Vijay Singh is a Singaporean who works as an Executive Producer at the VICE office in Singapore. When he’s not in the office or working from home, he’s also an emcee who goes by the moniker MC SWTLKR, a yoga practitioner, and music producer. Singapore has been widely praised for its handling of the novel coronavirus and Vijay experienced that efficiency first-hand when he was tested for possibly contracting the virus.
Two weeks ago, I went to see the doctor for a sore throat and a possible throat infection. I got myself some medication and antibiotics from a clinic in my neighbourhood and returned home thinking nothing of it.
A few days after, I got a call from the Ministry Of Health. They explained that a patient in the clinic I visited had COVID-19 and they were now trying to track all the patients who visited the clinic that day. They asked about my symptoms and whether or not I had a fever or difficulty breathing. I told them I had neither and they encouraged me to take my regular meds and to contact the clinic if anything changed or if things got out of hand.
They continued the surveillance, calling on a daily basis in an attempt to track my health and make sure I was recovering alright. Like clockwork, I would get a call between 9 and 11 AM everyday. Four days into the calls, the person on the line from The Ministry Of Health became concerned that I wasn’t recovering and asked me to prepare myself for a pickup by an ambulance. They wanted to get me checked and tested immediately. I felt a sense of dread and denial welling up within me. I frantically started questioning the representative on the line. "Do I really need to go for the screening?" "Are you sure?" After she answered "yes," all kinds of thoughts started streaming into my mind. Will I die? Do I need to bring my pyjamas? Do I have a thick book that I should bring to the hospital? Who takes over my property when I die?
Within half an hour, an ambulance arrived. Inside, it was wrapped up in white cloth, probably to prevent bacteria from contaminating the vehicle.
Minutes later, I was at the entrance of the hospital. It had barriers in place and designated lines with a steady stream of one or two people arriving every 10 minutes. The first thing they did was hand me a mask. They then checked my blood pressure and registered me. I realised while waiting in line, that the distance between each person in the queue was about five metres. The medical teams were clad in plastic head to toe; they looked completely sealed in and were clearly not taking any chances.
The mood inside felt incredibly tense, like we were in some nuclear testing facility.
My blood pressure results turned out to be alarmingly high, which made me panic for a while, but I knew it was probably because I was frightened by being in such a controlled, high stress, potentially hazardous environment. Coupled with the fact that there was a life-threatening virus sweeping across the world like wildfire, I was definitely on edge. They gave me a wristband much larger than usual with what looked like a tracker attached to it.
Next, I sat on a chair with a table between two people. We were two metres apart. It reminded me of an examination hall in school.
The nurse communicated that there were two phases — an x-ray scan and a swab test. If the x-ray found that I had pneumonia, I would be warded immediately. Otherwise, I would continue with a swab test and they would release me. In front of me were an array of forms ranging from, health, travel, and location declarations. In the location declaration form, I was to indicate all the places I had been to. There was a table with almost a hundred different locations in Singapore, an effort to trace the spread of the virus should I test positive. It was very comprehensive, covering all grounds and leaving no stone unturned.
Eventually, I got called into the x-ray room. I leaned, chest first into the machine, and the scan was done almost immediately. Minutes later, a doctor approached me and said that my lungs are in good shape and that there’s no sign of pneumonia. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Next, was the swab test. A nurse came over with two long swabs that were slightly longer than earbuds. She stuck them deep into my nostrils, up to the bridge of my nose, and my eyes started to water. This was the worst part. It was quite a painful process, especially with the sounds of grown men crying, shrieking, and screaming.
After the swab test, they told me that I would be notified of the results within three days. Tag cut and hands sanitized, I made my way home. On the bus back, I realised that I now have a more sobering outlook on the world. I became incredibly alert and vigilant and, as a result, had my mask on at all times.
Reality sunk in. That life was no longer going to be the same.
I remember thinking how pivotal this moment in time was, and that we as a society need to completely reexamine our modes of existence. A deep and honest transformation needs to occur on both personal and global levels because, clearly, our ways of living are severely myopic, outdated, incongruent, and out of sync.
When I got home, I was immediately worried for my family. After returning from the screening, I found myself keeping a distance from them. I locked myself in my room and waited until the results were out. I didn’t want to spread it if I had it.
Just as they said, after three days, I got a message.
I was safe.
The Ministry of Health and healthcare workers were incredibly efficient, swift, and objective. I applaud all the individuals in the healthcare industry who are extremely professional, all while putting their necks on the line and exposing themselves to death and risk of infection daily. The selflessness and care that go into everything they do are phenomenal and unmatched, and we owe them all our gratitude and support.
When you come face to face with the possibility of death, you begin to ask fundamental, existential questions. I began thinking about my purpose, my dharma (duty), what I really want to do in life, and how to bring value into this world through actions. Impending death makes you confront your shadows in the harshest ways.