Denial, Panic and Then Hope: An Encounter with COVID-19

It’s nearly one year since the first case of New Coronavirus was detected in Rwanda. As the country continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the last 2 months have seen a huge upsurge in new cases and deaths.

The following is a testimony of a COVID-19 young media personality from Rwanda who survived the virus. The source preferred to speak on condition of anonymity.

On New Year’s Eve, as the rest of the family members and the community were preparing for celebrations to usher in 2021, I started feeling dizzy, developed a high temperature, severe back pain, and headache.

Naturally I thought it was fatigue because of the previous few busy days I had had, working on different things.   

As I would do normally, I took a glass of cold water and decided to have some rest in bed and cover myself because I was feeling cold and had a severe headache.

At that moment I thought resting a little bit and drinking water would work but my condition continued to get worse until late evening when my brother woke me  to have supper.

When I got off the bed, the headache had subsided a bit but I still had back pain, high temperature and dizziness. I managed to join him for supper.

He had cooked rice and spiced beans (my favorite dish), but the appetite to eat or smell the aroma of the food had gone. I ate a small portion and returned to bed again. It was about 8 pm still on New Year’s Eve.

Despite resting from 8PM until the morning of New Year,  the headache, dizziness, and high temperatures were persistent. At this point, I thought I had developed malaria and decided to go for the Malaria drug coartem. Based on how I felt, I convinced myself it was malaria even before going for tests.

I took the drugs as directed by the pharmacist and took enough water, and went back to bed until mid day.

When I woke up this time, the headache and back pain had calmed down but the dizziness and high temperature were not relenting. As others celebrated the New Year, feasting and drinking, I was in bed.

My brother and myself had convinced ourselves that it was malaria. Despite taking coartem for three days, my condition was not stabilizing but I still kept hope.

On the fourth day, when I woke up, I had developed other unusual symptoms of mild dry cough and the dry throat and dizziness and these symptoms intensified by the day, except for the temperature which was fluctuating.

The same day in the evening, the dry cough, dry throat, and dizziness increased significantly, the illness worsened at around 9pm when I started feeling mild difficulty in breathing.

I had never encountered difficulties in breathing before and could not guess what the condition was and still believed malaria drugs would work.

On the mid-night of January 5, breathing became more difficult; I woke up and sat on the bed while sweating profusely.it was scary because I could not figure out what the condition was.

Suspecting the worst

Seated on the bed at night, feeling uneasy and worried for my life, my thoughts wandered far and wide, wondering what could be the cause of difficulty in breathing and dry throat.

It was at this point that COVID-19 crossed my mind. The mere thought of the virus hit me so hard, I started imagining the worst-case scenario.

As soon as I thought of COVID-19, the panic increased, I grabbed my smartphone and immediately rushed to Google signs and symptoms of the virus, as if it was the first time I was hearing of the virus.

The internet gave me some of the symptoms I was experiencing including dry throat, dry cough, and headache but could not believe it because I had not met many people in the few previous days, though the panic increased.

I called my brother who was sleeping in his bedroom and told him that I was finding difficulty in breathing and the sickness could most likely be COVID-19 and not malaria as we thought.

He could not believe it when I suggested that it could be the New Coronavirus and kept asking me where I could have got the virus from.

At this point, my body was covered in sweat. I started praying but still tried to convince myself that it was not COVID-19 because I had tried to observe the preventive measures and there was no way I could have contracted the virus. It was now coming to 5AM on January 5.

I was panicking and needed to know the sickness as soon as possible. I moved out of the house and grabbed a motorcycle, and by 6AM I was at Polyclinique La Medicale (Dr. Kanimba Hospital), a private hospital located in Kigali.

When I got to the hospital gate, I was shivering perhaps because of the coldness and fear. The first question I asked doctors who had worked the night shift was the cost of testing COVID-19.

In a friendly tone, a receptionist told me that I will be fine and requested me to calm down and have a seat, as she processed payments.

I was told to pay Rwf10, 000, which I immediately paid with my VISA card. She directed me to the Covid-19 testing chamber where I found about 30 people who had arrived before me, waiting for the tests.

In the Covid-19 testing chamber, none was talking to each other, apart from doctors who called names of people on the waiting list to enter into the testing room. As we sat on the benches, we were seemingly all scared of what would be the results.

Doctors were carrying out a Rapid test Antigen (RDT Ag) that takes about 10 minutes, a few minutes later, doctors would call a person after the other to pick their results privately.

Even after getting results, there was no communication, people picked their results and rushed out of the testing room silently.

It was my return and a doctor called me to pick my results, at the moment I had lost hope of getting a negative result because most people I found at the waiting chamber were coughing and we had similar Covid-19 symptoms.

Before giving me the results, the doctor asked me where I stay, whether I have other health complications, age, and people I stay with, at the moment, I knew I was in trouble.

The doctor looked at me in the face and said “your Covid-19 tests are positive, but don’t be scared you will be healed.”

After getting a positive result, my thoughts immediately went into wondering when I was going to die. “I know I will die”. I started recalling the number of Covid-19 deaths announced every day. I started feeling sad and helpless but told myself to keep calm.

She directed me to buy Vitamin C-1000 drugs, sunbathing every day for 15-20 minutes, eating one boiled egg every day, resting 8 hours every day, drinking 1.5 liters of warm water every day, eating warm food (not cold food), indoor sports and eating fruits every day.

Messages of Hope

Before leaving the hospital premises I had also received a message from Rwanda Biomedical center (RBC) informing me of my COVID-19 status.

A few minutes later RBC doctors called me and counselled me, telling me encouraging words and urging me to use the prescribed medications and keeping in self-isolation to avoid spreading of the virus.

Every day, I was receiving calls from RBC and Babyl, a local online medical company asking me how I am doing.

The RBC and Babyl daily advice included reminding me to take drugs, sunbathing and eating fruits, taking warm water, and encouraging me to call them if the conditions worsen.

At least two different doctors called every day to know my response to the medication and asked me whether I needed to be taken to the intensive care unit.

The distance from my hospital to my home takes about 20 minutes, but I had received three doctors advising me not to panic and to follow the doctor’s advice and seek help by calling on 0788167500 if I needed help.

It was a scary moment, but the way doctors restored hope through the calls and assuring me that I will recover quickly, kept me going.

15 days in the bedroom

After reaching home, I immediately called my brother who had gone to work and told him to pass via the hospital and test for Covid-19, fortunately, he tested negative and that was the last time I shared with him the sitting room because I kept in isolation for 15 days.

In about 1 hour, he had also arrived home to see how I am doing but could not also enter my bedroom apart from asking how I am doing while in the sitting room.

He pushed all essential materials including the basin, caps, plates, and jerry cans of water in my bedroom. I only opened the bedroom door to ask for food and medicine (boiled water mixed with crushed lemon and ginger), it was a depressing experience.

Isolation of any kind is bad but the worst is being confined in a place like the bedroom where it is difficult to exercise. Rope skipping and jogging are not possible yet it is advisable to do indoor sports for Covid-19 patients.

In the bedroom isolation, I could hear people having fun and chatting but I could not join them due to the risk of infecting them and it is a crime to intentionally infect people.

Even, when I heard friends asking for my whereabouts, I remained in my bedroom, silent because I did not want people to know my Covid-19 status.

For about 6 days in the bedroom isolation, the breathing started normalizing and other symptoms started disappearing, but dizziness continued.

As days went by, I started asking myself whether I would heal and come out to the public as usual.

Later, I came out of bedroom isolation, at the moment the government imposed a total lockdown in Kigali city because of the increasing Covid-19 cases on January 18th, 2021.

The police had blocked roads to stop people from moving but allowing only people with emergency cases like patients who are going to the hospitals.

Every policeman I told that I was going for the second Covid-19 test after positive said “please go. I don’t want to catch the virus.”

From January 5, 2021, I only came out of the bedroom for the first time on January 19 to go back for the Covid-19 tests at the health center located in Kigali city.

Besides, the body weakness due to the long illness, I had to walk about 6 kilometers from my home to the health center because all means of transports in the city were suspended.

Unfortunately, when I reached the health center, doctors told me to come back the next day because the Covid-19 testing equipment was over.

I had to return home without even resting because doctors feared that I could infect other people if I remained at the health center premises.

The next day, I woke up early in the morning, at around 8AM I had reached the health center for the test.

Other people kept coming with some people coughing seemingly infected with the virus, at that moment I thought I was again soon facing the worst, even when I was not sure that I recovered fully.

Eventually, doctors called me to go for the tests and later results were negative. This was my happiest moment in a very long time.

However, they warned that it could be possible for a person to contract the virus again if they did not observe the preventive measures.

My story about Covid-19 could be an experience for thousands of people who have survived the deadly virus across the world. However, people have continued to be lax when it comes to observing preventive measures while others doubt the seriousness of the virus.

For people who doubt the danger of Covid-19, I have news for you. It is dangerous and it kills!  As I narrate this story, I am in my early 30s. I don’t have any underlying health complications but I have felt the worst experience. Not so many people have been lucky as I have.

To be safe, respect the Covid-19 preventive measures and most importantly go for the medical test if you feel any illness. Avoid self-prescription.

Whether young or old, we are all required to take precaution or the consequences will be dire. So far 153 people have died and 11,860 have had a close shave with the virus. Be careful or you will be part of the statistics. Stay safe!

 




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