WFP staff member, Mohammad Mahabubul Alam, tested negative for COVID-19. However, he lost his sense of taste, smell, and had difficulty breathing. In Part III of COVID diaries, Mahabub shares his experience of traveling to Brussels with a medical evacuation and conquering COVID 19.
“May 2020, we did not quite grasp the idea of a pandemic. We were learning about social distancing. Since it was Ramadan, we were fasting. One day, my father suddenly fainted. We checked his sugar level; everything was fine. We thought he was feeling weak. After a couple of days, he passed away. It was not convenient to transport dead bodies from one city to another when the pandemic started. My colleague, Joydeb, arranged an official letter, should we face difficulties on the road. Without that letter, it would have been difficult to transport my father’s dead body to my village.
Just after burying my father, I was feeling restless and uncomfortable. I assumed it was just exhaustion. While having supper that night, I could not feel any taste. Then I fainted. When I woke up, I had a bad cough. I left for Dhaka and went directly to the hospital. I ran some regular diagnostic tests. Though my covid test was negative, other reports were alarming. The UN doctors advised that I get admitted to the hospital immediately.
After four days, I was flown to Brussels. I was clueless about how smoothly all these arrangements fall into place. I remember our Country Director, Richard, was at the airport before I went into the air ambulance. I was placed in a plastic box. I am claustrophobic, and I was having difficulty breathing. I just lost my father, and then I was flying away, leaving my family behind. I thought if I will ever come back to my country, will I ever see my children again? Where will I be buried if I die?
When the plane took off, I wanted to jump. I requested the pilots to throw me out. I told them I would sign any legal document authorizing them to throw away my body from the air ambulance. I remember a doctor then gave an injection, and I fell asleep.
I woke up shortly before reaching Brussels. I was taken to CHU Saint-Pierre hospital in Brussels, which was dedicated to COVID patients. My COVID results came positive for the first time. Dr. Zaher Wael was my doctor, who visited me every day, wearing PPE. My room in the hospital was locked; therefore, I could not leave even if I wanted to. I shifted from a small cage to a bigger one. My colleague, Nafi Zaman, arranged a phone card for me before I left. My phone was my only connection to the external world.
The hospital released me after six days, and I moved to an apartment in Brussels. I was surprised when Dr. Zaher gave me his personal number to keep him updated.
Bangladesh is heavily dense, but I could see only a few people in the streets in Brussels. I missed my daughters, my wife, and my mother. I wanted to see them, talk to them in person. I felt like I was floating from one place to another.
I am so grateful to everyone I have met in Brussels. Christine Grignon from the WFP Brussels office called me every day. I did not have any money with me. She sent me money from her account, and sometimes food as well. Another colleague from Brussels, Danielle Buck, visited me a few times. Mr. Arifur Rahman from the Bangladesh Embassy sent me a home-cooked meal when I was missing it. He also checked on me regularly.
I remember I was crossing the road, and a car came so close to me that I thought it would run me over. But the woman driving the car stopped and said ‘please, cross.’ I felt like I was the president!
I returned home to my family after 20 days. I would not have been alive if my colleagues in Bangladesh, the regional bureau, and Brussels did not care so much about me. I am grateful to them for my second life.”
- Mahabubul Alam
Mahbub appreciated the immense support provided by his colleagues while he was ill. He conveys special gratitude to Dr. Paula, from the WFP Regional Bureau, his team member Din Ara Wahid, Deputy Country Directors Alpha Bah and Piet Vochten, and Chandan Shrestha.
COVID Diaries is a series on WFP staff in Bangladesh who have recovered from COVID-19. Read the second part here.