California man on cruise hospitalized, tested for coronavirus in Japan
Feb. 12, 2020
“I asked to be tested too. We were living in the same cabin. But they said they were low on test kits.”
When San Fernando Valley resident Farah Toutounchian first heard about the coronavirus threat aboard her cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, violinists were playing music.
She turned to her husband and said: “This reminds me of the Titanic.”
That was before Feb. 4, when some 3,700 passengers and crew were ordered quarantined aboard the ship outside Japan. By Monday, California time, Mohammad Toutounchian became one of the Americans who showed symptoms of the potentially deadly virus and was taken from the ship to a hospital in Tokyo. By Tuesday night, his wife was experiencing the same symptoms.
Mohammad Toutounchian remained in a hospital intensive care unit and has been able to communicate with his family, his wife said in a phone interview from the ship, where she remained in quarantine.
“They didn’t let me go with him,” she said sobbing.
What began as an idyllic two-week cruise that set sail on Jan. 20 from Tokyo through Southeast Asia has ended in what Farah Toutounchian described as something akin to “a horror movie.”
12Farah and Mohammad Toutounchian aboard the cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, before a quarantine was ordered after a coronavirus outbreak. (Courtesy of Farah Toutounchian)Passengers are not allowed to leave their cabins except for designated periods, with only a certain number of people from each of the ship’s 14 levels out on outside decks at any one time. Everyone on the ship was handed a thermometer and asked to take their own temperature. If it goes over 37.5 Celsius — which is 99.5 Farhrenheit — they are to call a “fever line” on the ship, Farah Toutounchian said.
But reaction was not swift when she called that hotline.
“The only answer I got was, ‘I will pass your information to the doctor.’”
Her husband’s fever climbed past 102 degrees Farhrenheit, even after taking some over-counter fever reducing medication. Phone calls from her and her grown sons in California and Kentucky to Princess Cruises accomplished nothing, she said.
So Farah Toutounchian, a financial adviser from Tarzana, emailed the U.S. Embassy with this subject line: “I need help and medicine.”
Two hours later, Japanese doctors knocked on their cabin door. And soon after that, they returned to test Mohammad Toutounchian, 71, before taking him by ambulance to the hospital.
“I asked to be tested too. We were living in the same cabin. But they said they were low on test kits,” said his wife, who is 61.
“They were very nice. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate them. And the U.S. Embassy, they saved my husband’s life,” she said.
The family awaits to hear test results for Mohammad Toutounchian, an engineering consultant, to determine whether he has the Wuhan, China-based coronavirus that has struck more than 44,000 people, killing more than 1,000, mostly in China.
The Diamond Princess ship had the highest number of people infected out of China: 174 as of Wednesday, Tokyo time.
That included a new batch of positive cases.
“This is your captain speaking,” the captain began during one of his regular announcements that pipe into every cabin and room of the ship. There were 38 new cases, he said. All would be notified and transferred out, he said.
As Farah Toutounchian listened to the captain, she was unnerved.
“Who are these 38 people who are positive? Are any working, serving food?”
“I feel for the crew. Some are sick too,” she said. “I called Princess Cruise four times. I was worried my husband and I would catch the virus. I told them every time, they are preparing the food in the kitchen and there some sick people in the crew.
“If they get sick, they send them home without compensation. So some of them hide it at first. These are very poor people. The minute they’re sick, there are no benefits.”
Food continued to be delivered to each room, she said, that “spared no costs.” But Toutounchian said she would prefer the ship offer them inexpensive packaged, sealed food that is not prepared by others.
“I don’t care about gourmet food coming to the door. I want something packaged. I asked for $1 ramen soup,” she said.
A request for comment on the Toutounchian couple’s concerns was placed with Princess Cruises.
Toutounchian and the remaining passengers and crew have to remain aboard the ship until at least Feb. 19, when the 14-day quarantine is over.
But by Tuesday night, which was Wednesday in Tokyo, she was closely monitoring her health. She was experiencing body aches and other symptoms. And her temperature climbed to 38.5 Celsius, one degree over the temperature that necessitates a report.
“I already called (the ship’s medical staff.) They said they have a lot of people sick on this ship,” she said.
If she is transferred from the ship to a hospital, Toutounchian wants to be taken to the one housing her husband.