PETALING JAYA: He is known as the “loneliest man” in Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, a place where many people experience the worst moments in their lives.
In the six months that Malaysian construction engineer Khaidir Abu Jalil, 34, has been hospitalised for a rare autoimmune disease with a 50% survival rate, he hasn’t had a single visitor.
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, he knows nobody, not even a friend of a friend.
“We were struck that he’s only 34, the prognosis was very poor, and being so sick, and in intensive care, there was not one visitor who could be with him,” Dr Laila Girgis, head of rheumatology at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Public Hospital told the daily.
It said doctors and allied health professionals worried his isolation would impede his recovery, adding that they hadn’t treated anyone so sick and so alone for so long.
Because of Covid-19, St Vincent’s has had to support increased numbers of people stranded in Sydney, sick and in need of help – many without access to Medicare.
The report said since February, Khaidir’s body has shrunk to 42kg, more than half his weight a few months earlier. His temperature spikes past 40 degrees Celsius daily.
“His hands and elbows were covered with necrotising skin lesions, called Gottron papules, causing black and painful sores on his hands and elbows which ulcerated. His lungs rapidly deteriorated. He crashed in the intensive care unit and was resuscitated, more than once,” the daily reported.
It said when he arrived from a country hospital, he was critically ill and “looked awful, according to Dr Girgis.
Khaidir told the Sydney Morning Herald in the midst of a pandemic, which prevented family or friends from travelling to be with him, he had lost his job as a construction engineer in Melbourne, his visa status was uncertain and he became homeless after his lease ended on an apartment in Victoria.
He came to Australia to earn money to support his family in Malaysia, he told the daily.
By the time Khaidir arrived at St Vincent’s Public Hospital in July, he had been without a diagnosis since he first became ill in February. Doctors had feared he may have an infectious disease, the report said.
Working with other experts in the hospital, Dr Girgis diagnosed Khaidir as having a rare autoimmune disease, called dermatomyositis. “He had low oxygen levels, couldn’t breathe and had to be intubated in ICU,” it added.
The report said dermatomyositis is rare, but Khaidir also tested for a worse variant. He was antibody positive for MDA5, which rapidly scars the lungs. It reduced the risk of his survival to about 50% over six months.
The daily said that nearly six months after his admission, he is recovering and staff are optimistic.
“During his time at St Vincent’s, he would cry and get sad. He never complained, though, which impressed staff who treated him. Doctors, who were the same age as their patient, said they were shocked by his appearance, only for Khaidir to reassure them that he was a fighter, the report said.
When he doesn’t want to face the world, he pulls a blanket over his head, Amanda McLaughlin, a clinical nurse consultant, told the daily.
She has become close to him during nearly 40 plasma exchanges, during which his blood is washed and which take several hours.
“Even when he was very ill, and had to tell his mother in Malaysia to prepare for the worst, Dr Girgis heard him say he was receiving the best of care,” the report said.
“The second time in intensive care, and we said he was critical, his mother cried when I spoke to her on her next-door neighbour’s phone,” the report quoted Dr Girgi as saying. “But I was really impressed that even [then], he was reassuring his parents.”
When he arrived in Melbourne for work last year, Khaidir said he had a very healthy life – he exercised, went to the gym and played golf.
The report said a “quiet reserved person”, he didn’t make many friends.
When asked by the reporter how he kept going when he was so alone, Khaidir responded by bringing out selfies of himself at his sickest.
“I don’t want to go like that again. To motivate [myself], I just look at the picture of me before. I just want a life. I saw my picture … I was very sick, very skinny,” he told the newspaper.
“Khaidir deteriorated further when his rapidly deteriorating lung disease caused “white-out lungs”, McLaughlin told the daily.
According to the report, because of the immune suppression drugs he was taking, he contracted a fungal infection causing abscesses in his lung.
“When they did the plasma exchange, it made a remarkable difference. The chest was quite clear,” it added.- FMT