me, the one with my name tagged on it. The package had a few-pages-printed-instructions in English and a tiny bag with medical tools —a thermometer, a pulse oximeter, and a sphygmomanometer. The instructor mentioned that shortly after the self-check-in into the room, a nurse from the Center will contact me through Kakao talk — a famous messenger app in Korea — for further instructions.
Following the directives, I arrived at my room, the seventh floor of the Center. The room, which I had to share with the other patient was just like any hostel or hotel room—two beds with an attached bathroom. Beside my bed was a huge sealed box marked with my name on it; that had all the necessary items — towels, bed sheet, the bedcover, pillows, sanitizers, toilet papers, wet tissues, tea and coffee packets, cup noodles, water bottles, toothpaste and brush, mini shampoos, conditioners, and body lotions. Outside the box, there was an extra multi-plug, a tea kettle, and an intercom connected to the Center’s information desk.
A few minutes later into the room, I received a video call from the Center’s nurse on Kakao talk. She inquired me about the then health situation and the past medical history. Over the telemedicine call, the nurse confirmed that if my symptoms remain this mild, I could leave the Center in the next eight days. She emphasized that without the prescription and permission, I should not take any of the medicine handed to me in the package at the entrance, not even the Tylenol (a Paracetamol).
During the stay in the Center, there were three nurses assigned for each patient for the telemedicine. Twice a day (8 a.m and 2 p.m), the medical team sent me a survey via Kakao talk, where I had to fill up the details of my health condition. The survey had questions about the measurement of fever, oxygen rate, blood pressure, and other health issues like cough, body ache, headache, sore throat, runny nose, stomach ache, allergies, and loss of appetite, stress, and anxiety. In case, I missed the survey, one of the nurses would call for a reminder. They would also call for a confirmation if they noticed any inaccuracy in the report.
The food in the Center was free of cost and was served three times a day on time— breakfast by 7 a.m, lunch by noon, and dinner by 6 p.m. A meal typically consisted of rice, a few types of meat, vegetables, eggs, soup, fruits, juice, afternoon snacks, and an extra packet of Kimchi — fermented vegetables (like pickle), a signature side menu for nearly all Korean meals. Once the food was delivered outside the door, the Center would make a room announcement so that I could pick it up. With the food packets, they used to leave a white bucket with a big plastic bag— for any disposals. Once in a day, I had to use that bucket to dispose of the waste food and the trashes, tightly cover it up, sanitize it and then leave it outside the door for the Center team to pick it up. Like this, for the following eight days, I had no physical human contacts except for a chest X-ray after two days of my arrival at the Center. Fortunately, the chest x-ray result came negative for any underlying problems, so that the nurses confirmed that I could leave the Center by the eighth day.
On the eighth day, the Center team left a few empty boxes outside my door so I could dispose of all my trashes. The nurse confirmed that I was safe enough to travel home by public transportation and start my normal activity. Before I left the Center, I was asked to hand back the medical equipment to the Center instructor at the same entrance where I received them. After 10 days of my Covid-19 infection, I was allowed to resume my normal activities.
Overall, luckily, my first Covid-19 experience in Korea went without any medical treatment, but just with isolation at the RTC. And, I mainly shared this personal experience for two reasons (i) to let the foreigners in Korea know what to expect when you suddenly get infected with the Covid-19 and then (ii) to relay the message on how the government of Korea, with its robust health care system, is taking care of the Covid-19 patients, free of cost, equally for foreigners.