Abu Dhabi: An Abu Dhabi family was forced to welcome its newest family member over Zoom as they all battled COVID-19 in isolation.
At the peak of the crisis, Mohammed Rafeeque’s wife Shahina remained isolated and very unwell in a COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU). At the same time, their newborn son was in the neonatal ICU at another public hospital, while Rafeeque and the two older children were quarantined in their Al Zahiyah home.
Having come out of the ordeal, the 49-year-old general manager at a travel agency spoke to Gulf News. He urged residents to be vigilant about COVID-19 and follow all the precautionary measures.
“Ever since we found out we were expecting in 2020, we had been looking forward to welcoming a new member into the family. But what we experienced was very unexpected and stressful. Moreover, we had to face it even though we had been following all the precautionary measures. It just goes to show how no one should take this virus lightly,” Rafeeque said. “We have only been able to overcome this situation with the help and support of the UAE government’s wise measures and the dedication of the frontline workers. And we are truly grateful,” he added.
Rafeeque and Shahina, 43, first found out they were expecting in the summer of 2020 and began awaiting the arrival of a baby after many years of parenting older children. The couple already has a 21-year-old son, and a 14-year-old daughter.
Because Shahina could not get vaccinated during her pregnancy, the family was being vigilant about COVID-19 precautionary measures and mostly keeping to itself. Rafeeque finished his second vaccine dose in mid-January and the family was not too worried about COVID-19.
But on February 22, in her 35th week of pregnancy, Shahina started feeling unwell and developed a mild fever. Her doctor advised her to get tested for COVID-19. “We went to a drive-through screening centre and the entire family took the PCR test. The next day, the results revealed that my wife had contracted COVID-19, though the children and I tested negative,” Rafeeque said.
Worried, Rafeeque took his wife to a COVID-19 Prime Assessment Centre in Abu Dhabi to determine what the next steps should be. Because she was mostly feeling well at the time, she was advised to quarantine in a separate room at home and was given a tracker watch.
But within a few days, Shahina started facing breathing difficulties. Even though such difficulties are common in the third trimester of pregnancy, the couple did not want to take any risk. On February 25, the family visited the Prime Assessment Centre for a check-up. Rafeeque and his children also took the PCR test again, even though they did not have symptoms.
Entire family infected
“My wife was told she could continue quarantining at home. The next day, we found out that the children and I were also infected. We didn’t have any real symptoms at the time, and because we were all infected, we were allowed to quarantine at home after we obtained tracker watches,” he said.
On the night of February 28, however, Shahina started feeling very sick. “She was unable to sleep and in so much discomfort and pain that she was crying all night. Early in the morning, I contacted the authorities, and they advised that she be admitted at the designated facility for pregnant women who had contracted COVID-19. They even offered to send a car, but I said I would escort her myself,” Rafeeque remembered.
On March 1, Shahina was hospitalised, with symptoms that included bodyache and fever. She was still conscious though, and the family felt a little relieved that she was being taken care of.
The next day however, Rafeeque found that his wife was not responding to his calls or text messages. “I was worried. I called the hospital, and was told I would be given an update,” Rafeeque said.
When the doctor eventually called back, it was with some surprising news.
“The doctor advised a Caesarean section to deliver the baby immediately, especially since my wife was unwell and the baby was just a few weeks away from full-term. I consented,” Rafeeque said.
So on March 2, Baby Rozain was delivered, weighing a healthy 2.6kg, and immediately admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for observation and care. Meanwhile, Shahina was transferred to a more advanced COVID-19 treatment ward at another hospital.
“My wife’s oxygen saturation was critically low and she needed high-flow oxygen constantly. So the authorities moved her to another facility with the required infrastructure,” Rafeeque said. It was a situation that could not be helped, and something the family had never expected.
“My wife and baby had to be separated, and we could see neither of them. It was such a weird situation to be in,” Rafeeque said. “Still, I continued to constantly text my wife because she could not talk easily. And with the help of the dedicated staff at the maternity hospital, we were able to see Baby Rozain via Zoom. We wanted to hold him very much, but with our COVID-19 infection, these circumstances were the best possible ones,” Rafeeque said.
As he and his older children continued to recover at home, the now-father-of-three was constantly updated by both hospitals about the condition of his wife and his newborn. “The hospital even checked with me before starting my son on formula milk,” Rafeeque said.
He himself eventually started feeling unwell, and began experiencing bodyaches.
“But I was mentally so stressed out about the entire situation that I didn’t really have time or the mental space to register my own condition. I was worried about my wife battling COVID-19 all alone and I was worried about who would care for my newborn son,” he said.
Bringing Baby home
Rafeeque began looking around for a nanny or friend to help out in case he was able to bring his son home before his wife was discharged.
“The hospital had told me after two days that my son was healthy and ready to go home. But I was still infected, so I asked if they could care for the baby till I tested negative. This was generously granted, and I continued to look around for some help. I also worked out the details to have my mother-in-law travel to us from India,” Rafeeque said.
Meanwhile, every two days, Rafeeque and his children took PCR tests at home. On March 8, they finally tested negative, and the older children convinced their father to bring the their baby brother home. “They told me they could manage the feedings and diaper changes, so we took a deep breath and contacted the hospital,” Rafeeque said.
And so on March 9, Baby Rozain came home to his father and elder siblings.
“When I went to pick him up, the staff at the hospital gave me a crash course on newborn care, which I certainly needed after so much time since our last child!” Rafeeque said.
While there was joy at having a baby at home, Shahina, however, was still quite unwell.
“The day I brought Rozain home, the hospital where my wife was admitted called me and said she was not doing well. They asked me to come in and help give her a mental boost, suggesting that perhaps seeing me might work better than just texting and video chatting,” Rafeeque said.
The concerned father mentioned that he had a newborn at home, but was assured that he would be given PPE, and that arrangements would be made for him to shower and sanitise himself before he left the hospital for home.
“I went to see my wife, and although I could only see her through the glass at the COVID-19 ward, I hoped it would help. The doctors told me again and again that she had a good chance of recovery because she had no other comorbidities like diabetes. Her lungs had been affected by COVID-19 and her oxygen saturation had continued to be low, but Shahina continued to be confident that she would be home with us soon. Looking back, this kind of positivity is very important to overcome COVID-19,” Rafeeque said.
More help arrives
On March 20, Shahina’s mother reached Abu Dhabi, and she was given a tracker watch for the ten-day post-travel quarantine period. “Nevertheless, even though my mother-in-law could not yet care for Rozain, I could feel my wife relax once her mother reached. During this entire time, my children were a tremendous source of support as they cared diligently for their baby brother. For his part, Rozain was not at all fussy and gave us all much to smile about,” Rafeeque said. Shahina’s mother finished her quarantine on March 30 and Shahina finally recovered enough to be discharged the next day.
Making up for time
“My wife is still not in the best of health, but she is certainly making up for all the lost time with Rozain. And to my surprise, Rozain even began nursing, which is often uncommon when newborn babies are exclusively formula-fed,” Rafeeque said.
The entire family is now looking back on the COVID-19 experience and is grateful that they were all able to come out of it safely. Baby Rozain is continuing to thrive and at nearly two months old, he weighs more than 3.5kg.
“I must say that we would not have received the level of care we received in Abu Dhabi anywhere else in the world. As we quarantined at home, my children and I were delivered three daily meals by the authorities, and a medical team was sent to administer PCR tests every two days. Meanwhile, my newborn was cared for until we could welcome him home. And of course, the amount of attention and advanced treatment my wife received cannot be described. From helping her video chat with us to attending to all her medical needs, it was all taken care of. And finally, my employer also let me work from home, and even allowed me to go on leave when things became difficult,” Rafeeque said.
With a laugh, he added that he had also brushed up on some skills in his wife’s absence. “I learnt to cook again, and to take care of a newborn,” he said.