February 14, 2020 / 7:10 AM / 5 days ago

Dying a desperate death: A Wuhan family's coronavirus ordeal

BEIJING (Reuters) - There were no doctors, nurses or medical equipment at the Wuhan hotel converted into a temporary quarantine facility for suspected coronavirus patients when brothers Wang Xiangkai and Wang Xiangyou arrived two weeks ago.

A medical worker puts on a protective suit before entering a sports centre which has been converted into a makeshift hospital to treat patients of the novel coronavirus, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 12, 2020. cnsphoto via REUTERS

The next day, Xiangkai, 61, woke to find that Xiangyou, 62, had died.

The Wangs are among tens of thousands of families devastated by the coronavirus in Wuhan, where the medical system has been overwhelmed by the outbreak, despite massive reinforcements and two speedily built new hospitals.

“What did we do to deserve such punishment?” Wang Wenjun, Xiangkai’s daughter, said over the phone to Reuters.

A crematorium sent a car to pick up Xiangyou’s body, but the family was told no mourning ceremony would be allowed. They could only collect his ashes after 15 days.

Two days before Xiangyou died, doctors at the 4th Hospital of Wuhan had written in a diagnosis that both brothers were likely infected by the coronavirus which has now killed over 1,350 people in China. CT scans showed their lungs had turned “white” with patterns resembling cracked glass, symptomatic of severe viral infections.

But the hospital did not have any RNA test kits to confirm their cases, and thus could not admit them for treatment, according to the doctors. They were told to contact their community government, which on Jan. 30 offered to house the brothers at the hotel.

Hubei province on Thursday reported a sharp rise in the number of deaths and cases after changing its methodology to include those diagnosed through CT scans like Xiangyou. More than 63,000 people have now been infected nationwide and 1,380 have died.

Xiangkai, a retired cab driver, refused to remain at the Echarm hotel after his brother died, instead staying alone at a relative’s home. His wife visited daily, bringing food and Chinese medicine, until she too fell ill with what doctors suspect is the coronavirus.

Wenjun lives on the other side of Wuhan. Closed transportation lines means she is unable to visit her parents.

Desperate for treatment for her father, she issued a plea for help on the Twitter-like Weibo. The community government responded, saying the decision was up to the virus taskface.

At around midnight on Monday, the family received a call saying a hospital bed was available. With no public transport, Wang’s 58-year-old wife pushed him in a wheelchair for the 10-minute trip to the hospital.

A new CT scan showed Xiangkai’s lung infection had worsened. He now has trouble walking to the toilet on his own and is awaiting the results of an RNA test.

“On Jan. 22, our entire family had a Lunar New Year dinner, and we even took a photo together. It has been bad news every day since then,” Wenjun said.

Reporting by Yawen Chen; Editing by Karishma Singh and Kim Coghill

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