By Abdallah el-Kurebe
When coronavirus (COVID-19), struck as an epidemic on December 31, 2019, it was a previously-unknown virus and mainly limited to China. It began to spread and became a global pandemic when countries, across the world started recording cases. Nigeria confirmed its first case of coronavirus disease on February 27th 2020 and Sokoto, a state in the Northern Nigeria recorded its first case on April 21.
As a health journalist, I attended COVID-19 briefings organised by the state Taskforce as well as other events. I ensured though, that I observed all rules and regulations regarding prevention. Within some days after Sokoto reported its first case, I heard about the death of two cases with who I imagined I had had contacts. Voluntarily on Friday, May 1, I went to the testing centre where my sample was taken. Read how I tested positive for COVID-19 here.
On Sunday, May 3rd, I got a call from a Doctor confirming that I tested positive and was required to be isolated. He asked if I had symptoms and I responded, “If you said I tested positive, then I am asymptomatic because I am strong and well. I don’t have any of the listed symptoms.” He said that was a better situation and then asked if they could send a vehicle to convey me to the isolation centre. I offered to go there by myself and I asked if I could go with my computer to enable me work from there. The Doctor said I could go with anything that could make me happy and comfortable. I prepared and my wife took me to the isolation centre.
DAY ONE: Sunday, 3rd May
I arrived the isolation centre and took bed number 2 in ward 2 at around 3pm. The ward had eight beds but there was neither mosquito nets on the beds nor were the windows netted. After about five hours, I started my drugs. From the time I arrived at the Centre, which is located at the Specialist Hospital, there was no electricity until around 9pm. We were made to understand that we would be fed by the Centre. Lunch was delayed for, we were served at after 6pm. I took rice.
Used to not eating outside, I had no option that night. I only take bottled water but again, I was served packaged water (it is popularly called ‘pure water’ in Nigeria). I took it like it was better than the bottled one. Know why? I was told I should drink lot of it. I took the risk only for the first day.
One of the medical staff later came in to take our blood pressure and advised that isolation actually means keeping patients from infecting other people and to curb spread. The second reason is to concentrate on taking drugs. Dinner was served at 10pm. It was yam porridge.
There was outpour of commiseration from well wishers and colleagues, especially across the globe. Some confirmed they read how I tested positive for COVID-19. Some sent messages through WhatsApp, some through Facebook messenger, some through Short Messenger Service, SMS. Many others called through the night. Against my publisher’s instruction, I did some publishing. Calls and messages continued until I was discharged. For space, I will keep their identities but believe me, the list is long and their messages were inspiring.
DAY TWO: Monday, May 4th
Electricity went out by 6am. Many well wishers kept calling and sending messages, encouraging me to be strong while they prayed for me. This continued all days through until I was discharged. One of my sons insisted he speaks to me on video call, when I insisted I was hale and hearty. He thought I was in serious condition but covering up. I obliged and he became contented. Used to taking breakfast at 9am, it was 08.50am and there was no sight of food. I called home for tea and sandwich and within minutes, my wife had prepared that and had it delivered by 9.03am. Some 20 minutes later, the official breakfast arrived. Before then, drugs were served but one of the essential one, vitamin C, was not there. From grapevine, it was out of stock.
At noon, the Chief Medical Director, CMD of Infectious Diseases Hospital Amanawa, Dr Usman Bello visited Ward II and engaged patients in discussions about the disease. So friendly, he tried to put hope in the ‘fragile’ minds of many who felt that only their dead bodies would return to their families. He assured that we should ask for whatever we needed. Within me, I wondered how “whatever” we needed would be provided when we were already lacking many things.
Shortly after he left, a new patient was brought with two of his children – one female and the other male. On my bed, I could hear shouts – some sorts of quarrel. When I peeped, I heard the two on top of their voices saying in the Hausa language: “How can you just take someone’s sample and just tell us he is positive? They want to kill him because he just bought a car worth N11 million. We won’t allow him to be isolated.” But after persuasion, they made peace and allowed him to be isolated. He actually had symptoms but before we were discharged, they had ‘disappeared’.
Dinner was not served until after 9pm. All patients were outside the wards because the generator was off or fuel got finished 5.36pm. I didn’t have my dinner because my ‘colleagues’ were served while outside and I was in the ward. There was no electricity up till 23.50pm and some patients said, “One should rather return to his house than remain in mosquitoes without electricity.”
This is one of the reasons that, in some states, unfavorable conditions at isolation centres, make patients escape and infect people in their communities. Other reasons include delayed food service, improper care, etc.
No doctor came to see any of us. So, patients were not examined. There were complaints about lack of drugs, etc. The toilet remained waterlogged and no running water for use by patients.
The Commissioner of Health, Dr Ali Inname came round and we laid complains to him. He promised to rectify that and to provide additional AC in the ward. This was done three days later.
DAY THREE, Tuesday 5rd May
Medical personnel came for ward round at 6.10am. I measured my body temperature by myself. Each patient was given one. It read 35.8 but the vital science machine failed to work. In the round, only one tablet of chloroquine was given to each patient. “This is what we have now. You shall be given the remaining drugs when available,” one of the medical staff, who was clad in PPE, told us.
Later in the day, the ‘outstanding’ drugs were made-up. Lunch and dinner were served at good times, unlike previous days.
DAY FOUR: Wednesday, May 6th
There was no medical staff that came round to see us. Breakfast also came late. So did lunch. There was lack of drugs or so it seemed. “We have complained to our leaders. We will provide you when it is brought,” a young medical staff told me in confidence.
At night, when electricity was brought, all four bulbs went out. Up to Friday, they were not replaced and we were sleeping in the dark. Thanks for the flashlight provided by my wife.
We were in extreme heat because there was no electricity. We sweated profusely and all of us in the ward lost sleep. I was tempted to relocate outside the ward but the thought of the dare-devil mosquito, made me rescind my decision. I went in to the toilet and had a quick shower. That subsidized the heat for 25 minutes. One and half hours later, the generator attendant struggled to on it. It seemed faulty. He finally succeeded.
DAY FIVE: Thursday, May 7th
As early as 6.38am, medical personnel came round to examine us. Meals were served timely. Two patients were brought in at about 6pm. The condition of one of them seemed more severe. One of them died at around 10pm after admission in a ward of eight patients. The other patient would always pass urine while sitting on chair or bed. A kind of bed-wetting.
DAY SIX: Friday, May 8th
The corpse of the late patient was still not evacuated as at 2.19pm this day, when the ambulance to evacuate the corpse arrived. Other patients in the ward were grumbling at the presence of the corpse that had been left in their midst . They fear any adverse effect of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC’s, inaction.
The ambulance driver and corpse evacuators engaged in argument. The driver insisted that he had to be told where to take the corpse before putting it in the ambulance. According to him, he had an earlier experience where a corpse was left for two days in his ambulance, without being told where to deposit it. At exactly 2.38pm, the corpse was placed in the ambulance and parked under the sun. Apart from face mask, the driver wore no PPE and, he wore hand gloves only in readiness to drive the corpse out from the isolation centre. The ambulance drove out with the corpse at 2.41pm.
Medical staff attended to patients as early as 6.38pm. Each patient received two, instead of the normal three tablets of chloroquine; including a capsule of multivitamin and a card of sweetened vitamin C. No vital science machine was used on any patient this morning.
Up till this Friday, our bedsheets, since we came to the isolation centre, had not been changed. In spite of sand dust that plagued our beds since Tuesday night. All requests to have our bed linings changed fell on deaf ears. Vital science machine was brought in at 12pm.
DAY SEVEN: Saturday, May 9th
Medical staff brought drugs at 6.48am, immediately followed by health data analysis with vital science machine.
Our bedsheets had remained unchanged for a week. I never wanted to report any staff to anyone but the situation had become unbearable. That evening, I put a call to the Chief Medical Director, CMD, of the Infectious Diseases Hospital, whose hospital was in charge of that. He didn’t pick and I sent the following SMS: “Salaam CMD. I just want to draw your attention to some things that aren’t going on well at isolation centre at Specialist Hospital.
Since we came, no bed sheet has been changed in spite of the sand dust that struck on Monday. For the past four days, four bulbs in ward II blew and all complaints to replace the bulbs fell on deaf ears. I kicked against drawing attention of news makers. Kindly intervene.”
He called me immediately and I gave him details of what was happening. He assured that the bulbs would be replaced and that he would call the Chief Engineer, immediately. That night, bed sheets were brought to the Centre but not replaced.
DAY EIGHT: Sunday, May 10th
From the day I arrived the isolation centre till this morning, there has been no change of bedsheets. The wards were mopped only once.
I woke up with the news of the death of one of the patients in ward I. A patient in the ward said the late patient asked for a Doctor at 1.25am. He died around 1.40am.
The medical staff came around with their vital science machine to examine us at 06.46am and breakfast was served by 8.50am, earlier than other days, which had been between 10am and 11am. The dead body in ward II still laid on bed where other patients were staying. There was no seeming effort at that point, to evacuate the corpse to give room for the patients.
Patients mopped the wards by themselves. Bed sheets were changed after a week.
The ambulance that would evacuate the corpse of the second late patients arrived at 12.16pm. As usual, the driver had only face mask and a T-shirt on. No PPEs, not even hand gloves on him. The corpse was put in the ambulance at 12.28pm and it drove out at 12.35pm. The ambulance however returned with the corpse at 1.20pm and park by the ward where it was taken.
My second specimen sample was taken at 1.19pm, along with other patients with whom we arrived on May 3rd.
The ambulance again drove the corpse to the back of Ward 2 at 1.44pm. It was dropped there, I learned, because the late patient was a soldier and would need to be cleared by the Army before his interment.
After a breakfast of four slice of bread, flask-cover measure of tea, served at 8.50am, lunch was served at 4.14pm. This has been the trend. Instead of providing food at good times to work on the drugs thatbpatients take, no lunch has ever been served before 4pm.
The corpse was finally evacuated by the ambulance at 6.41pm to the cemetery.
DAY NINE: Monday, May 11th
The usual morning check up by medical staff took place at 7.43am. After which breakfast was served at around 10am.
Two people were discharged from my ward and one of the Doctors told us that there was a development where only one test would be conducted to confirm whether a patient is still negative or had become positive.
Ironically, serving lunch became worse this day. It was served at 5.18pm. Many patients were very hungry, except those whose families had provided them the meal on time. In fact, some who have ulcer, especially one in my ward, was turning on his bed in pains.
I volunteered to send for a drug for him to subsidize the pains. When the drug was brought, a staff took it from the gate and straight to a Doctor, who said “We have this if you asked.” I retorted in anger, “If you can leave your patients without lunch until 5.18pm, I wonder what they should expect to get from you.”
The young Doctor looked remorseful but from his face, he wanted to tell me that it wasn’t his fault. I felt I was not talking to the right person and I quickly said, “I know that’s not your schedule but we will talk to the right people at the right time.” Comfortably, he said: “Please feel free to complain to our bosses.” Two of us were given Omeprazole capsules and Antacid Deflatulent.
DAY TEN: Tuesday, May 12
This day in the morning, seven of us at the Isolation centre, were called out and our discharge was announced. Four others from the main Centre at Amanawa were also discharged. While our belongings were disinfected, we were also advised to abide by the protocols of social distancing, hands washing, face mask wearing, etc.
Back at home
On Thursday, May 14th 2020, 11 days after I tested positive for COVID-19, and when contact tracing was supposed to have began immediately, my door bell rang and my wife announced the arrival of a team from NCDC. When I went out, I saw a team of five young girls. The seeming team leader told me they were at my house for contact tracing. That they needed names of persons I had had contact with. I asked (though I knew I was asking the wrong persons), if that was the right time. I said but the same people have already transmitted the disease to others.
Was this the right time for contact tracing to have started, ten days after I was confirmed positive? Wouldn’t those I had contact with have transmitted the disease to multitudes? Shouldn’t patients have timely meals? Shouldn’t drugs be made available when required to be served on patients?