Atty. Carlo Navarro with his wife and daughter during their Japan trip
Culture Spotlight

How this first Filipino COVID-19 patient battled the virus for 15 days and won

This disease could disguise as a simple flu or malaise, he warns. By RHIA DIOMAMPO-GRANA
| Mar 23 2020

Lawyer Carlo Llanes Navarro thought they had done all the necessary safety measures to avoid contracting the contagious COVID-19 virus while on their family trip to Japan last February. At that time, while news about COVID-19 had already started to flare up in many parts of China and had spread in many parts of the world, Japan was not yet considered a hotspot, as there was no reported community transmission yet.

While in Tokyo, Navarro, along with his wife and daughter, always had their masks on. They would vigorously wash and rub their hands with alcohol and Thieves essential oil, and wore disposable latex gloves, which they regularly changed and threw away throughout their five-day stay.

But as many have realized by now, the enemy hardest to fight is the enemy we don’t see.

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“I was COVID-19 patient no. 4. As patient no. 4, I was the first Filipino to be confirmed positive after a lull of more than a month following the three Chinese travelers from Wuhan,” Navarro wrote on his FB page last Sunday, March 22. He decided to share his story to educate and warn others about the vicious virus inflicting hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.

Navarro and his family flew back home to the Philippines from Japan last February 25, a Tuesday. His wife and daughter sat together in one row, while he sat in another. “Behind me was a Filipino man coughing vigorously,” he recalled in his post. “Nothing could be done and we sat in that plane for more than four hours. We had our masks on the whole time. We suspect this is where I picked up the virus.”

He immediately instructed his daughter and their helper to stay with his mother-in-law once he started showing symptoms.

Symptoms started to show

On March 3, seven days after their arrival from the trip, Navarro came down with chills and a low-grade fever of 37.7°C. Aware of the possible symptoms of COVID-19, he decided to play it safe and immediately went to St. Luke’s Medical Center to get tested for COVID-19. “St. Luke’s did not see the need to test me. The hospital said my symptoms were mild, and Japan is not a COVID-19 hotspot,” Navarro wrote. Yet he insisted on getting the test. He got what he wanted and was discharged that same night.

Worried that he might be contaminated with the virus, the lawyer immediately instructed his daughter and their help to stay at his mother-in-law’s place in Bonifacio Global City to isolate. At that time, his wife was in the family’s farm house in Lipa, Batangas.

On March 5, a Thursday, Navarro’s fever ceased but he started developing muscle pains and was coughing terribly. That night, he received what could be the most frightening call of his life—it was from the Department of Health (DOH). “I was promptly whisked away by an ambulance to the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang,” he said. Frantic about the situation, his daughter called her mother in Lipa, and the following day, the entire Navarro household got tested, their drivers included.

“While in RITM, I prayed fervently to spare all of them. My mind was racing with scenarios that [my wife] and [daughter] wouldn't survive in RITM,” he confided. Fortunately, all the tests of the people in their household came out negative. “Thank God! All I need to worry about is myself.”

“It is easy to take the symptoms for granted,” he realized. Cough, sore throat, muscle pains could be mistaken for a simple flu. But as his experiences would show, one need not have a high fever to be COVID-19 positive. “Looking at the DOH spreadsheet, one can even be totally asymptomatic,” he pointed out.

 

Lessons while in confinement

Navarro admits that what made his two weeks in the hospital an agonizing experience was not the physical pain, but the psychological torment that came with it. “I was vomiting endlessly and had diarrhea probably due to stress,” he said.

But the confinement taught him lessons he would not have learned otherwise. “It’s probably why God put me to that test!” he recalls on his Facebook post. Here are the lessons he took away with him. 

 

• Ignorance and inaction will cause the virus to spread faster

If you experience ANY symptoms, stay at home and limit contact with others. “They should NOT shrug off any symptoms and downplay them. This community quarantine is something we need to protect the people that we love,” he stressed.

 

• If you feel any symptoms, get yourself tested immediately

He had to be quarantined in a hospital deprived of staff and funds, and he admitted that it was not the best situation to be in. But because he got himself tested and was confined immediately, “I shielded my elderly parents. I shielded our senior household helpers. I shielded my family.”

He added, “When people are NOT tested, they can walk around and socialize thinking they just have a cold or slight malaise.”

 

• Inform the concerned individuals you have interacted with right away

“Because I disclosed being infected to my workplace, according to company protocol, all my contacts were tested by the DOH and quarantined,” Navarro said. Thankfully, the DOH advised him that so far, his contacts have been cleared and are asymptomatic. He’s also thankful that he did not report to work days before the symptoms appeared.

 

• Have the right frame of mind

Faith can move mountains, and Navarro could personally attest to this. “I think what helped me a lot [during my confinement] was the prayers that all the people gave me,” he said in an interview with CNN Philippines reporter Tristan Nodalo. “They kept on calling me. My wife was praying with me. It was that psychological, emotional, and spiritual strength that got me through.”

 

“I married right”

Navarro’s hospital confinement allowed him to recognize God’s great blessings in his life—his loved ones, most especially his wife. “I was coughing profusely, and chills were getting worse by the day. She kept me company [over the phone] for hours and days to keep me psychologically and emotionally sane! She prayed with me profusely! She called on people to pray for me. I knew I married right!”

Navarro with his sister-in-law when he was tested for COVID-19

Navarro’s wife and her cousin looked for people in the government that could help him while in RITM. His wife also enjoined the help of her sister to look for a hospital that will take him in. “Each and every one was refusing to take me in. I was desperate because the pneumonia that I acquired was from the hospital,” he related.

He could not forget that one day when he heard a nurse say that there was an old man who tested positive for COVID-19 and was waiting for a room in RITM. “I cannot stay there anymore! And finally, God intervened. A hospital agreed to take me!”

Finally, on Day 15, he was discharged from the hospital with no symptoms. “I never knew my test results and perhaps will never know,” he quipped. “I know those doctors are busy with more severe and critical cases.”

Navarro ended his post by thanking his friends and family for their well wishes. “I may not have responded to you at my darkest hours, but I will remember and will be forever grateful for you. God bless us all and keep safe!”