Heartbreak, loss and COVID-19: I am Case 74 and this is my story
He had only been known as Case 74, the one who made the news for his sunflower and open letter sent to fellow patients infected by the coronavirus.
But now the 29-year-old from Grace Assembly of God has come out to reveal his identity for one purpose – so that others may know what kept him going.
HK Ng shares about how his 19 days in the isolation ward at Alexandra Hospital were life-changing, and why he felt moved to do what he did.
I struggled with the decision to publish this story because the shame was overbearing. It felt like the ultimate denial of myself.
The last few months, however, have taught me how to let go of many things, including my fear of suffering and death. To give you more context, I’ll have to go back to the start.
I first accepted Christ in primary school. When I went on to secondary school, I joined a cell group and was even serving in church ministry.
On reflection though, it seemed that I had created a mental checklist on how to be a Christian and checked off the boxes not entirely because I loved God, but because I wanted to be part of something. I was merely just going with the flow.
I felt a void that I tried to fill with relationships.
On the outside, I did everything “right”, but deep inside, especially when I was alone, I struggled with many things like pornography, pride, anger, loneliness and stubbornness.
During my polytechnic years, I felt a void that I tried to fill with relationships, but my first relationship ended after two years.
After recovering from the wounds with the help of my cell group members, I went into another relationship against the advice of my loved ones. It was smooth and lasted for eight years.
I was happy in the relationship. Why was there a need for God?
I THOUGHT I HAD FOUND THE SECRET TO JOY
This went on until last October when my eight-year relationship ended.
I was in such a bad physical state; I could not open my eyes due to conjunctivitis and was practically blind for a few days. Even though we were no longer together, I still called my ex-girlfriend and she still took care of me.
I could not believe I had lost everything. There was so much pain in me.
But with my brothers’ encouragement, I returned to church. To my surprise, my relationship with Him was not like before. It ran much deeper; it felt like I had awakened to my identity in Christ as a child of God.
I also began to experience His love in so many ways. My tears would just flow, but it wasn’t sadness. That amazing feeling was indescribable.
In one such encounter, God touched me so deeply that I cried uncontrollably all the way while driving across Singapore from West to East.
I experienced things that I never imagined could happen.
I recalled kneeling down many times in the quiet of my room and going to Him in prayer.
“All I have left is this one lowly life of mine. Go ahead and take it,” I would tell Him.
As I continued to pour out my heart in surrender, I experienced things that I never imagined could happen. Some of my daily struggles with sexual sin disappeared instantly, although the temptations were still there.
I also found that the pain of my failed relationship was gone in just three months. I even requested to meet up with my ex-girlfriend to tell her I forgave her and asked for her forgiveness!
HIS KINDNESS LEADS ME TO REPENTANCE
But relationships were not the only thing that I felt led to surrender. Money was another.
I knew that if I wanted to honour God, I had to surrender different aspects of my life to Him. As such, I wanted to make right an inappropriate financial decision I made years earlier, even if it meant losing all my savings.
I remember kneeling down in my room again, crying.
I had to fork out a huge sum of money and even had to ask for a loan. By the grace of God, the deadline got extended by six months!
Unlike my younger days, I realised I no longer saw God as a “cosmic Kleenex” or an “ATM” that I would run to when I needed to get something or feel good.
I stopped worshipping God based on what He could give or bless me with. Instead, I started worshipping Him simply because He is God.
Who knew that very soon after, I would reach another point in my life where I had to learn again what it means to surrender more of myself.
This time, it was about life and death.
AND THEN CAME THE CORONAVIRUS
On February 12 (Wednesday), I started to experience a slight fever and learnt that the church I was worshipping at had a confirmed case of COVID-19. I went to the hospital, and the doctors advised me to rest at home and continue with self-isolation.
While practising social distancing, I watched some sermons and was reminded that this battle wasn’t mine to fight.
I remember how Jehoshaphat made worship a key weapon when Israel had to fight against their enemies (2 Chronicles 20), and I told myself: “If I really have the virus, the only thing I can do is to worship my way through.”
I started worshipping Him simply because He is God.
On Friday night before I returned to the hospital for the swab test, I asked myself: “Am I willing to trust God with my life?”
While praying to God, I was able to say: “Yes, I come to you with the same posture when I lost everything.”
When I woke up the next day, Psalm 23:4 came to mind. Even though I meditated on it while walking to the hospital, I still felt that there was an extremely low possibility that I would be infected.
I would later realise how much significance that verse would carry.
THE STORM WAS NOT IN ME
On Saturday afternoon, I saw the fear in the eyes of the three doctors who entered my ward to announce the results of my test. They were very afraid that I would break down.
I didn’t, but I had trouble sleeping on the first night in the isolation ward. After tossing around for seven hours, I read Psalm 91:14-16.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
I realised that I had to surrender my fear of death and suffering (e.g. waking up in the middle of the night feeling breathless and being tubed through my nose). In my tears, I told God that I was willing to put my life into His Hands.
“If it’s possible, let me survive this because I’ve just come to know You again. But if it’s really Your will that I don’t, let my physical pain be minimal,” I prayed, feeling mentally prepared to see Him if I should die.
From that moment, I felt free. My insecurities were gone, and I remained very positive throughout my 19 days in isolation.
The doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and I were constantly encouraging each other with notes we would paste on the glass panel that separated us.
I even decorated the room with flowers, fruit and snack boxes that I received, and I was using a cardboard box as my exercise mat!
Every day inside the isolation ward was an opportunity to experience God.
During one of my daily worship sessions, I thought about the less-fortunate patients like the migrant workers who caught the virus. Not only did they have fewer resources – their family might not even have the means to contact them.
It was then I decided to pen a letter to encourage them in their struggles. To my surprise, the healthcare workers who read it told me it encouraged them as well!
Towards the end of my 19-day stay, I started to see a series of mixed results on my swab test: negative, positive, negative, positive. However, on the last night, I realised there was a sudden wave of excitement outside my ward.
I looked out and the nurses finally announced that I had tested negative for two consecutive days and would be discharged the next day after the doctor’s review!
I DIDN’T WANT THE PEACE TO END
When I was discharged, the doctors were worried about my mental condition since I was isolated for almost 20 days. But the truth is, it was the peace and grace of God that kept me going every single day in the isolation ward.
Was I happy to be discharged? Yes and no. No because I worried that my experience with God would come to an end.
However, even after I went home, I realised that this peace didn’t leave me. This was a peace that I previously searched for in money, relationships, alcohol, debauchery, physical exercise and even loved ones.
Every day inside the isolation ward was an opportunity to experience God.
When I left the hospital, the first thing I wanted to do was to give thanks and glorify God.
For the next three days, I bought and wrote 38 thank you cards to all the nurses, doctors and healthcare workers – one of them even invited me to their sibling’s wedding!
Someone asked if I was fearful of catching the virus again. My answer is yes, but I’ve also come to learn that it’s how we deal with our emotions that matters most, regardless of the situations we encounter.
In fact, knowing that I could possibly get infected with the virus again makes me thankful because I know that I’m living by His grace every day.
Looking back, I now see that even during my 10 years in the wilderness, God was still there watching out for me.
Over the past few months, He has been revealing to me the things that I need to surrender to Him – and in surrendering I’ve experienced freedom. Freedom from emotional pain, freedom from bondage to sin.
Surrendering my shame in sharing my story was another thing that I felt He wanted me to do.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
In Christ, there is no shame. Jesus spilled His blood; I merely responded by surrendering my heart.
THINK + TALK
- Are you feeling a void in your life? What are you filling it with?
- Despite the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring, do you have peace today?
- Knowing that Jesus loves you, would you be willing to surrender your heart to God?
- Have you experienced the joy of surrender?