SINGAPORE: When he was confirmed as COVID-19 positive,what 23-year-old Lionel Tan felt was not worry nor sadness; it was relief.
“I was relieved because based on what my symptoms were, I was quite sure I had COVID-19,” the Hougang United defender told CNA. “I didn’t want to stay home because I wanted to keep my family safe.”
Tan, who at that point was a full-time national serviceman (NSF), had been on medical leave from Apr 1 after a wisdom tooth extraction. He was due to report to camp a week later but had been told to stay home until further notice due to the COVID-19 situation.
“(Those of us staying at home) were not allowed to go anywhere apart from doing essential activities,” said Tan. “I didn’t really go anywhere apart from down (to) my park (for exercise) … or to the coffee shop to buy food.”
Tan only returned to camp once – for a standard medical check up prior to his operationally ready date (ORD), marking the end of his full-time stint in national service.
At that point, he was not displaying any symptoms of the virus.
“CFC (NS) Lionel Tan cleared his ORD medical check up at Mandai Hill Camp on 9 Apr 2020 and thereafter did not enter any SAF (SIngapore Armed Forces) premises,” said MINDEF in response to CNA.
On Apr 13, Tan began to feel an unusual sense of fatigue as well as an intense backache which meant that he couldn’t sleep at night.
“I started feeling weak, just heavy fatigue and having an intense backache, which affected my sleep because I couldn’t even lay still without feeling the ache,” he said. This was accompanied by cough and flu symptoms, which went away after self-medicating for one day.
But the aches and pains did not. Tan figured it might have been from his daily workouts, but this felt different.
“Normally, the next day I would recover, I would feel good – but this was just persistent,” he recalled. Then Tan lost his sense of taste and smell.
“It didn’t kick in that it might be COVID-19 … I thought maybe it (the loss of senses of taste and smell) might have been from the flu,” he said.
But with the symptoms continuing to persist, Tan decided to see a general practitioner several days later.
“I told the doctor about my symptoms – she said that I didn’t have any contact with positive COVID-19 patients, and I hadn’t travelled in the last 14 days, so it was very unlikely that I had the virus in me,” he recalled.
“I remember myself saying that I had a loss of taste and smell as well, but she told me to my face that it was not the symptom of COVID-19. But prior to that, I had been googling and finding out what the symptoms were and I had read that the loss of taste and smell was a symptom as well.
“But she said that – and she’s a doctor so I assumed she’s right.”
Despite the medication Tan was given, things did not seem to improve. On the advice of a friend, he got himself checked again, this time by a different doctor at the same clinic.
This time, he was immediately referred to a hospital for a COVID-19 test. On the night of Apr 23, Tan was told that he had tested positive.
“It just felt unreal that I actually had COVID-19 although I was not so scared and panicky about it,” said Tan. “At the isolation room, there are two panels of glass doors between you and the nurses.” he added. “It shows how serious the virus is.”
‘THERE WAS A BIT OF WORRY’
Tan spent one night in the isolation room in Ng Teng Fong General Hospital before he was transferred to a ward where there were five foreign workers.
“Two of them in my ward had been in Singapore for almost ten years, they have family back in Bangladesh,” Tan explained. “My understanding is that their family members don’t know that they have COVID-19. They told me that they don’t want to worry their family members because if their family members know that they have COVID-19, they would be crying, they would be very worried.”
His time spent on the ward with the foreign workers also opened his eyes to how vulnerable they are, added Tan.
“It was a good experience for me because it makes me realise that they are more vulnerable and people who need more help,” he said. “We became friends and I’m still in contact with one of them. He does video call me every now and then … I never really spoke to them or heard them open up before this.”
Tan was later transferred to the community care facility at D’Resort, where he would eventually spend almost three weeks recuperating. Having spent some time away from home in 2019 to attend training camps and competitions with the Singapore Under-22 football team, staying there “wasn’t exactly torturous”, said Tan.
Living in a room on the first floor meant that he could stand at the balcony to enjoy the sun and even strike up conversations with other patients who lived in rooms above him.
“My neighbours whom I spoke to when I was there would try to motivate each other, so we had a group chat for this group of people in D’Resort. Everybody is there to cheer each other up, to help each other, and motivate each other,” he said.
“It’s something I don’t think I could experience if I weren’t a patient. It seldom happens where strangers just come together and form a group and then start talking. Soon there were more people joining the group and we got to know each other. We even played some games online together just to keep each other company.”
Later in his stay at D’Resort, Tan roomed with his brother, who had tested positive for the virus a day after him.
“I share a room with my brother at home so when I saw him the first thing was that we laughed quite a bit because it just felt weird seeing each other again … Apart from ordering food together and just doing our own thing, it felt obviously more comfortable to see your own family member again,” he added.
Having signed a contract to join Singapore Premier League side Hougang United, Tan said that the support the team provided him was also something he appreciated.
Singapore’s domestic football league, the Singapore Premier League, has been suspended since March 24.
“The management together with my coach, be it call or text, they would always try to check on me, see how I’m feeling,” he recalled.
“You never know when you might be out (discharged). Maybe during the process, the league might have returned, but I wouldn’t be safe to return to training or unable to train. Football has always been the only thing on my mind, that’s what I want to do so there was a bit of worry but Hougang definitely gave me the assurance for that.”
The “family environment” fostered at the club means that players and staff alike care for each other, said Hougang’s head coach Clement Teo. This, he stressed, is “crucial”.
“I have friends who also contracted COVID-19, and they were at the resort and I told him (Tan) what he needs to bring. He sounded well and I told him to just be aware of what’s next,” said Teo.
Club staff also made it a point to keep in touch with Tan regularly to make sure he was coping well, Teo added.
“I have my general manager who checked on him as well as players who linked up with him as well. They were already informed that Lionel would be a part of us when he finishes his NS. He has some good friends within the club, they contacted him and they spoke,” he said.
‘EVERYONE WANTS TO GET BACK TO PLAYING’
Tan was eventually discharged from D’Resort on May 17, after testing negative for the virus.
“I was quite surprised when they told me I had tested negative for the second time,” he said. “I was just super relieved, super happy that I was COVID-19 free before I returned home, and I can go back to training with the team.”
While the return date for the Singapore Premier League has yet to be confirmed, Tan is determined to return to full fitness after spending close to a month away from home.
“Before COVID-19, I was definitely a bit fitter than I am now, but ever since I was out, I never really took an off day from working on myself,” he said. “On top of the programme that the club gave to me, I know that I have to catch up and I have to be better than I was last year … Being sick in the month of May definitely affected my fitness but I’m pretty sure that probably soon when we start training I will get back everything.”
On top of Hougang’s training sessions, Tan now also clocks extra workouts of his own.
“My goal is to start off the season where I left off last year and be better than myself. I think I need it for my career to move forward,” he said. “I’m very excited to get back into the changing room, have my teammates around me, enjoy football again, and just work hard for the result.
“When I was there (in D’Resort), a few of my teammates texted me, Fabian (Kwok), recently, even Stipe (Plazibat), he texted me to see how I was doing and how I felt. From there you can tell that everyone cares for each other … Everyone wants to get back to playing.”
Tan’s return to Hougang will be a homecoming of sorts for the centre-back, having turned out for the Cheetahs prior to enlisting.
“He played for Hougang before he enlisted into the army and we still kept in contact from time to time, even during his National Service when he was playing for the Young Lions. So it is more like: ‘Welcome back’ and we expect him to do well,” Teo told CNA. “He has not changed. He is still young and the will to do well is still very high and I’m very pleased with how he is coping.”
Tan still does not know how he might have contracted the virus, and he was keen to highlight that it is not to be trifled with.
“I really have no idea whether it was my brother or me that got it first. It shows us that the virus can be anywhere and in anyone. So if you have any symptoms that you think you might have caught it, just go and get yourself checked. The test is not as scary or painful as what people say. If it gives you assurance, just go and do it,” he said.
“From my experience with COVID-19, I learnt to be more patient and appreciative – anything can be taken away from you anytime.”
Published at Sun, 14 Jun 2020 04:10:37 +0000