A medical officer in protective gear prepares an isolation room for Covid-19 patients at Dokter Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung, West Java, on Friday. (Antara Photo/Novrian Arbi)

I Try to Get Myself Tested for Covid-19 After Interviewing Budi Karya Sumadi


MARCH 17, 2020

Jakarta. When the Health Minister said Indonesia was prepared to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, did he mean everyone?

On Saturday, State Secretary Minister Pratikno confirmed that Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi tested positive for Covid-19. He now remains under intensive care at the Gatot Subroto Army Hospital.

As I had interviewed him in late February, I immediately decided to get myself checked. This is the story of what turns out to be a long and worrying ordeal. 

I had covered an event attended by the minister on Feb. 26 with several other journalists. All of us surrounded him for a doorstop interview at a close-range for at least three minutes.

On Mar. 5, I had a cold. I didn't check my temperature but the fever was mild, so I shrugged it off.

But then I remembered that I'd met several German nationals on the same day I talked to Budi Karya and on the next day, Feb. 27.

Knowing that Germany already had confirmed Covid-19 cases at that time, I decided to contact the Covid-19 hotline provided by the Health Ministry (+62215210411 – it was later changed to 119 ext. 9).

I explained my condition and contact history, and the operator suggested not going directly to a hospital because, according to him, a lot of callers started to feel sick after visiting hospitals. Instead, he advised me to go to the nearest clinic.

Several days earlier, I'd also attended a presser held by the Health Ministry during which the government spokesman on the Covid-19 outbreak, Achmad Yurianto, said that people should not request for an ambulance at every sign of a symptom they think might indicate coronavirus infection.

He encouraged everyone to go to the nearest health facility, assuring everyone that all medical workers in the country have been briefed on the Covid-19 outbreak.

Based on information from the presser and hotline operator, I visited a small clinic the next day, a Faskes 1 (Level 1 health facility) according to national health insurance BPJS.

I didn't inform the front desk about my fear of contracting coronavirus and queued as usual.

I then explained to the doctor about my recent cold and contact history with foreigners. She refused to check on me and partly blamed me for coming to the clinic because I "could contract others."

She said I should have requested for an ambulance through the hotline. When I explained that the operator had informed me otherwise, she still refused to treat me, saying the clinic did not have the right equipment or information about Covid-19.

I spent five minutes with her, and not once did she ask me about my condition, or the symptoms I'd been having.

All she did was dodge my presence since the second I said I feared I might have contracted coronavirus.

Having got nothing – no treatment, no information – from my visit, I left the clinic.

I called the hotline again and the operator – the same one who answered me before – said that ambulance service is, most of the time, unavailable due to the high number of callers requesting for one.

I then treated myself with paracetamol for the next two days until my temperature dropped.

On Mar. 11, I got another cold – this time accompanied with a mild sore throat. I was very offended by the treatment (or rather, non-treatment) from the clinic's doctor that I had no intention of going to the doctors again and just drank liters of water.

I had already equipped myself with a thermometer, and for the next three days, my temperature went up and down between 36° and 37° Celcius.

The cold was not that bad, and the sore throat was more annoying than debilitating. I had no cough or breathing difficulty. However, I wore a facemask every time I left the house to keep people around me safe.

On the evening of Mar. 14, I learned that Minister Budi Karya had tested positive for Covid-19. I decided to go to the Prof. Dr. Sulianti Saroso Hospital for Infectious Diseases in North Jakarta the next day.

On Mar. 15, several journalists had already queued at the hospital to get themselves checked, I presumed after realizing they too had contact with the minister in the past few weeks.

I was asked to fill in a form, explaining the symptoms I'd been having. A medical staff then asked me about my travel history and whether I had a cough or breathing difficulty.

I also had my temperature checked – 37.6° Celcius.

I explained to him every detail I thought was important and relevant, including my contact with the minister.

The medical staff said, assuming I had contracted the virus from my meeting with the minister, that the incubation period was already over – it was already 18 days since I had contact with Budi Karya.

However, he added that no one knew exactly whether the coronavirus could develop or create any symptoms after the 14-day incubation period.

So, taking into account that my temperature was a tad above normal, he suggested I self-isolate for at least 14 days. 

"Even when you're inside, wear a facemask. Distance yourself from whoever lives with you – at least two meters away. Sleep alone and stay in your room," he said. 

I was also informed that my data would be transferred to the Health Unit in Bekasi, West Java, near where I live, whose staff would be in touch with me to monitor my condition.

Today is Day 2 of my self-isolation, and no one from the unit has contacted me.

When I went to the Sulianti Suroso Hospital – one of the hospitals the government designated for Covid-19 treatment – I initially thought that I'd be given an X-ray or a lab test, but it turned out that their initial procedure to test for Covid-19 was only through an interview and a temperature check.

From the interview, the medical staff will determine whether you need to be given an X-ray or a lab test.

If you generally show mild symptoms like me, the medical staff would advise you to self-isolate and independently monitor your own condition.

The questions I was asked at Sulianti Suroso were nonexistent at the clinic I'd checked myself in earlier. And yet the government said even the smallest health facilities are prepared to handle patients suspected of coronavirus.

This whole caboodle could only result in confusion. While the hotline advises going to the nearest health facilities, they appear to be unprepared to handle anyone who might have contracted coronavirus. What number should people call to get the right information then?

Reference hospitals should not be the only health facilities where the staff are briefed with the standard operating procedures to handle Covid-19 patients. Every small health facility, such as the clinic I went to, should know what to do. 

People will want to go to the doctors to be assured that they haven't contracted coronavirus, or be given the right first treatment if they have, and clinics are likely to be the first place that they go to.

If these clinics are not prepared, then be ready to witness reference hospitals get overwhelmed by the massive number of feverish people coughing and wondering if they have Covid-19.