Malaysian woman wins battle against COVID-19 after losing policeman husband to the disease
Aiza Syafinaz Sahak was devastated after her husband succumbed to the coronavirus and she could not be by his side. However, she drew strength from doctors and patients around her to wage her own battle against the deadly disease.
KUALA LUMPUR: Everything about Aiza Syafinaz Sahak’s life over the last month has been a distant blur, except for a single image of her husband imprinted clearly in her memory.
It was the last time she saw his face. It was also the first time in their 10-year marriage that the cheery and steady police inspector from Malaysia’s special branch looked weak and frail.
Mohd Fairos Saberon, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Mar 17, was warded at Hospital Kuala Lumpur’s intensive care ward. A day later, the 36-year-old’s condition worsened and he was set to be placed into induced coma for further treatment as his lungs, liver and heart were failing.
THE LAST VIDEO CALL
Before the treatment, doctors advised him to make a video call to Aiza Syafinaz, 34, who was on home quarantine.
“He had a wet towel on his forehead and there were oxygen tubes going into his nose. I will never forget the resigned look in his eyes,” recalled Aiza Syafinaz in an exclusive interview with CNA.
“I will never forget his last words to me. He said: ‘I hope you will get ready, stand by and prepare yourself. I am reaching the end, I pray you take care of yourself,’” she sobbed.
“My heart sank, I couldn’t breathe.”
Aiza Syafinaz spent the next few days kneeling on her prayer mat, pleading for a miracle.
While she kept her hopes up for her husband’s recovery, she was also assisting the Ministry of Health in figuring out from whom he might have contracted the virus.
The Kuala Lumpur-based couple had travelled to Bandung, Indonesia from Mar 9 to Mar 12 for a short vacation with some friends. They also attended a wedding in Perlis on Mar 17.
During this period, Mohd Fairos had fever intermittently. He went to three different clinics to seek medical help but all the doctors were adamant that his symptoms were of the common flu or the result of insufficient rest, not COVID-19. They only decided that he should go to the hospital after his fever became worse on Mar 17.
One of Mohd Fairos's last assignments was at the Istana Negara in late February.
The palace confirmed on Mar 26 that seven employees had tested positive for COVID-19 and that Malaysia’s king and queen had been placed under quarantine.
However, it is still uncertain how Mohd Fairos contracted the virus.
NO LAST GOODBYE
While Mohd Fairos was in coma, Aiza Syafinaz never lost hope that he would one day wake up and be reunited with her, COVID-19-free.
She messaged her husband on WhatsApp several times a day, giving him words of encouragement even though she knew he was unconscious.
“I wrote him messages like ‘Abang, sorry I’m not there with you but the doctors are and they will save you,’ and ‘Abang, next time when you’re sick, we will take things seriously and go to the hospital earlier. Now you just focus on getting well,'” said Aiza Syafinaz.
“I would stare at the WhatsApp message screen, in the faint hope that the grey ticks would turn blue, indicating that he has woken up from his coma, picked up his phone and read the messages I sent,” she added.
But sadly, the messages were never read.
On Mar 26, after about a week, Mohd Fairos’s doctor called Aiza Syafinaz to tell her that her husband could not be saved and had breathed his last.
“My legs crumbled beneath me and I just sat alone and cried. I had to be isolated, so there was no human touch. Nobody to hug, no shoulder to cry on,” said Aiza Syafinaz.
And the horrible news only got worse. His doctor called to remind her that she was not allowed to visit her husband for the funeral and burial rites as she was on home quarantine.
“I could not accept that. I begged him to let me see my husband for one last time, for one last goodbye. I wanted to kiss his face but the doctor was stern,” said Aiza Syafinaz.
“They said the Ministry of Health would arrange and execute everything, and that it was important that no one come near the body because the virus could still be transmitted,” she added.
She made repeated phone calls to doctors and the ministry to beg them to make an exception, but it was no use. They held firm to the protocol in place.
“I just sat at home and prayed while they buried him,” said Aiza Syafinaz. “His police colleagues who were present told me that he was sent off with dignity, so I took solace in that.”
BATTLING COVID-19 IN GRIEF, ELDERLY FATHER ALSO TESTS POSITIVE
While her husband’s battle against the coronavirus had ended, her fight against COVID-19 had just begun.
For the next four days when she was alone at home, Aiza Syafinaz mourned the death of her husband. She lost her appetite and merely drank plain water and milk.
She was by herself, isolated from her friends and family, and denied of any human-to-human interaction.
On Mar 30, she received a call from the Ministry of Health, confirming that she had tested positive for COVID-19.
Aiza Syafinaz said that unlike her husband, she did not have any fever and only had a slight sore throat.
That afternoon, she was taken to the same hospital where her husband had died.
“I thought to myself, is this fate? I’m now infected, and will die soon to be eventually reunited with him. At that point, the prospect of meeting him soon in the afterlife was enticing. I felt like I did not want to live anymore,” she said.
Then, she was hit with more sobering news when she learnt that her elderly father, Sahak Mohd Harun, who is based in Simpang Renggam, Johor, also tested positive for COVID-19.
She then feared that she and her immediate family would be annihilated by the coronavirus.
But thankfully, she was surrounded by doctors, nurses and patients at Hospital Kuala Lumpur who gave her strength to fight the virus.
“Me being tested positive was a blessing in disguise. Previously, I was alone at home, grieving in silence. Now, I was around people who were encouraging me to eat, exercise and celebrate life,” said Aiza Syafinaz.
One nurse even said to her: “You are Inspector Fairos’s wife, right? He is a national hero. Let us repay his service to Malaysia by taking care of you until you recover.”
Aiza Syafinaz was also inspired by a fellow COVID-19 patient who was in the bed next to hers. The patient, a Chinese woman from Kepong, was battling stage-two breast cancer on top of COVID-19. She encouraged Aiza Syafinaz to eat and they walked around the ward together for some exercise.
“She was so positive. I thought to myself, if a cancer patient could think positive, why couldn’t I?” she said.
She was eventually cleared for discharged on Apr 10 after being warded for eight days and has been transferred to a quarantine facility in Cheras to be isolated for another 14 days.
Moreover, her father was also discharged after being warded at Johor’s Permai Hospital for 19 days.
PILLAR OF STRENGTH FOR OTHERS WHO LOST LOVED ONES TO COVID-19
While she was warded, Aiza Syafinaz discovered that she found peace in writing. She said that writing about her feelings and experiences allowed her to cope better.
She wrote multiple Facebook posts, through which she documented the sacrifices that frontliners made to care for COVID-19 patients and also persuaded the Malaysian society to not stigmatise COVID-19 survivors. She also shared on how she turned to religion to help her during the tough times.
One of her posts garnered more than 26,000 likes and 4,000 shares.
Aiza Syafinaz said she felt grateful for the support and words of encouragement from people on social media.
“People from all over, from as far as Sabah and Australia, contacted me to send their regards and offer words of encouragement. I felt so blessed,” she said.
Her posts also encouraged other Malaysians who also lost their loved ones to the virus, to contact her.
As of Friday (Apr 17), Malaysia has more than 5,200 people confirmed positive for COVID-19. Of these patients, 86 people have died.
Aiza Syafinaz said one woman, whose husband contracted the virus and died after attending the tabligh gathering event at Sri Petaling, messaged her on Facebook for help on how to cope with her loss.
The woman, a housewife based in Johor, has six children and her husband did not leave them much savings to lean on.
“I sympathised her because she had children to care for, and she didn’t know how to cope. She also faced criticism from netizens who disparaged her husband for attending the tabligh gathering and endangering himself,” said Aiza Syafinaz.
Hence, Aiza Syafinaz composed a Facebook post for the woman, explaining how COVID-19 patients from the tabligh group should not be stigmatised for spreading the virus in Malaysia.
READ: ‘If not us, then who?’ - Malaysian doctors overcome fear of infection in country’s battle against COVID-19
She wrote: “Please do not insult COVID patients like them. They did not ask to be infected but were chosen by fate. Please pray that they keep fighting and give only positive vibes."
The post garnered support for the woman’s family, with some people even offering donations.
ADHERE TO MCO AS THIS IS “LIFE AND DEATH”
Separately, Aiza Syafinaz also reserved some comments for a small group of Malaysians who continue to defy the government’s movement control order (MCO), which has since been extended to Apr 28.
Since the MCO was imposed, hundreds have been arrested daily for flouting the law, which aims to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Malaysia.
“Some of them think that they are invincible; they are stubborn and refuse to stay home. Please understand that this is life and death,” said Aiza Syafinaz.
“Some of them complain about eating the same meals repeatedly and being bored to death at home. But look at what happened to me: I lost my beloved husband. Not being able to see loved ones again forever is worse than being bored at home for a few days,” she added.
READ: Hair salons, barbers and optometrists no longer allowed to operate during Malaysia’s extended movement control order
She also called for Malaysians to continue adhering to the government’s instructions, so as to prevent the COVID-9 situation in the country from escalating to a crisis like how it has in the United States or Italy.
“If we follow what the Ministry of Health is asking, we are helping to flatten the curve. If some of us Malaysians adopt a careless attitude, we won’t overcome this test together,” added Aiza Syafinaz.