By Laker Winfred L
I regret joking about it. Covid19. I shouldn’t have. But I did and it was one of my regrets last year. I still remotely feel bad for throwing jokes around in relation to this virus when it had just started spreading. This thing came to our world, put us on our knees and savagely took people we knew, loved, laughed with, communed with, and cared about. It turned our world upside down. We are still trying to turn it right back up.
Around January of 2020 there was an outbreak of flu at my workplace and around the country. I kept saying we had already got the virus every time there was talk about Covid. Then I had this weird theory that these flus never reach our territory. It’s for the Bazungu, Indo, Sino and Oriental regions. They get hit by the flu the most and have to take flu shots. Us here, flu is not a big deal. Little did I know that in less than 10 months from those theories I would be a victim of the virus! Talk of poetic justice!
When the Ugandan government made the announcement about patient zero, I started to worry. I got scared too but still didn’t expect to catch the virus. I intently listened to the announcements and decided to carefully follow the SOPs being advised.
I was very serious at the beginning. I sanitized, washed my hands vigorously at every opportunity, wore a mask, avoided social gatherings, drank herbal teas and took myself to work.
When the news of the first lockdown came, I was ready to stay in doors. And indoors I did stay until my bones started to literally pain. I was not working out at all yet that was something I did more than 5 times a week. Still I watched where I went and kept reading information on the virus and the signs and symptoms. I started to avoid visiting friends too.
When the spread of the virus got contained, I relaxed and pretty much went back to my old way of doing things. I wore a mask only when using public transportation and in spaces I didn’t trust. Soon we all sort of slacked as the government loosened things a little.
Mid October I got a relief work assignment along Entebbe road. I ditched public transportation and started to drive to work. The assignment went on up to the middle of November.
A week or so to the 17th of November 2020 I started to feel weird. My head was persistently aching. It was a mild distant headache that wouldn’t leave me be. I thought the lenses for the glasses to correct my myopia were the cause of the headaches so I made a dash to the Optician and had them replaced. Nothing changed. The headaches got worse.
Soon I started to feel fatigued and promptly attributed it to the long 40 kilometer daily commute, being stuck in the Kampala traffic gridlock, and the workload at the time. I wasn’t thinking of the virus. And this is the period where the only interactions I had was with the people at work. I had fully stocked the house with supplies and avoided areas I thought would expose me to the virus. I expected not to get the virus.
The headaches got worse and the fatigue turned to body pain. I got serious aches to the bone coupled with chills. Insomnia moved in. I got red itchy eyes. My throat was a sore irritation. And my nose was on fire. I love food. I really do but my appetite was gone. I have gone through bouts of malaria, typhoid, got hit by brucellosis and at some point in my teenage years got bilharzia but even through these illnesses, I ate food without a hustle. My appetite was always intact. But this time, I didn’t want food. Still it didn’t dawn on me. Sigh!
By the time my relief assignment came to an end, I was exhausted, edgy and my temper a ticking time bomb. I reported back to base on a Thursday and struggled through work. I thought it was the fatigue and I would be better by Monday.
Monday came and I started to see things. I was having hallucinations. I was delirious and more angry at nothing in particular. I was afraid too. Remotely I was aware that I had the virus. I could feel my energy slowly slipping away like a dodgy lover. My throat was a mess. My chest hurt. My sight was horrible like a bat’s. I had these phases of fever and chills. The headache was a complete equation of painful prominence. And my nose this time was like a piece of Hades was incubating a nest of imps in it.
I texted a doctor friend and told him what was going on. He was honest enough to tell me that I most definitely had the virus and would have to go get help at the hospital. I called our Wellness Specialist and shared my fears with him. He pointed me in the direction I should go to get tested and all. I started to literally tell people to stay away from me and my desk. A little too late if you ask me. But I kept telling them to stay away from me anyway.
I left early that day for home and the taxi trip was horrible. I was tired, weak, sick, sleepy as hell, and seeing things. I still wrote the virus off. I kept saying, Maybe it’s malaria. No, I took milk the other day, could be brucellosis again. I also took that juice whose source I don’t know so it could be typhoid fever.
Tuesday morning was the day of reckoning. I woke up with a bad stomach and stayed on the potty for close to half an hour. Still I refused to let it sink in. As I was brushing my teeth I suddenly realized there was no fluoride in the Colgate toothpaste. The previous night it did have.
I sniffed the toothpaste and nothing! No smell! I tried the bathing soap, nada! No scent whatsoever. I started to panic. I rushed out of the bathroom and tried 3 separate bottles of perfume. Zilch! Nothing! Couldn’t smell a darn thing! Lotion maybe? Nope! That too was a blunt scentless thing!
The feeling of having completely no sense of taste and smell was very scary. Extremely numbing fear is what I felt. It was this blank space of painful confusion and shocking realization that such a thing actually exists. It’s at this point that I accepted the reality presented to me that fine morning and decided to head out to the hospital for a test.
I sat down on the bed and sent an email to work that I wouldn’t be going in and that I may have the virus. Thoughts, wild and intense ran through my mind on how this news would be taken in at work. Would I be blamed? Would I be looked at as the one that brought the virus to work? The careless one? The negligent one? The one that broke the seal of safety? The one that decided to mix with everyone else yet she knew she had the symptoms? You can only imagine the answers.
Those who got Covid19 in 2020 will tell you how the stigma was rife then. It was raw and heavy. You could feel it in the gazes, in the around-the-corner-hushed toned gossip, talks going on in the corridors, conversations online, and all. The grapevine was churning headline after headline of the victims. I was already afraid of this. Very. I was afraid of cimo tok. Stigma. Before I even got to hospital.
I called the insurance healthcare provider who advised I get a referral from a doctor first before heading out to a specific hospital to get tested. Oh, and we aren’t going to pay for the test. We don’t cover that she said. But what’s money when you are dead? I just told the lady on the phone that I was gladly going to pay for the test. I want to live. There were like 3 or 4 places only doing the tests at the time.
In between my journey to the hospital I cheekily wondered whether I would be able to know the feeling of real Acholi chicken against my tongue again. Or whether molokony soup laced with chili and nicely boiled cassava would taste the same.
I went to a clinic nearby for the said referral. While there I maintained my distance and when I went in to see the doctor and told her what I needed, she was explosive and mad that I had showed up there. Where else was I supposed to go? Jupiter? To the moon or the stars for a referral? Come on!
She gave begrudgingly me the referral anyways and off I went.
When I reached this private hospital I thought I would find a specific tent meant for only those suspected of having Covid19 but waaah! It was a kayoola affair with literally no social distancing. We had our masks on fine but people were mixing themselves like porridge.
Patients were being wheeled off, someone was taking his wife and new born child home, someone with their 80 something year old granny were waiting to go for a procedure, the askari with his gun on his left hand and a chit on his right was scanning for the owner of the red Vitz who had blocked the arrogant owner of the black TX with red plates and was desperate to leave, plus a lot more.
At the reception there were a number of us. I could tell there were those testing so they can get out of the country and go back home, there were those testing because they had to go abroad for health reasons, work and stuff, and then there was me; waiting to confirm the obvious.
I did the usual paper work and was told to wait. It was 9am but the lady at the reception was already pissed. I keep wondering why people at hospital receptions are always not in the mood to smile. Anyways……
My turn to see the doctor came and we had the usual; When did it start? Oh! Sorry. Open your mouth. Stick out your tongue. Open your eyes. Let me check your ears. The headaches, are they frontal or like a migraine? Fever? Hmmmmm. And you have been having trouble sleeping as well? Any body pain? Oh, aches and chills instead? So your nose feels bigger than usual? It’s on “fire” you say? Is it runny or stuffy? Blocked. I see. Most unfortunate but treatable. Do you have a history of rhinosinusitis (blank stare from me), I mean Sinusitis? You do. Ok. What did you last eat? Open your mouth again please. That potty situation you mentioned; was it loose? No? Just air? Ok, runny.
And he went back to his desk and typed all these things in there. After this most vital Q&A session, he decided to send me to the lab for a calvary of tests to be sure he said, on top of the other test that took me there.
The line at the laboratory was long as hell’s. In my myopic bubble I always thought high end hospitals barely had queues. I imagined those things of lining up to see a doctor or waiting for hours by the laboratory door was a thing only patients going to government hospitals experienced. That day changed my perception. These queues are everywhere kumbe. And I liked it here because those jumping of queue nonsense some boisterous Ugandans like was not allowed.
While waiting I posted something on my timeline about a first born challenge that was going on at the time on Facebook. I was trying to crack myself up instead of breaking down. Sometimes, some Ugandans like me will joke about something when we are at our lowest to lighten things up. We try to find humor in the midst of our pain. We will joke about it as we ponder on the way forward. That was the time for me. I didn’t know what was coming but I chose to pick humor from another aspect of my life.
I finally got called into the first lab meant for the to-rule-out-anything-else-that-might-be– bothering-you tests. Man, it took forever to get there! This lab wait ojone! After, I headed to the section where the tests for Covid was being done. They had cordoned off a section of the waiting area for this.
I was welcomed into this space, closed off by light blue curtains reaching up to the ceiling as if to prohibit the virus from creeping out through the ceiling. I was motioned to take a sit in this fancy coffee brown leather chair which I thought was odd to be in such a place. Our ordinary plastic chairs would have sufficed, I said to myself.
Either it was the state of mind and health I was in or something because I miscalculated the measure of distance between the motion of my body, weight of my sitting quarters, and the seat. I literally crash landed into the thing. Too soft and too comfy! What kind of hospital is this? Whatever happened to the cold metal chairs with tiny holes in? I mused.
Soon the Clinical officer was ready with those oddly long slim looking swab. I kept asking him all these questions as he was wearing a second glove on top of what he had. I was in such a chirpy mood that he was taken aback by my reaction when the swab touched the core of my nose. Remember the part I said felt like a nesting of the imps? The swab touched that very nest!
Tears suddenly started to flow uncontrollably. I chuckled in between the sobs reassuring him that I was okay. He kept apologizing while the second attendant looked on in distant disbelief. I was crying, laughing, and mumbling at the same time. The pain and the day’s stress had gotten to me. It was like those days when it shines and rains at the same time. The rainy days the Acholi refer to as kwach tye ka nywal. Days when the sun fiercely shoots its rays out, wanting its presence known as the rain carries on aggressively with its thumping at the same time.
I was happy that I had finally got the test done but also felt like crap. I was offered tissue and more apologies and then told to wait for a call from the hospital the next day.
My other results came through and I went back to the doctor who announced that all his other suspicions were wrong and that most likely I had Covid. He went on and gave me a prescription and advised I return the next day upon receiving a phone call from them.
I started on the meds that night and managed to get some small-small sleep. Anino olo manok nok kenyo.
Next morning I missed 3 calls and received a fourth from the hospital. They needed me to go get my results. I went there still thinking well it could be anything else until they gave me that odd looking paper with the word POSITIVE stamped on it. For the first time positive didn’t look nice in red!
I saw the doctor again and was told to go home and go return incase things deteriorated. I headed to the automobile, shut myself in, and started weeping. I had become part of the statistics. I knew that that evening when they read the news I would be part of it. After a few minutes of sobbing I realized I was being melodramatic. Here I was, not even taken in, able to walk, and yet here I was crying instead of being thankful that I could afford to see a doctor, get medicine and go home instead of an isolation center.
I sobered up and went home. At home I got into a frenzy, freaking out and worrying about the people at work, at the taxi stage, in the taxi, the vegetable stall and everywhere else I had been to in the past few days that I may have exposed to the disease. The guilt was horrible.
I informed my employer about my results and in less than an hour I received a call from a counselor and Lord bless her, she put things into perspective for me. She told me to stop self stigmatizing myself and focus on healing. She reassured me that my colleagues would be fine and that it was no one’s fault that I got sick and no fault of my own that any one of my colleagues could be ill too.
Well, the next two weeks of isolation were filled with me taking the medicines, drinking concoctions of lemon-ginger-garlic-honey in warm and sometimes hot water, trying to eat and spending my mornings in the sun like a girl gecko. Every single day I made sure I took a selfie as a milestone note. I looked like crap too. Chapped lips and all.
I got phone calls from colleagues and that made the journey of healing even much easier. I felt loved and valued. I also kept my social media activity seamless like nothing was going on in the back end. My mom had advised that we keep this information to ourselves so that the other family members wouldn’t worry. We did just that but the ones that got to know where worried sick. I could tell from the twice a day dose of phone calls.
15 days down the road I headed back to the hospital to check whether I was clean. I waited for 3 whole days without hearing from anyone. I made some phone calls and soon the results were forwarded to me. I saw the adjective sorry in the body of the message I knew the people who said no news is good news were big fat ugly liars. I opened the attachment and it was the big red POSITIVE again, right there before me!
I stayed home again but this time didn’t lie about in the sun like a gecko but rather exercised, forced food down, and did the steaming thing like it was my invention. In between there Christmas came. Though I was pretty much recovered, I spent it at home, couldn’t even drink a glass of wine or interact with family over food. Heck I don’t even remember how I spent the day. It’s not been saved in my memory.
And a day towards new year’s I went back for the third test. This time round things felt different. I was energetic. My appetite was reluctantly coming back from its forced hiatus and accepting the taste of chili. My sense of smell was around the bend too returning to moi, and I was sleeping much better. The hallucinations had gone back to Hades from whence they came. The fevers went. The imps failed to hatch. My bowel movement wasn’t a race of battalions anymore.
This test came back NEGATIVE! A happy NEGATIVE! Funny huh?! The word negative has never looked so good! Some of the symptoms stayed a while. The chills especially. Waking up in the mornings became a painful problem. I lacked the zing I had before Covid. My temper was this frail thing that could easily break. I became this different person. A person doing wild things.
I am moving on. It will be a year soon. I am pretty much out of the long hauler category I can say. The brain fog is gone. I have been left with some bad allergic reactions but that too will go. Would I wish this virus on anyone? Absolutely not. I saw people I grew up with go. I saw people I went to school with go. I saw people whose homes I visited and had a meal with go. All in a space of 40 days. Some people lost their entire family, friends, and acquaintances. No, I don’t wish this on anyone.
Maybe if we had believed from the onset that this virus was different and a wild horrible fire demon, if we had taken things seriously and not thought of it as something that would remain in Wuhan, perhaps we would have been more careful and limited its spread.
The Acholi say pe i nyer odo ma ogoyo nyeki. Do not laugh at the cane that strikes your husband’s other wife for you do not know when your turn will come. I wish I had not joked about it. Maybe I wouldn’t have caught it.
You may not believe it but you might want to go get that vaccine. You can never tell how your body will handle the virus. It could be worse. It could be debilitating. Don’t deliberately add yourself to the spike on the graph of fatalities. I thought I would sail through incase I caught but that virus sure did kick my arse!
I pray we never see another pandemic as bad as this one when the whole world stood still because of an unseen enemy.