Wow! What had happened to me? I cannot believe I have overcome the most dreaded illness yet known to man.
Just some background information on who I am. I am originally of Nigerian descent and in my fourth decade of life. I work as a specialist doctor in a mental health facility in the United Kingdom where I have resided for the last decade.
Back to the virus. I had heard about the illness caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) but barely paid attention to the media as I felt it was yet another propaganda. The mortality figures being reported were very scary and it did seem like the world was going to be wiped out. There was a feeling of fear and helplessness that enveloped my family and I. All I wanted being for my wife and kids to be safe while I worked the sufficient hours required to enable the provision of our basic needs and then return home where we would worship God (the author and finisher of our faith), spend time in His presence and engage in our usual daily fun activities. I am not overtly religious, though I am born again, the pandemic however and the anxiety that came with it had compelled me to resort to religion to cope with my deep-seated fears.
At work, the usual practice is to park your vehicle, hand over your keys at the reception, then get a fob with which you gain access into the building and the wards. We had a new hand washing station installed at the reception to enable staff, patients, and visitors to wash their hands before coming in and before leaving the building. In addition to this, we had alcohol gel units affixed to the walls of every corridor in the building. I had once thought to myself, if the security team manning the cameras were to monitor the frequency of use of these sanitizers, they would be nominating me as the most hygienic clinician in the hospital. After every encounter, conversation, meeting, cough, sneeze, exchanging pleasantries, sharing items, etc, I was off to the nearest corridor to squeeze the bottles installed till the gel spilled over from my hands. Such were the fears I harbored about the virus. I went as far as washing my face with soap after being close to anyone. It did become almost an obsessive compulsion as I struggled to cope with the intrusive and scary nature of the thoughts of contracting the virus and the potential complications. Please understand that at this time, the hospitals had not implemented the use of the PPEs (personal protective equipment). There were no masks (of course it’s a mental health hospital, not a surgical theatre), the gloves were limited so also were the aprons. There were no gowns either. I had raised my concerns with the lead clinician and advised for the adequate gears to be provided especially to the frontline medical team, who are in regular contact with patients, to protect us and also the patients we were there to care for.
Within a few weeks, some nurses had started calling in sick either due to developing coryza symptoms or due to fears of being afflicted amidst concerns about their underlying medical conditions. We were beginning to struggle a bit as we were becoming short-staffed. I felt like a soldier on a mission. I would not desert my patients I often thought but would only require to take the necessary precautions which at the time, I thought I was doing already.
Upon returning home, I used the side entrance to avoid contact with my kids. They would see me walk through the door but I had just enough time to preach to them and discourage them from hugging me despite starting what is akin to a 50-meter dash. My heart often sank when I saw the disappointment on their cute faces as they looked sad when I prevented them from expressing their delight and joy of seeing their soldier father return from war. I always wanted to drop my clothes in the washing machine then quickly jump into the ground floor shower room to scrub properly before coming back to cuddle my lovelies. No! It was either a scramble at the door upon my arrival or nothing. After about two weeks, no one greeted me anymore at the door when I returned home. I had to go to their rooms where they watching ”Moana” or playing Mario kart to say hello to them. I would be lucky if my twins and Idowu turned to acknowledge my presence.
On the 21st of March, 2020, I decided to stay home all day to try to re-ignite the once incandescent love that once existed with my family. We played and cuddled, we laughed and screamed, we drank and farted, and had a lot of fun on the day. I was able to establish that they still loved me and cared.
Alas, the next day, Saturday 22nd March 2020. I started farting excessively. I wondered if this was due to the quantity of soda we had consumed the day before. This graduated to abdominal cramps which came in waves and then continued to bouts of loose stools. Is this gastroenteritis (food poisoning) I asked myself and of course the family cook (my Mrs, our Oga at the top). We tried to think back but we had not eaten recklessly over the last week. There were no explanations for these symptoms. Little did I know that I was experiencing the abdominal (or gastrointestinal) symptoms of the COVID-19 infection. This was my day 1.
On day 2 (23.3.2020), I woke up unusually early (circa 4 am) and could not return to sleep. I felt cold despite being appropriately dressed in my pajamas and had the heating on. I also experienced a significant headache and body aches. By 6 am, I had about two episodes of loose stools but with no blood or mucus. I thought to myself, my wife must have put too much pepper in the meals we consumed the day before. Got ready for work and dashed out… While at work, my temperature got checked by my nursing colleague and it was 37.8*C. At this point, I was experiencing nasal drips and chills. I then got some news from my colleagues. A patient I had been treating for the last three months had tested positive for the virus. On 20.3.2020, I had sent him to the general hospital as he was experiencing a fever and spiking temperature. He had also developed a new-onset dry cough. I never thought these could be a COVI-19 infection as he had been admitted to the unit for several months.
Day 3; I had decided to self-isolate as I felt poorly in my physical health. I woke up with the loss of my sense of smell and taste. I tried the self-test being portrayed online; holding one’s breath for 10 seconds, etc. I could hold mine for more than 30 seconds. So I was hopeful, thinking it would not be that bad after all. The new stinging sensation in both eyes, constant tearing like I had been sat in a steam room next to giant-sized onions. These symptoms were soon accompanied by malaise and significant myalgia (muscular and joint pain) like I had been attacked by a mob. I mean all my joints (maybe not quite all) were affected. My breathing was fine though I had a mild cough, it was nothing serious. By evening, the duo, fever, and chills, came visiting.
At this point, I had to speak to people very close to me (pastors, reliable family members) to covet their prayers. In addition to the prayers being offered, I also got advice on traditional herbal concoctions which could be used. Lemon, lime, garlic, and ginger to name a few. I chewed these so much my tongue and buccal cavity became very sore. My wife then decided to gamble with her life (which I appreciated), she made a decision that surprised me. She opted to self-isolate with me to be able to look after me and ended up “catching the virus.” We hid in the room during the day to pray, consume fruits, ensure adequate hydration, and sleep. At night, we came out like foxes to prepare our Nigerian cuisines, get adequate fluid and fruits to last us the next day. As I had to keep myself hydrated, consuming about three liters of water daily.
Over the years, I had become prone to respiratory tract infections and had been treated for several episodes. I recently completed a course of antibiotics (augmentin) for acute sinusitis.
By day 4, I got some relief and improvements in my symptoms. My stool was beginning to form but chest pain (more like lung pain) persisted with occasional flank and back pain. I had become a bit more breathless and coughing was quite painful to my chest.
On day 8, (29.3.2020), I noticed some productive cough with brown sputum and associated breathlessness. The GP via the helpline, who thought I was developing a chest infection, recommended commencing a second antibiotic, Clarithromycin.
Around day 10 (31.3.2020), I experienced a more dry cough with associated breathlessness which worsened over the next four days. I was only able to manage shallow breaths and it felt like my airway was closing up against itself. I had to visit the pharmacy to purchase a Salbutamol inhaler which was recommended by a GP via the helpline. I continued the use of steam inhalation with eucalyptus oil which I alternated with the prescribed salbutamol inhaler. This period was the scariest. I struggled to keep my airway open, going to sleep was often very frightening as I wondered if I would wake up from my sleep. Most times I ended up speaking to experts on the phone, till sometimes 3-4 am, who continually reassured me and gave advice on what to do to help me sleep safely.
The ambulance services visited a few times which stirred up anxiety within my household. My wife would ask, ”Is there a need for the ambulance?”, ”Are you not exaggerating these symptoms, after all, I have the same infection”, ”I am scared, I do not want you to go in, as you may not return”, ”we need to be mindful of the nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections, they could cause more harm than the virus”. The kids would run to their rooms upon hearing the sirens, then peep to ask questions; ”are you okay daddy”, ”will you be leaving us daddy”, ”the virus is killing many people, are you going to die too daddy”, ”please, don’t leave”…
On day 15, we ended the self-isolation and we were able to reunite with the rest of our household (children and nanny) and held a thanksgiving service in the living room later in the evening. To date, I still experience some residual muscle ache in my feet and occasionally mild breathing difficulties.
All in all, I just remain eternally grateful for the opportunity to be here today to tell my story. Thank you all for reading and hopefully, this helps someone.
What I found helpful:
I told a few trusted family members who prayed for me non-stop.
I prayed as I had never done before.
I drank lots of fluid to hydrate myself, at least 3 liters daily.
I also consumed lots of fruits and vitamin c tablets.
My wife prepared herbs (made from a concoction of ginger, lime, garlic, lime, and pineapple) which I both inhaled and drank as a tea daily.
Regular pepper soup consumption was my Mrs’ way of spoiling me.