A Chinese woman named Wang Mei is demanding to know why her “cured” husband died of the coronavirus five days after he was released from a Wuhan medical center.
The death of 36-year-old Li Liang prompted clinics across the city to stop discharging patients, while hospitals in other parts of China are reporting an unsettling number of relapses and re-infections.
Li Liang was diagnosed with the coronavirus on February 4 and admitted to one of Wuhan’s improvised virus hospitals on February 12. On February 26, he was released after testing negative for two days, his fever seemingly cleared up, although scans showed massive damage to his lungs from the infection.
As per regulations, Li was relocated to a quarantine center in a local hotel for 14 days of isolation and observation. He began complaining of renewed symptoms on February 28 and was too weak to stand by March 2. The doctors attributed his weakness to “stress” and refused to let his wife see him.
Li was back in the hospital by the afternoon of March 2 and dead by sundown. He died in his wife’s arms, telling her that he wanted to go home. She said she wept over his body for hours until a funeral home collected his remains.
Wang Mei told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Friday that she has been calling local government officials every day looking for an explanation of her husband’s death.
“He only had a low temperature when he was admitted, only just a bit of coughing. In hospital, he took herbal medicine twice a day. Later he even became a volunteer at the hospital, moving supplies,” she said.
Doctors consulted by the SCMP said the CAT scan showing damage to Li’s lungs three days before he was released was concerning but not proof that his coronavirus infection had returned.
Wang Mei was especially angry that the “quarantine hotel” did not seem to be monitoring her husband’s condition carefully. She had to call for help to get medical staff to examine him during his final hours, and she had to call for an ambulance herself when she was told he needed to return to the hospital, a journey he did not live to complete.
“He had been recovering fine, why did I need to call the ambulance within 10 minutes of my arrival? I was so anxious that I even dialed the number wrong the first time,” she told the SCMP.
“On March 1, he already felt under the weather. On March 2, I watched him pass away, how can that happen?” she asked. “They didn’t even try to resuscitate him.”
Wang Mei was undeterred by quick and ruthless censorship of Li’s story, which was pulled down from two Chinese news websites soon after it was posted.
“Our lives have been turned upside down. No matter what happens, I want an answer,” she said.
According to reports that haven’t been censored from local media, Wuhan’s network of makeshift coronavirus clinics decided to stop discharging most patients in the wake of Li’s death.
Under rules imposed by Wuhan city health authorities, patients will now be discharged only if they display seven days of normal body temperature, high levels of blood oxygen saturation, improved lung condition, and negative results from at least two tests for the coronavirus. Additionally, hospitals are now monitoring patients for the presence of antibodies that indicate their bodies are fighting a coronavirus infection, a test devised within the past two weeks by Chinese virologists.
The notice imposing these rules did not mention Li by name, but it did say there have recently been “many relapsed patients who were later treated at hospitals again.”
The first rumblings of significant relapse or reinfection problems were heard in late February in Japan and China, leading doctors to suspect the coronavirus can go dormant and lurk in the body until the antibodies created to combat it have dissipated.
Another complication is that scientists believe there are at least two strains of the Wuhan coronavirus, one of them more virulent and dangerous than the other. The significance of the second strain is still hotly debated among epidemiologists, but it could complicate the lives of patients who recover from one strain and are subsequently exposed to the other — a significant danger for patients like Li who are obliged to spend a long period recovering in one of China’s improvised, crowded, and dubiously sanitary quarantine facilities.