A survivor's guide to managing Covid-19

Here's how my sister and I survived the infection and lived to tell the tale.

Updated May 30, 2020 07:18pm

I contracted the coronavirus during Ramazan after caring for my sister, Sarah Minhaj Qureshi, a front-liner employed at a leading heart institute. She contracted the virus from her place of work.

We both survived, along with my other younger sister Zeinab. But it wasn’t easy.

When my sister first received her confirmation, we were scared. We had no idea what to do or how to go about it. Mostly, we were frustrated by the lack of information, supplies, medical assistance and a general atmosphere of fear.

She and I would often laugh about how we both had studied the Spanish flu, her at medical school and I at dental school, and would always think that the modern world we live in can’t possibly suffer through something like that — the medical science we know now is much too advanced.

But here we were, along with the rest of the world, brought to our knees in front of something that isn’t even a couple 100 nanometers.

And while the disease is being treated as a plague, and for good reason, the truth is that we still don't have enough information about how the disease operates even after all these months.

That’s when I decided to pen this down, a manual on our experiences —what helped us and how it could help others.

Of course, this does not replace what a physician or family doctor advises. However, it is meant to act as a precautionary measure to help you tackle it to the best of your abilities.

While you should avoid anything that may lead you to contracting this virus, but say, if you do get infected, where do you go from there?

Let’s start with the basics.

What IS Covid-19?

Covid-19 is a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus. 'CO' stands for corona, 'VI' for virus, and 'D' for disease. Previously, this disease was referred to as '2019 novel coronavirus' or '2019-nCoV.'

At the point of writing this, Pakistan has surpassed 66,000 cases nationwide. We're living through a terrifying time, only being amplified by the negligence of our government and carelessness of our people, and sadly, with no way of stopping.


How does the virus work?

How does any virus work? By invading the host and mutating it with its RNA in the cells, affecting either some localised organ or is more generalised.

But this strain of the coronavirus works in two stages:

In mild cases, the disease will be isolated to the conducting airways and won’t proceed forward to the alveoli in your lungs, where gaseous exchange occurs.

In severe cases, it invades said alveoli and that’s where your usual symptoms of cough and cold develop into fever and pneumonia.

This all happens within a course of a few days, with the first day being completely asymptomatic and the virus progressing to your upper airway in the next 48 hours. And for a lucky 80%, that’s where it stays.

A common misconception is that the virus can’t be detected early on; the moment you realise you have come in contact with a patient the most responsible thing to do would be to go and get tested. Do not wait.


But if not tackled properly from the get-go, it can extend down to your lungs and that’s where the problem starts.

In mild cases, the virus might give you a sore throat. In more severe cases, there's a high likelihood of contracting pneumonia.

New symptoms are being discovered every day, ranging from mild fever, cough and muscle weakness to rashes, nausea, diarrhoea and even stroke, in some rare cases. A fact that is making the prognosis and diagnosis so convoluted. We don’t have an actual scope or textbook description of what to expect here.

But there is hope. It’ll be taxing, but this can and has been treated at home with just relieving symptoms that present themselves during the roughly two-week period. My sisters and I are examples, not exceptions.

A few sites you can check for further explanation is the CDC, WHO and NHS!

How to detect it? What if I test positive?

A common misconception is that the virus can’t be detected early on; the moment you realise you have come in contact with a patient the most responsible thing to do would be to go and get tested. Do not wait.

But, if you have hesitations, get a regular CBC (blood test) done instead and start isolating. The results will show a decrease in your Lymphocytes and Leukocytes, two integral parts of your immune system, which means your body is tackling something and then you must take the Covid-19 test to confirm.

Say it comes out positive. Now what?

Well, if you have been isolating from the start of your suspicions and practising social distancing, you and your loved ones are safe. Now it’s just a matter of prepping with some essential supplies and waiting it out.

New symptoms are being discovered every day, ranging from mild fever, cough and muscle weakness to rashes, nausea, diarrhoea and even stroke, in some rare cases. A fact that is making the prognosis and diagnosis so convoluted. We don’t have an actual scope or textbook description of what to expect here.


And if you’re a smoker or live around a chain-smoker: stop immediately. You need to make sure you’re getting a lot of fresh air and have clear pathways so that the smoking doesn’t complicate the respiratory disease further!

Maybe invest in patches or nicotine gum, but no vaping, smoking or hookah. You cannot risk it.

Also, it is extremely helpful to have your caretaker learn auscultating and using a BP app through someone trained in clinical sciences when you can’t reach a physician in a pinch. Vital monitoring is VERY important and the key to practising safe isolation.

And your vitals include things like your temperature (above 96.5F and below 99F is the range we felt most comfortable with), your heartbeats per minute (60-100BPM is considered normal when resting), your oxygen saturation (Most important. This is a respiratory virus after all and if the number goes below 95%, you should seek a physician. And if you’re are a chronic smoker, take EXTRA precaution with this) and your breathing pattern and blood pressure (to ensure everything else is healthy).

You will need to be isolated for 14 days, at the very least. It can go on for longer, obviously, but that is the minimum number of days you should stay in before getting a second test to see if the virus has subsided.

Equipment to keep on you:

Supplements to boost immunity:

Dietary/Lifestyle measures:

What to expect?

Of course, there's a chance you might not experience ANY symptoms at all during the entire course.

My sisters never actually registered a fever, but one, Sarah, did complain of shortness of breath. And not because she had any kind of lung infection, but because her muscle weakness was so terrible that even breathing was a chore.

Yes, this does happen. And it feels terrible.

We also had tachycardia where we would wake up from our sleep and could hear our heart pounding in our heads. And we even checked it out, our heartbeat would be at a whopping 134-145 BPM, while resting.

Needless to say, we didn’t get a lot of sleep. And this will last, even now my sister and I feel weak, sickly and have random aches. The post-viral syndrome lasts for months before a person is fully recuperated so don’t feel disheartened.

The thing to remember is that even if you test positive, it is not the end of the world. It’s okay to cry, meditate, turn to prayer. You might even need therapy after it, but again, it’s okay. Symptoms vary, some days you'll feel amazing and some days you'll feel like a truck hit you. In either case, relax and eat your heart out.


We are speaking only from experience and of course, do all of this at your own discretion.

But I completely get how frustrating everything seems right now and the smallest clearing of a throat can seem scary. And that’s one of the most important things I wanted to talk about: The mental stress of it all.

I suffer from anxiety and depression, and the way this disease eats at your mental health is not being talked about enough. It is heavy on the mind and takes a big toll on you. My sister and I had constant anxiety attacks which, again, we’d confuse with SOB (Shortness of Breath) and then panic even more which really didn’t help us.

And it’s okay, you won’t be alone in this either. The thing to remember is that even if you test positive, it is not the end of the world. It’s okay to cry, meditate, turn to prayer. You might even need therapy after it, but again, it’s okay.

Symptoms vary, some days you'll feel amazing and some days you'll feel like a truck hit you. In either case, relax and eat your heart out. These are trying times, but you are not alone.

No one deserves to go through this and in doing so:Please practice social distancing. Stop going outside. Stop endangering others and yourself. This is a very serious pandemic and it needs to be treated as such.

And above all, always, always keep a doctor or physician on speed dial. Should you need medical assistance, it must be readily available to you.

I hope this proves helpful in any way, shape or form. All my love to you and yours!

Good luck!