SARS survivor on the stress of quarantine

So I’ll show you upstairs. [Reporter: Andrew Chang] Susan Sorrenti has called this place home for 20 years. But for a time, it was also a kind of prison. Basically secluding myself from the whole family. [Andrew] In this bedroom? [Susan] In this bedroom right here, yep. [Andrew] Susan was a nurse when she was unknowingly exposed to a patient with SARS. The question was had she been infected? To be safe, she was told to go home stay there and wait. [Susan] There was no time to hug the kids or kiss the kids. I basically took myself right away up to a separate level of the house and I quarantined myself up there. [Andrew] And up there she stayed. The only way she could see her kids through this window. At one point they wrote on the top of my car which was very dirty that they said mommy I love you and that kind
of made me cry. My biggest fear of during the first few days was that that would be the last time that I would see them because I didn’t know what was going to happen once I got sick. [Andrew] If they would get sick too. [Susan] And if they would get sick I would have been devastated. Of course, that would be — sorry. [Andrew] No no no, it’s okay. Susan did eventually get very sick. She had SARS. Spent three weeks in isolation in hospital. Then even as she got better was quarantined at home again. This time for a month. [Andrew] Where does a person’s mind go when you were confined in a small — [Susan] The worst place possible. To the worst place possible like where does your mind go. You go to the worst-case scenario and and try try as you might like it’s hard not to — It’s hard to keep perspective at that kind of — In that kind of moment in time. People were worried. Similar to where we were today. [Andrew] Dr. Laura Hawryluck has an idea of what Susan’s life must have been like. She worked in the ICU during SARS and she noticed quarantines affected the mind. So she studied them. Depression, feeling isolated, alone, frustrated. There was some anger. There was stress, anxiety. [Andrew] She co-authored a study of 129 people who were under quarantine. She found about a third of them developed symptoms of PTSD and depression. Nightmares too. Given fuel by fears of being infected, infecting others. And the longer the quarantine, the worse the symptoms. Talking to other people it’s a very human experience. Having the ability to go out to get groceries. To do things that we take for granted. Under quarantine those get restricted. And it’s hard to explain how much that gives you a sense of being cut off. [Andrew] Now 17 years later, social media, video chat. All of a sudden we’re never all that far from anyone anymore. But with so much chatter, there’s a lot
of bad information out there. [Laura] My mind goes to are they getting information? Who’s giving it to them do they know when to expect their next update. Who’s checking in on them. How are they going to know that they’re not just being isolated off. That the healthcare system society we all still care. You think they can start to question that after a while? I think you can. I think most people can handle uncertainty. And what they need is honesty. And honesty is what leads to trust. [Andrew] For Susan the road to real recovery was long. Even after she got better she suffered from anxiety attacks at work. And even though the rest of her family never got sick it was hard on everyone. Talking about the quarantine part. That’s still the most sensitive and emotional part of it. [Andrew] Still feels raw? [Susan] It still feels pretty pretty much, yeah. [Andrew] All these years later? [Susan] I don’t think I ever really dealt with it. [Andrew] 17 years later. [Susan] 17 years later, I don’t think I ever will forget it. And I don’t think anyone who’s gone through it will forget it. [Andrew] But in the face of this coronavirus. COVID-19. She offers this to anyone living through what she lived through. [Susan] Keep perspective. Because that was what I lost and that’s what I think made it so painful for me. You could always go to the worst-case scenario but try to find something to ground you and bring you back to what is actually happening and deal with it on a moment-to-moment basis.

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