What you need to know:
- I will never forget the shock I got when I received that dreaded call from Aga Khan University Hospital
I write this a day after the government officially discharged me from the Covid-19 home-based care programme, giving me a stamped discharge letter to that effect.
Whenever I will be reflecting about my fight with the virus, three voices will always play in my mind. The first is that of the person who convinced me to go to hospital when I had resolved to give the searing joint aches, fever and headache one more night to gauge how my body would fight back.
“Just go to hospital. You’re not a doctor, Elvis. If you’re unable to breathe at night (and die, God forbid), I’ll have myself saying, ‘You know, he’d told me.’”
That was Ms Jane Muiruri, the Nation Media Group’s head of human resources, in her typical calm but firm manner.
Well, I place too much trust in my immunity and I go to hospital as a last resort (my wife will tell you she long gave up on convincing me to seek medication on Day One of any symptoms). I had, however, decided to follow the company’s advisory that whoever felt under the weather should contact the HR department for guidance. Ms Muiruri’s advice, and a means of transport she organised to take me to hospital, turned out to be that stitch in time that saves nine.
The other voice that I will always remember is of a woman from Aga Khan University Hospital. She called at 10.49am on a Tuesday as I was attending a work meeting online. This was the second day after they had taken my samples.
“So, the result turned positive for coronavirus,” she said.
All I could utter was: “No!”
Then she gave a list of advisories on what I should do under home-based care. Some of them below:
“So, of importance, one is supposed to isolate. Isolation means you are not supposed to interact with your family members. You are not supposed to interact with your siblings, your colleagues at work or your friends for a minimum of 10 days.
“You are advised to eat a balanced diet with a lot of fruits and vegetables. Oranges are very good and they have a lot of Vitamin C which helps boost the body’s immunity. Make sure you drink a lot of warm water in a day. Also, take normal drinks like tea.
“Sleep on the tummy; prone position. When the chest is on the bed, it helps expand the lungs, which improves breathing.
Stay at home
“Watch out for these symptoms, and in case you develop them do not stay at home. The first is difficulty in breathing. That’s not a good symptom. Also, chest pains are not good. As for fevers and body pains, those can be managed at home with medication.”
That call lasted 13 minutes, although it felt longer. It left me stunned. All the while I had thought it was malaria. I had not lost my sense of taste or smell. There wasn’t too strong a cough or sneezing, no itchy throat. Pray, how was this Covid-19?
The third memorable voice was also from another woman, a government ambulance operator whom I spoke with on day seven of my isolation. That night, I had felt some pains at the bottom of my chest and I thought I should get an ambulance to take me to hospital for checks.
My idea was to go for tests and return home, but she thought otherwise: “The way you’re breathing, you won’t return to the house. I can hear it.”
That message was scary for two reasons. One, it shocked me that my lungs could be getting subdued. Subdued lungs is how Covid-19 claims lives and I dreaded being a statistic. Goodness gracious!
Two, she suggested that I go for admission at Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital, the nearest to my residence. I fear government hospitals and, given that Mama Lucy has been in the headlines for not-so-flattering reasons, I dreaded the fact that I could be a patient there. But I was ready to be admitted if that’s what it would take to keep the situation under control.
There was also the connotation in her “you won’t return to the house” that made me thinking I should quickly call a lawyer and dictate a Will.
Well, I didn’t — partly because of an assurance by colleague Wanjohi Githae, a Covid-19 survivor who is mulling becoming a Covid motivational speaker. I can now be his handyman.
“You see, the day you felt the worst symptoms? That’s the day it was at the peak. It shouldn’t do anything more,” Mr Githae said.
Needless to say, the government ambulance took a tad too long to arrive and I took myself to Aga Khan. Midnight found me waiting for results of at least six tests conducted on my blood. I also had my lungs examined through radiology.
By around 4am, the results came and I was relieved when the doctors said the scan had shown no sign of pulmonary embolism. Blood oxygen and sugar levels were also okay and so I was good to go with a prescription of vitamin and zinc sulphate tablets. Mr Githae’s advice was actually right, phew! I had already started visualising myself admitted and gasping for air and heaven-knows-what-else.
I will be entering lots of things in my journal about the battle, and one of them will be staying sane. Yes, sane. Consulting editor Joe Mbuthia, while narrating his experiences in the Daily Nation, wrote about a strange recurrent dream in his early days with the virus.
“I thought I would go nuts,” he wrote.
I found myself struggling to remember things, like where I had placed my insurance card, a pen, and such things. Maybe it was the fever and headache wracking the brain. Scientists are listing delirium as a Covid-19 symptom, mostly among older patients. Well, I am in my early 30s, even though I believe I have a slightly older soul. On the Sunday that I went to hospital, my memory was fluid and my vision blurred. But all that was sorted out by an intravenous injection of paracetamol at Aga Khan. I shudder to think what would have happened had it gone untreated any longer.
There was also the battle to calm friends and relatives. I could hear the concern in my mother’s voice when she called on receiving the news of my diagnosis. I could detect fear in my mother-in-law’s voice too. I could read fear in the messages from some friends when I shared my status on WhatsApp. It was a struggle to stay calm and assuring.
Battle with finances
There was also the battle with finances. Covid-19 is an expensive disease, even though NMG’s HR department ensured that finances did not bother me. Eric Musungu, from NMG’s HR, stayed up late on Day Seven to ensure the insurer’s agents were available to approve any costs I incurred in hospital check-ups. He even went as far as sourcing an ambulance after I had called E-Plus for one and an operator told me I would need to part with Sh20,000 in cash upfront.
Covid-19 also comes with the battle to stay positive. Deaths are being reported every day and even for a man in his 30s, you don’t get too confident. I kept recalling a doctor’s words about a 34-year-old policeman who died of Covid-19 and had no pre-existing condition. That a cop, who survived Kiganjo, fell victim to the disease at 34 meant that anyone can fall.
The Aga Khan caller had imparted a calming message: “The beauty is that people are getting well.”
My brothers, my Editor Mike Owuor, colleagues and many friends also sent warm messages that made everything lighter.
There is also the struggle to trust the government. With all the scandals and all the jazz, it struck me that government officials handling the disease are actually doing their best in the circumstances. From the woman who called to know my contacts to the one who signed my discharge at Makadara Health Centre, to the one who was willing to pick me up on an ambulance after attending to a patient on another side of Nairobi, I could tell there is commitment. Long may it continue.
And you will never hear me ask: “Hao watu hupimwa ni kina nani?” Now I know.