What you need to know:
- Female and male patients of all ages clung plastic bags full of oxygen and were gasping for air as the coronavirus choked them.
- Children are not spared either. In the pediatric section, the atmosphere was tense.
Weak and desperate patients gasping for air, with their veins protruding from their necks. That is what greeted us when we came face to face with the reality of Covid-19 at isolation facilities in Kisumu County on Thursday.
Female and male patients of all ages clung plastic bags full of oxygen and were gasping for air as the coronavirus choked them and tried to sniff life out of their lungs.
Bogged down by breathing difficulties, they appeared to be in a battle zone fighting and determined to wrestle the strangling symptoms of the disease.
Even in their desperate state, they used the little breath they had to warn reckless and irresponsible citizens who are sceptical of the killer effects of the disease - to be careful and take care of themselves.
Children are not spared either. In the pediatric section, the atmosphere was tense.
Dozens of children were also fighting for their lives in wards filled with moans, tears, incessant coughs, the ticking sounds of machines and gaping mouths. It was a heartbreaking and almost hopeless sight.
The Nation team went inside isolation facilities at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH), and its Kondele branch, where critically ill Covid-19 patients are receiving medical care.
Both facilities, with a capacity of 150 and 68, respectively, were full. So were the 20 ICU beds - 18 at JOOTRH and two at the Kondele facility.
Flouting Covid-19 rules
In an attempt to put a face to the statistics showing that the region has recorded a steady increase in infections in the past few weeks, we interviewed senior county government staff, a cleric, sales representatives and sportsmen.
We also spoke with ordinary citizens fighting for their dear lives in isolation, who warned Kisumu residents against recklessness and flouting Covid-19 rules.
We donned our personal protective gear covering the whole body and were cleared by the medical personnel to enter the JOOTRH isolation facility, which is at the heart of the biggest referral hospital in Western Kenya.
We met Daniel Achieng, who narrated how he had survived by the grace of God and was saddened by what he saw as recklessness among the public.
“Nine of us were admitted at this facility, but only me and the other person have come out here alive. I have seen seven people die beside me and it is through God’s grace that I’m alive to ask Kisumu people to exercise caution,” he said.
The virus has no respect for class or political stature.
Next to Mr Achieng were three other patients, among them Haggai Kadiri, the chief officer in charge of youth, women and gender affairs in the Kisumu County government.
Mr Kadiri had been at the facility for nine days.
Anxiety and fear
Though he was feeling better, during the interview we could still hear him struggle with breathing from where he is confined in a plastic chair whose legs have been cut to allow patients to excrete, as their movement is limited.
“Never in my life have I ever been admitted and placed to sit on a seat where I excrete and can’t move because oxygen has been piped to the walls. This Covid-19 is real and we must take care,” he said.
He told the Nation that he found his professional colleagues there but they had been discharged by the time we got there.
On Monday, Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o announced that operations at county government offices for non-essential staff would be shut down.
Mr Kadiri mused that what kills patients is anxiety and fear and he was grateful that medics were offering patients psychosocial support.
“When I came in here, I was told that the bed I’m occupying previously had someone who succumbed to the virus and this can be very unsettling,” he said.
The clergy is not spared either. Among the patients is Sheikh Ustadh Hassan Mwenyeheri, the imam of Masjid Issa Bin Mariam in Kisumu.
He was about to conduct prayers at the mosque when his whole body started shaking. He was rushed to Twaiba and Nightingale hospitals, whose wards were full. He was later referred to JOOTRH, where he has been for more than seven days.
Difficulty in breathing
“Corona is real and people must take precaution,” he says.
“After I leave this facility, I will ensure there are face masks and handwashing stations at the mosques to prevent the spread of the disease,” he said.
In a corner of the room was a well-known rugby player with the Kisumu Rugby Football Club and a sales representative for a company.
Mr John Cox Mwevale Ogova’s well-built body was brought down with what started out as malaria symptoms, before he was diagnosed with Covid-19 on May 30.
“After feeling some fatigue and fever, I went for the malaria dose twice. It was only after I developed difficulty in breathing that I went for the test, which turned out positive,” he said.
He warned people against self-medication, saying the virus keeps mutating and presents itself in different forms that might be misconstrued for other illnesses.
“I’m popular in Kisumu and my message to my peers is, let us be cautious and avoid crowds as much as possible,” said the salesman, who visits many towns and interacts with many people.
Ms Seline Awiti, the nurse in charge of the Kondele isolation facility, acknowledged being overwhelmed with the growing number of patients coming in and others waiting in the queue.
Influx of patients
She took us through the process of admitting patients.
They are first examined at the casualty unity, which must confirm whether there are available beds at the hospital, which has 34 beds available on the ground floor and another 34 on the first floor.
Suspected cases showing symptoms are first placed in a room downstairs until they are tested and found positive before they are admitted to the wards.
Ms Awiti said the facility was full to capacity.
“There are too many infections. It is a scenario where you discharge a patient and that bed is immediately prepared for another person in the queue waiting to be admitted,” she said.
With an influx of patients, the situation is compounded by the limited number of staff who handle the many patients who need specialised care at all times, and the chance that workers will be exposed to the virus.
“We are severely understaffed. There are only the two of us handling all the 34 patients, and at the same time I also have some administrative duties within the hospital. It is not a position someone else would wish to be in,” she said.
She urged Kisumu residents to take care of themselves, saying the recovery rate once a patient gets to the isolation facility is fifty-fifty.
Her sentiments were shared by Dr George Rae, the JOOTRH chief executive officer, who said infections were bound to keep rising.
As a referral facility, the doctor said, JOOTRH was getting self-referrals as well as others sent there from private and public facilities who hope to receive a high level of treatment.
He said the hospital had adequate oxygen, which is piped directly to the wards as Covid-19 is known for attacking lungs with patients needing high concentrations of oxygen to facilitate metabolism.
He added that due to the growing number of patients, the hospital was converting other wards to accommodate Covid-19 patients.
“We have only 20 ICU units, but we are trying to turn most beds to be ICU-enabled by providing oxygen, nurses to monitor patients, although currently we may not cope with the numbers since we have few staff who also manage other illnesses,” he said.
His clarion call to Kisumu residents is to take personal responsibility for their lives.
“I would urge people to take personal responsibility and vow that for the next two months they will be adhering to the MoH protocols so that their families, neighbours and colleagues at work do not contract Covid-19. That will really help us,” he said.
The JOOTRH morgue has a capacity of 30, sources said, but there were more than 100 bodies yet to be collected. Dr Rae urged families to pick up the bodies of their loved ones within 72 hours. Kisumu recorded 234 cases in the last three days
Kisumu cases over the past five weeks
Week of May 3 to May 9- 168 cases
Week of May 10- May 16- 181 cases
Week of May 17 – May 23- 373 cases
Week of May 24- May 30- 805 cases
Week of May 31- June 5- 780 cases