VIRUS DIARY: In South Korea, a daughter’s worry and a test

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In this March 18, 2020, photo, medical equipments and official quarantine notice, delivered by the government, are laid out on floor in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea has been lauded for its effective response to the pandemic without enacting lockdown and other draconian measures (AP Photo/Juwon Park)

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — I’ve always thought I would be prepared to face my mom’s death. I grew up watching her go through a series of illnesses and a medical accident that almost took her life a few years ago.

She often speaks of a future without her in it. She’s been rushing me to save up and buy a flat so she can find peace knowing I’ll have a roof over my head. To be frank, she’s not the only one who’s been thinking about a possibility of her sudden absence. I’m a journalist, though. I can handle surprises.

But when unexpected news about the coronavirus ambushed my family, I found that I couldn’t.

When I heard my mom saying, through a door crack, that she might have the coronavirus, my heart sank like a free-falling elevator. I jumped out of bed. She had just received a call from her employer who told her that a colleague had tested positive for COVID-19. Eight days before, my brother and mom chatted with that colleague and drank coffee that she’d brewed.

Someone from a local community health center will be in touch shortly, my mom was told.

“What do we do?” I asked, realizing the vagueness of the question. As I spoke, Soonduk, a baby pug we adopted a few months ago, suddenly yelped. “What do we do with him if we are all quarantined?” my dad asked.

While waiting for the call, my mom sat down at our kitchen table and started typing on her computer. She said she was organizing everything, from bank account details to old photos, in case she was hospitalized and “doesn’t make it back home.” We sat there, not knowing what to do.

Over the next few hours, my brother and mom separately received calls. They were asked about their recent whereabouts and people they’d been in contact with. They were asked to download an app with a location tracker and report their temperature twice a day. Two bags containing medical equipment, masks and an official self-quarantine notice arrived a couple hours later. A bag full of groceries was also quietly left in front of our doorstep.

I decided to self-isolate as well. I’d been breathing the same air as them, after all.

Soon, though, I regretted my decision. The house started to simmer with tension and anxiety. I know that having a place to self-quarantine is a privilege in itself, but the fear and the sudden transition to an enclosed environment affected everyone in different ways.

The chest pain that Mom already had started getting worse. My brother started to breathe heavily while sleeping. My irritation grew into anger when I found out that my mom’s colleague had an infected family member yet still came to work while running a fever. I asked myself: “Would I be able to forgive her if my mom dies?”

I started waking up at 3 a.m. because I ran out of the prescription sleeping aids I take every day. As the night stretched toward dawn, waves of anxiety and fear hit me.

Saturday came, and my family all got tested. It took 30 seconds. I got the back of my throat swabbed with what looked like a giant Q-Tip.

The results arrived in less than 24 hours: Every member of my family tested negative.

Not everyone was so fortunate. My mom’s colleague is currently on a ventilator, and I feel guilty about being upset with her. My thoughts and prayers go out to her.

___

“Virus Diary,” an occasional feature, showcases the coronavirus saga through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. See previous entries here. Follow AP Asia Entertainment Editor Juwon Park on Twitter here.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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