The second Covid-19 patient, Sandi Fischer shares her experience  

Younten Tshedup 

Like most tourists, Sandi Fischer and her partner, Bert Hewitt planned a trip to Bhutan to explore the country’s unique culture and tradition.

On the list of places to visit, the Americans had Thimphu, Paro and Punakha.   “Bert and I really enjoy hiking so part of our decision was related to that, as well as hearing wonderful things about the people and culture of Bhutan.”

However, their plan began to fall apart as they arrived in the country on March 2. Bert Hewitt,76, started feeling ill soon after their plane landed at the Paro international airport.

“While I was able to do some sightseeing, he did not get to do so,” she said. “I often felt divided when I was out because I wanted to be certain that Bert was okay.”

On the third day after arriving in the country, Bert Hewitt, on his third visit to the national referral hospital tested positive for Covid-19. 

He became the first Covid-19 positive patient in the country.

Two weeks later, as Sandi was about to exit from the quarantine facility, she also tested positive.

“I was surprised but also not really surprised when I tested positive since I had spent so much time in close proximity to Bert,” she said.

A psychologist by profession, the 57-year-old said that she managed to cope with the situation with support she received from her friends and families back home, as well as the kindness and compassion of the Bhutanese people including their guide and driver, and the hospital staff.

Sandi’s sister who is a nurse also provided her support away from home reassuring her that things would improve. “She reminded me that Bert’s situation was different from mine and luckily I never developed a temperature or a cough,” she said.   

“My brother and mother were worried but kept in touch. I think it helped me and my son since we were able to speak on the phone on a regular basis.”

However, her decade-long experience in studying human emotion and behaviour did little to help her when her partner was air evacuated from the country on March 13.

“I was terribly afraid because he was so sick and I knew that he had a very long way to get home,” she said.  “I hoped that his body would hold out and luckily it did.  I think Bert’s spirit – he is stubborn and competitive – helped him to survive.  He is also youthful for his age and in good physical shape.”

She said that the health care the couple received in Bhutan has been ‘exemplary’. “There was probably more personal attention from the doctors and nurses than we would have received in the US.  Bert credits the doctors and nurses in Bhutan with saving his life.”

It was learnt that Bert Hewitt  after being flown to the US, is recovering well. He has tested negative twice and would soon be moved to a rehabilitation facility to continue his recovery before heading home.

Last week, Sandi tested negative. It was the second time she tested negative. She is currently in a quarantine centre under observation. Health Minister Dechen Wangmo have said that she would qualify as recovered if she does not show symptoms within the seven-day observation period.

Sharing her experience, Sandi said while quarantine was challenging, it was important to keep busy. “Take time to do things that you enjoy every day – listen to music, watch a fun TV show, communicate with family and friends, read, pray, and maybe even try something new, exercise,” she said. “And it’s okay to cry.”

With the increasing number of positive cases in the country, Sandi said dealing with them would depend on how serious the patient is. “If they are asymptotic or only mildly ill, I would treat them as one usually do.”

However, she explained that since her partner’s condition was serious, the couple had to discuss difficult topics such as whether he wanted a breathing tube or whether he wanted to be resuscitated if his heart stopped. “We would also talk on what he meant to me over the years.  I did not want him to die without talking to him about everything.”

Sandi cautioned the Bhutanese to take the virus seriously. “ Listen to the health minister and others related to restrictions that are in place (or will be). Isolate and wash your hands often.  If you don’t feel well see a doctor.”

Back home, working as a psychologist with children and adults with developmental disabilities is stressful, she said. “I found the people here to be so compassionate.  I hope their model will inspire me when I am home. I would like to thank the people of Bhutan for their prayers and well wishes.”

Meanwhile, sharing her appreciation for the guide and driver for their constant support, she said, “I would love to go to Taktsang if I have time and the physical stamina to do so.”