One of the First Doctors Who Recovered From COVID-19 Shares How It Changed Him
It only took three minutes—five, at most.
It was a regular Friday night. Dr. Micco Sollano, a resident physician at a private hospital, was doing his usual rounds when he was referred to a patient who came in for physical weakness and a cardiac issue. The doctor explained the process of getting an electrocardiogram and that was it. It was the weekend.
Two days later, on March 8, Sollano started to develop a cold and began experiencing chills. It didn’t feel unusual, but he took some paracetamol and multivitamins anyway because he needed to be at work. When he woke up the next day, he noticed that he had an itchy throat and a dry cough. Again, it could’ve just been an offshoot of the cold.
He would find out later that day that the patient he visited for less than five minutes was positive for the novel coronavirus. The same patient who had earlier been put on droplet watch after developing a fever. Because of his exposure and physical symptoms, Sollano was tested right away and was asked to self-isolate at home.
Sollano was declared positive on March 12, coincidentally the day the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic. He was immediately admitted to the hospital and labeled PH45, one of the earlier confirmed cases in the country and certainly one for the first doctors to have caught the dangerous COVID-19.
It all seemed to happen so fast. It hasn’t even been a month ago, but back then COVID-19 seemed more like a possibility than an actual pandemic. Back then, hospitals weren’t yet bursting at the seams with cases and potential cases.
Sollano looked back at everything he did between meeting the patient and finding out he had been infected. “My initial thought was ‘I’m going to hassle a lot of people,’” he tells Esquire. He needed to tell his family, his friends, his fellow healthcare workers. Manpower at the hospital was quickly getting depleted and overworked. He felt he had made the situation worse.
“Knowing that I contributed to the human resource shortage created an overwhelming feeling of guilt,” Sollano confesses.
Sollano was taken out of quarantine and was admitted to the hospital. It was a time when there was room for precaution and mild cases weren’t just sent home with a cough medicine prescription and a warning to self-isolate. The only symptom he had at the hospital was anosmia, the loss of smell and taste. He would regain his senses four to five days later.
But it wasn’t the cough or the fact that everything smelled and tasted like cardboard. Alone, with most of his physical faculties intact, Sollano was facing his own mental hurdles.
He’s 27, a former basketball player, and a doctor on the frontlines. “Honestly, I didn’t expect that I would catch it,” he says. From his room, he was ridden with remorse and concern for everyone with whom he came into contact. Who was exposed to his laundry? He and his mother shared the same air? Did anyone touch his things? He would constantly send messages asking about his friends and family, wondering if they were exhibiting symptoms. Positive or not, anxiety is a strange symptom of the pandemic, and assurances can only go so far in an environment where nothing is certain.
Sollano was one of the lucky ones. Not only was he on the verge of full recovery, none of the people he was exposed to tested positive for the virus.
No one will come out of this pandemic the same person. Hugs will last a little tighter, goodbyes will be more meaningful; there will always be a good supply of canned goods in the pantry. There would always be a little more compassion, a little more precaution.
“I may not fully understand the physical stress of [having COVID-19]. But I am aware of the emotional and mental aspect of it,” Sollano explains. “I understand the anxiety.”
He’s currently on an extended quarantine at home for another 14 days until he receives a negative on his test results—making his total absence from the hospital at nearly a month. “I want to get back to the frontline as soon as I can,” he tells us. “I have never felt this much urge to get back to work.”
“How can you not be inspired by seeing people who risk their own lives each and every day still smiling, still supporting one another, still saving lives no matter the circumstance they’re thrown in?” he remarks proudly. Having been on the receiving end of the efforts of his fellow doctors, he adds, “Knowing I can create this type of impact, I wouldn’t want anything else, but be given a chance to help out again.”
With the numbers still rising, Sollano has nothing but hope. “This is a novel disease and we are learning something new about it every day. The entire world is pooling information to know what we can do to eradicate this virus and for us to go back to our normal way of living.”
This isn’t one person’s problem, reminds Sollano. He encourages people to create a safe environment for themselves and consequently for the people around them. Everything we used to overlook—doorknobs, a cough, going out—can mean life or death.
“We have to keep in mind that being considerate will go a long way," he says. "We have to be disciplined enough to take the proper precautions. Right now, we don’t know how long this ordeal will last so we have to be patient.”