Diary of a QO

Diary of a QO
M occupied the 10 days with books, toys and too much device time

“Oh no,” I said to my husband, my heart plummeting as I read the text from the teacher of my younger daughter, M, on Sunday, 1 Aug 2021. M’s kindergarten classmate had tested positive for COVID-19, and everyone in the class, as well as their teachers and non-teaching staff, was to be issued a quarantine order (QO).

That classmate had last been at school the Wednesday prior. I tried to quiz M: “Were any of your classmates absent on Thursday and Friday? Do they sit at the same table as you?” Five-year-olds, however, make terrible witnesses.

The Ministry of Health (MOH), we were told by M’s school, would be calling us. In the meantime, I shed many anxious tears. Was her classmate very ill? What would happen if M tested positive too? Would she and I (her primary caregiver) have to go to hospital or a community care facility? How about my parents and in-laws who had cared for her over the course of the past week?

If she tested negative, could we quarantine at home, or would she (and I) be shipped off to a hotel? What on earth would I do to keep a five-year-old entertained in a hotel room for 10 days? The waiting game and the uncertainty were agonising.

We were having dinner with my parents when we heard the news, and we prayed together before we bade goodbye. “Don’t worry,” my mom said, giving me a hug. “God will provide. Trust in Him.”

QO Day 1

I was added to a WhatsApp chat group of parents of M’s classmates. It was comforting to be in the (virtual) company of those equally as anxious. And there was so much hopefulness within the group! One of the moms drafted uplifting notes (that we all signed off on) to the children’s principal, their teachers and the family of the classmate who had tested positive.

It was late on Monday night that I finally received a text notification from MOH that M was to be under QO until noon on 11 August, or until we received a second negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, whichever was later. The same night, Certis Cisco called to inform us that since everyone in our abode (i.e. my husband, my helper and myself) were fully vaccinated, M was eligible for home quarantine. Praise God! However, we all had to sign a legally-binding undertaking to be quarantined with her.

My parents had had the foresight to ask my 14-year-old, E, to stay with them when we learned of the case in M’s kindergarten. E had been very upset at the prospect of missing so many days of school. E’s school (a mission school) had told us that the Ministry of Education guidelines were that once M received a negative result on her PCR test, E would be able to return to school, much to her relief. She would however not be allowed to return home until M’s QO expired. In the meantime, the school made provisions to have schoolwork sent to her grandparents’ house and for her sit in on some of her lessons over Zoom.

Days 2 to 3

The intercom rang at about 11 a.m. “Swabbing man is here!” announced the security guard. “I don’t want to get swabbed!” M wailed. I hugged her and assured her I would hold her for the duration of the procedure.

The swabber was incredibly kind and gentle. He has kids of his own, so he knew how to talk M through the two swabs: the Antigen Rapid Test (ART), which produces instant results, and the PCR test, which needs to be taken back to the lab but produces a more accurate result. Surprisingly, M was very brave and did not cry when she was swabbed.

We watched with bated breath as the fluid travelled up the ART test kit. Only one line appeared—which meant a negative for COVID-19. In the afternoon of the third day of QO, her PCR test results came back negative as well.

Days 4 to 10

After dinnertime on the fourth day, a Certis officer finally arrived to serve us our quarantine papers. Having been on the ground since 8 a.m., she looked exhausted. The recent rise in local cases had led to more people having to be quarantined, and the various agencies were working overtime to cope with the increased load.

I had been fraught with anxiety since the previous weekend; it was only that night, after official confirmation that we could serve M’s quarantine with her at home, that I finally managed to get a decent night’s sleep.

The next few days passed in a blur. My husband and I continued to work from home, while my helper took care of M. We ordered meals once a day, and my mother, who lives in the same building, brought us the other meal or it was cooked by my helper. M occupied herself reading, playing the piano, doing crafts and spending way too much time watching television or playing games on the iPad.

Our family had planned to go on a staycation over the National Day weekend to celebrate my husband’s birthday. We had to cancel the hotel stay (for the third time due to various COVID-related government restrictions), much to the children’s disappointment. So, on National Day, I ordered a meal from my husband’s favourite Japanese restaurant. I also got a cake, and we blew out candles while video-calling his family and our elder daughter.

On the morning of day 8, M was swabbed for her exit PCR. That afternoon, we were notified that she was negative for COVID-19.  At noon on day 10, our freedom was restored when we were allowed to leave the house. Most importantly, all M’s classmates (other than the first case) also tested negative.

M and I prayed every night during the QO period: that her classmate and family would not be too sick and would recover soon; that M would continue to test negative for COVID-19; and that God would watch over all of us in the family and keep us safe. And that we would “survive” 10 days of being trapped at home together!

First World problems

I am so grateful that, despite my initial anxieties, our quarantine experience turned out so painless. This was probably the most time I had spent at home with M since I was on maternity leave. We had air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, Netflix, toys, books, games, food delivery services, and friends and family supplying us with comforting treats. There are so many people who were quarantined in far more difficult conditions, such as foreign workers in cramped dormitories, or large families in small flats. Thousands have been hospitalised, have been separated from their loved ones due to border controls, or had their finances decimated by the pandemic.

When asked to write about my QO experience for Methodist Message, I was stumped. Did having to stay home for 10 days deserve to have an article being written about it? Once we knew M was free from COVID-19, it was just a matter of waiting out the quarantine. There was no earth-shattering Saul-on-the-Damascus-road-type epiphany from this experience.

Instead, what God has quietly assured me, time and again in my life, is that while He does not give me everything I want, He has always given me everything I need. However, like the Israelites whom God liberated from Egypt and whose every need He provided for in the wilderness, I constantly fret and complain, and forget how God has seen me through some truly terrible periods in my life. And like the Jews, who saw Jesus performing miracle after miracle but still doubted He was God, I still often fail to recognise His sovereign control over my circumstances.

This time, I was reminded that my salvation must be worked out with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12); that my faith is not just a singular epiphany, but that it wavers and needs constant renewal; that like a silly wandering sheep, I frequently need to be shepherded back to the fold. And that I need to be stronger and more courageous, and not be afraid or discouraged, because my God will always be with me in all things (Josh 1:9).

Home-baked cookies was one of the goodies friends and family sent over
Bubble tea was one of the goodies friends and family sent over
Chocolate was one of the goodies friends and family sent over
Getting swabbed was not much fun
My husband’s sister made him a chicken rice cake for his birthday

Sheri Goh is the Editor of Methodist Message. / Photos courtesy of Sheri Goh