HOHHOT－After wearing a mask for so long, Ge Lei took several deep breaths when she stepped out of the hospital, inhaling fresh air free from the smell of disinfectant for the first time in weeks.
A white-collar worker from Wuhan, Hubei province, 26-year-old Ge (not her real name) had been excited about her Lunar New Year tour to Russia. For weeks she had been dreaming of an ice dive on Lake Baikal in Siberia and viewing the northern lights in Murmansk.
However, her trip was cut short at the border city of Ereenhot in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region last month when she was diagnosed with novel coronavirus pneumonia.
After two weeks of being quarantined and treated in hospital, she was discharged on Feb 6. "I will never forget those 14 days," she said.
Early on Jan 23, Ge had been on a train traveling from Beijing to Moscow, when it arrived at Ereenhot station. She and five other passengers were stopped by officials during a routine customs check.
"My passport showed I was from Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak, so I was told a further check was required," she said. Ge was unaware she had a fever and recorded a slightly high body temperature of 37.3 C.
When the suspected infected people were taken to Ereenhot People's Hospital, medical staff in protective suits were waiting at the gate. "I'd never seen such a scene before, all my nerves were strained," Ge said. After a series of examinations, including a blood test and computed tomography scans, Ge was suspected to have contracted the virus.
Later on the same day, China locked down the entire city of Wuhan in an unprecedented move to curb the spread of the virus, as the number of the confirmed cases across the country had surpassed 500.
Ge tested positive for the virus a day later, on the eve of the Lunar New Year. On hearing the result, she burst out crying in the hospital, her body trembling. "I had no family around me. I thought I would die," she recalled. After the medical staff calmed her down, Ge was finally able to call her mother and tell her about her infection.
Her anxiety and fear contributed to her condition deteriorating, and she developed pneumonia.
Liu Haisheng, director of the hospital's infectious diseases department, said Ge's pneumonia worsened, and two days later her condition was classified as "severe".
Ge was provided with nutritious food including fruit, milk and milk tofu, a local specialty and one of her personal favorites.
She said the most impressive meal was the dumplings on the eve of the Lunar New Year. "On top of the dumpling box, I saw a card saying 'Happy New Year. Be strong!' For the first time in my life, I was warmed by strangers, just like family," she said. Whenever medical staff checked on her, Ge rarely spoke. "I didn't want to utter a word for fear of contaminating them－the 'white angels'," she said.
On Jan 25, following a group consultation of senior doctors at the hospital, a decision was made to give her the HIV medication Kaletra. The antiretroviral medication was delivered from the regional capital Hohhot, and given to the doctors on the evening of Jan 27.
The drug, in combination with some traditional Chinese medicine, worked well on Ge. Her symptoms were gone by Feb 1, and she was tested for the virus again. She was discharged on Feb 6 after a second test confirmed the negative result.
Six people who were in close contact with her were also released after a 14-day quarantine. Ge is still under medical observation in Ereenhot.