Lesson from the owner of HealthPlus (biggest Pharmacy chain in Lagos/Abuja) whose family and domestic staff (11) have just been discharged from the Isolation centre.
WHEN THE UNTHINKABLE HAPPENS
My journey before, during and after COVID-19 Infection
I am the least likely person to be infected by COVID-19. Why? Because I am strict and particular about hygiene, health matters and maintaining standards.
As the pandemic trended in Asia, Europe and the Americas, I stayed on top of authentic news & information, and swiftly put in place processes and procedures at home and at work. For example, I coordinated the return of my children from their schools back to Nigeria, ensuring proper decontamination on arrival and 14-day self-quarantine for each. We initiated working from home before the Lagos State lockdown. My home too was on lockdown before the Lagos State lockdown. “No one in, no one out” was our mantra! All packages coming into the house were sanitized with bleach solution in a spray bottle, disinfecting wipes, hot ironing or washing with soap and water, depending on the item. All members of the household religiously took their nutritional supplements and had their stash of masks, gloves, hand sanitizers etc.
One weekend in April, a member of the family started coughing. It was a chesty cough and I did not initially pay attention, afterall, dry cough was the symptom associated with COVID-19. After a few days of constant coughing, it was necessary for a visit to be made to the hospital and COVID-19 antibody test was carried out. The result came back positive. Antibody tests have about a 70% degree of accuracy. I was trembling like a leaf when I got the news. I was in total shock. How did this virus get into our fortress? I will never know for sure! I immediately reached out to a friend who facilitated swift PCR tests the very next morning. Every member of the household including the drivers were tested (nose & throat swabs and sputum tests). I asked the doctors about the timing of the results. I was told 48 hours.
A call came through in 24 hours and the doctor said ‘’Is this a good time? Well, there is never a good time for news like this. We have a lot of positives’’. I grabbed a piece of paper and started scribbling. 11 out of 12 of us were positive. We had several vulnerable persons with underlying conditions in our family. From cardiovascular disease, asthma, allergies to the elderly. My life flashed before me!
Yes, I am aware that COVID-19 infection is not a death sentence but according to statistics, about 3% – 4% of infected persons will die. What are the odds that all of us will be spared? I was frightened. I was even more gutted by the fact that I had made a comment before the lockdown that if I get COVID-19 infection, I will die because of my underlying health conditions. Now my result was positive! My first action was to fall on my knees, join hands with one of my family members to pray and cancel my earlier confession. I learnt a lesson of a life time – never ever will I confess negatively again, as there is power in the tongue. I asked God to forgive my careless words.
I carefully broke the news of the positive test results to each person, managing emotions. My son researched information on what COVID survivors did and he shared the details with me. One of his findings is that they ate and drank alkaline foods and beverages and took a lot of hot fluids. We therefore shopped for alkaline foods such as lemon, watermelon, pawpaw, kiwi, pineapple, cucumber, kale and other green leafy vegetables. Other alkaline foods include broccoli, cauliflower, onion, garlic, root vegetables (sweet potatoes) and nuts. We avoided acidic foods such as sugar, dairy, processed foods, apples, grape fruit and drinks. We ordered a lot of juices from a popular local brand as some of their combinations ticked the alkaline box. We were determined to deal with this virus that was susceptible to heat and an alkaline environment.
The next day, we all packed our clothes and personal items for 7 days. We checked into the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) Yaba for isolation. The testimonial of Mrs Eyamba Dafinone on Arise News was reassuring as we journeyed to Yaba. There were 5 of us in the female ward and 6 in the male ward. Therapy started immediately. We were placed on Antiretrovirals (Lopinavir and Ritonavir aka Aluvia), Antibiotics (Azithromycin), Calcium, and Vitamin C. We continued our own prescription medicines (where relevant) and nutritional supplements. The supplements included our usual Multivitamin & Mineral Complex, Immune Boosters, Zinc, Black Seed Oil, Vitamin D etc.
The hospital was clean. The beds were new and the building had been obviously renovated from the Ebola times. This was comforting. The mattress was however covered by a disposable fitted sheet. There were no bedsheets, no pillow cases and no blankets. For the first two nights, we slept without these. The day after admission, my good friend helped us shop for bedsheets, pillow cases, blankets, cartons of bottled water, mentholated balm, Aboniki, electric kettles, plastic buckets and bowls, healthy snacks, honey, toilet paper, liquid hand soaps, detergent, disinfecting wipes, air freshener, disposable plates and cutlery, mugs, body cream, shower gel, toothpaste, toothbrushes etc. These were split between both wards. We tried to stay positive, determined to make the most of our stay. Food was ok but we augmented on most days.
All was well on Day 1 after admission. No one had symptoms. On Day 2, I was coordinating our affairs when I suddenly felt my lungs fill with fluid, like I was drowning. It was very uncomfortable and I felt some pain under my rib cage. It appeared like my chest was being pumped with fluid using a bicycle tyre pump. I raised an alarm. Luckily, our ward mate was a registered nurse who contracted COVID-19 in the course of duty. She swiftly grabbed a bucket, boiled water in a kettle, poured the boiling water in the bucket, put in a scoop of mentholated balm, sat me on a chair, I bent over the bucket and covered my head with a blanket. She coached me to breath in and hold for 10 seconds, then breath out and in again. I repeated these for 10 minutes. When I stood up, I felt better. Next was chest physiotherapy. She patted my back for some minutes. Click on this link for the technique https:///2MBctJ6. I was then offered a very hot cup of tea. I felt much better. Finally, I went online for information on breathing techniques that help COVID-19 patients. I had heard about these and found one. Click on this link for the technique https:///30fF9zr. The relief lasted 3-4 hours and the fluid/mucus started building up again. I quickly figured that I had to repeat this process of steam inhalation, chest physiotherapy, breathing technique and hot fluids 3-4x a day. I was really afraid to sleep that first night. I told my folks to check on me periodically. When I completed my last routine and slept on my tummy, I surprisingly slept like a baby that night. In the morning when I woke up, before opening my eyes, I whispered ‘’Thank you Lord’’.
The cough started a day after the respiratory illness. It was a raspy, productive cough with white sputum. My good friend shopped and made us two bowls of herbal paste made by chopping, blending and boiling 5 ingredients – Ginger, Garlic, whole Lemon, whole Orange and Pineapple. A heaped teaspoon of this paste in boiling water, in a mug, sweetened with honey became our mainstay. We shared with our fellow inmates.
Over the next 5 days, I got progressively worse. No fever, no loss of smell, no loss of taste, no headaches, just this horrible respiratory illness! Breathing was laboured. There was a fullness in my throat, like I had extra flesh inside the base of my throat. There was a tugging sensation across my throat and chest. There was a perpetual painful turbulence in my chest. I felt awful. The symptoms, which were sometimes indescribable, were worse at night. I recalled the animated documentary on CNN that described the damage that COVID-19 causes as it ravages the lungs. This bothered me. I have hyper inflammation on a good day, so I wasn’t surprised I was suffering so much. Apart from the respiratory symptoms, my legs ached. I also had back pain. It felt like I was permanently wearing a lead jacket. I walked slightly bent over. I was weak on several occasions. The wave of weakness made me feel like a doughnut, hollow on the inside. My symptoms were very similar to that of my girlfriend who lives in the UK. When she came down with the virus, I was in touch with her almost everyday and was very aware of how she suffered. She did not receive any medication beyond paracetamol and home remedies. I told myself that if she made it, I had a better chance of coming through.
The medicines gave me diarrhoea at first but this soon settled. Imodium was the remedy for this. We were advised to drink at least 3 liters of water daily to flush the kidneys. COVID-19 is known to pack up the kidneys. It was important to rest, at the same time movement was key. The good nurse/fellow patient said to me “You need a lot of both rest and exercise”. Lying on my back was not advisable as breathing became difficult. Lying on the tummy was advised but I found this position uncomfortable. My compromise position was on my side. I did not sleep well most nights. Exercise was walking within and in front of the wards. This good nurse made my entire family one spirometer each (aka blow glove). She requested for 11 latex examination gloves, 11 10ml syringes and cellotape. This DIY device was used to measure the movement of air into and out of the lungs. We all used it to exercise the lungs by blowing hard into the glove 10x back to back, once a day. She advised escalating to the doctors if anyone was unable to blow properly.
I made friends with the other ladies in the ward. We came from all walks of life, across all ages. Some were infected by their husbands. It appears many men don’t listen to advice, feel they know all, feel invincible! Small wonder COVID-19 infection statistics show a 70% to 30% split between male and female patients. Quite a few on admission were doctors and nurses who caught the virus on the job. We had pregnant patients too. Every morning and evening, we praised and worshipped God. We read the Bible and prayed. This kept us going. We kept hope alive. We developed a special bond. By His grace, we did not lose anyone in our section of the ward. Three of us in the ward however had the respiratory illness. My SPO2 monitor (aka Pulse Oximeter) was my companion. As long as the oxygen saturation in my blood was equal to or greater than 95, all was well. So I tracked this measurement periodically each day. I dipped to 92 on a few occasions but the breathing technique I found on Youtube and my other routines bumped my numbers back up. Apart from that done by the nurses, we still checked our temperature daily. Hot water salt gargle was recommended, so we did this 2x a day. Hot water bottle was suggested and we bought two. I filled both with hot water and placed them on my back. The back ache disappeared by the next day. We all had to wear our 3 ply surgical masks all the time while on admission. My guess is that it was to minimize further exposure to the virus which may increase viral load and delay recovery. I purchased a steamer, usually intended for a DIY facial. I preferred the steamer to boiling water in a bucket. I would set up the steamer, add 6 drops of eucalyptus or another relevant essential oil. The steamer provided a constant stream of steam for 15-20 minutes and this helped to break down the mucus in my lungs. Very effective!
I set up a WhatsApp group called ‘’Male Isolation’’ for my family in the male ward and posted on it all we were learning and practicing in the female ward. The duties were shared. Someone tracked temperature, SPO2 and pulse rates. We had Captains for praise & worship, prayers, exercise, chest physiotherapy, breathing technique, for producing hot tea and setting up steam inhalation. Keeping busy and active was great for the mind. The children had online school, so they were occupied. They just needed adequate data.
I saw many depressed and anxious people. Many cried. The burden of looking out for so many of my family members and domestic staff got to me. I was anxious. My pulse rate was high on many occasions. Through our ward windows, we watched the increasing numbers of people come for testing. A young lady was rushed in but unfortunately died. Her kids were so young. This was heartbreaking. While exercising one day, we met a young lad whose dad passed away due to COVID-19 infection. His mum and sister were also on admission. A grandpa was on admission, unaware his wife did not make it. Although mortality rate at 3% seems low, when you know a casualty, it hits home hard. These are not just numbers, but real people with family, friends, and aspirations, cut down in their prime.
A sense of humour was needed to stay positive and as happy as can be. I was grateful for some WhatsApp groups I belong to that were intentionally declared COVID-Free zones. I stopped my obsession for news on the pandemic. I cancelled my daily pilgrimage to worldometers.info for latest data. I only wanted to hear God’s promises and joyful news!
The doctors, nurses and cleaners at IDH tried their best. Their garb of jumpsuit, face shield, masks, gloves, boots, shoe covers, head cover etc must have been very uncomfortable, but each day, they visited the wards and did their jobs. One main complaint I had was the inadequate monitoring of the patients’ health…chest X-rays and blood tests were not carried out. Just food and medicines were given. Oxygen was available when required. Bottled water was grossly inadequate.
Every 3 days, our samples (nose swabs) were taken and by Day 7, most of my family members and I had tested negative twice. We were discharged. Such joy! We packed up our belongings and said our very emotional goodbyes. We met some folks there and we were now leaving them behind. One lady had been on admission for 30+ days. Upon discharge, the staff of IDH decontaminated our bodies, bags and suitcases with their contents with bleach solution. We stayed at a friend‘s apartment which was empty while our home was fumigated and cleaned. We cleaned professionally each day for 5 days to remove all traces of the fumigation chemicals. We couldn’t afford to add further distress of any kind to our respiratory system. A 14-day isolation period was required of us after discharge.
I am grateful to NCDC, the Governor of Lagos State and the Commissioner for Health for Lagos State who are at the forefront of this fight. Given our limited resources and poor healthcare infrastructure, they have been excellent. I appreciate the medical corp and other workers at IDH, LUTH and other Isolation Centres.
I am grateful to my family and friends who prayed us through this ordeal, who reached out with encouraging phone calls, cheering videos and even monetary gifts. Above all, I am grateful to our merciful God for saving all of us. Each of us recognise we have another chance at life. We know it is a miracle that all of us survived. We have recommitted our walk with God and the service of others. We are determined to live life more purposefully.
When we stepped back into our home 14 days after we left, we held a praise, worship and prayer session. Each of us spoke. My son said “This is a miracle I will remember for the rest of my life. I will share it with my children and grandchildren”.
What I did not bargain for was the vvveeerrryyy slow process of recovery post discharge. The two of us who had the respiratory illness remained weak for at least 4 to 6 weeks. I coughed throughout this period. Since no tests were carried out at IDH, we visited a nearby Lab for chest X-ray and full blood work. They questioned us on the reason for the test requests and we said we were COVID positive, but now negative. We just wanted to be sure all was well beneath the surface. The Manager could not look at us in the face. I produced my negative certificate, still we were refused. I pointed out that the refusal was stigmatization. The Manager said we were a first for them. We waited for 90 minutes for escalation to their top management before we were attended to. I couldn’t understand the hesitation, afterall, a Lab should assume all clients could be COVID positive and therefore apply their standard procedures for protection of all parties.
We continued with the admission routines. We were advised by a doctor to get a mucolytic cough syrup to speed up the break down of the mucus; Loratadine, an anti-itch medicine helped; Prednisone tablets to reduce the inflammation in the lungs and baby Aspirin (75mg) once a day to prevent clots, especially with all the unsubstantiated news of clots being a major cause of death. All these were carried out with a doctor’s guidance!
For me, the biggest takeaways are the mercy and grace of God on my family & I, listening to experts, leveraging networks, no man is an island – you need your family & friends, and acting with GREAT SPEED!
I am now 100%. We hope the antibodies we have will protect us but this disease is novel and there are a lot of uncertainties.
The rate of infection is very much on the rise. We are beginning to know people whose lives have been lost. I will therefore like to encourage you all not to let your guard down. Continue to “DO THE FIVE” as recommended by WHO. These are:
1. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
2. Cough or sneeze into your bent elbow or tissue. Dispose the tissue immediately and wash your hands.
3. Avoid touching your face, particularly your eyes, nose and mouth.
4. Adhere to social distancing rules. Stay at least 1 meter away from others.
5. If you feel unwell, stay at home. Please follow all the instructions provided by your local health authorities.
I will add that wearing a face shield in addition to a good quality face mask when you leave your home is very important, especially so when you visit crowded places like the market. It is safer to go the extra mile.
I know the above will help someone. Please share. Thank you.