I had an experience over the Christmas holidays that I am yet to recover from, psychologically. My wife brought our children from Lagos to join me in Abuja for the holidays. My Younger sister and my nephews were also around. We were, in all, 15 at home in Abuja for the holidays. The number could have been up to 19 if I had not stopped other relations from coming.
Before coming, my wife had, on the 11th of December 2020, complained to me that she had an uncomfortable feeling of un-wellness, though she could not tell what exactly was wrong. That was just about a week after she had returned from Oron, in Akwa Ibom State, for the burial of her father. I advised her to visit our family doctor, but she insisted that she would rather wait to do the check-up in Abuja, since our family doctor had relocated to somewhere in Lekki, Lagos, which was difficult to access during that period. She also rationalized that she must have exerted herself too much during her church crusade on the 9th of December. I could not, therefore, compel her to go and see the doctor. She could, however, not immediately come to Abuja, since she had to wait for schools to close, so she could come with the children. Her situation was, however, not improving. She was developing all sorts of symptoms by the day. I was worried, but did not entertain any fear other than feeling for her for what she was experiencing.
I was, however, deeply concerned when I went to receive her and the kids at the airport on the 19th of December. She practically lumbered towards me from the arrival hall. Even though my children were jumping all over me, my attention was fixed on my wife. I had not seen her in that state of illness for a very long time. Definitely, not within the last 15 years. We drove to town from the airport without any conversation on the way. I did not sleep that night. I had planned to take her to the hospital the next morning, but she preferred to rest. I, however, insisted on our visiting a neighbourhood pharmacy. The pharmacist gave her an injection for malaria and some drugs, including antibiotics, for her cough. She did not improve by the next morning. I was, at that time, no longer ready to give her any other option. Luckily, the Abuja Medical Centre is not far from our home. My nephew drove us to the centre. My younger sister, who had assumed the role of house nurse, was on hand. The initial protocols of getting registered, obtaining cards and opening of a file took hours. By the time she saw a doctor, the day was far spent. The doctor prescribed some medications, laboratory tests and an X-ray. She did all the laboratory tests, but could not do the X-ray. We returned home with her condition worsening. It was at that point that it dawned on me that she could be suffering from COVID-19. Although she wished it away, my mind was on it the whole night. By the morning, I had also started feeling funny.
We got back to the hospital the next morning, around 10, for the X-ray and to meet with the doctor with the lab results. The queue at the X-Ray room was very long. My wife’s situation had, by the time, deteriorated to the point that she had to be assisted to walk. By the side of the entrance to the X-Ray room was a notice for VIP treatment. I approached a lady whom I had observed was familiar with the environment, and inquired about the VIP notice. She explained to me that it was a part of the hospital that charged higher fees, but offered swifter and better services to patients. Without thinking twice, I ran to it. The receptionist told me that I would need to register with a fee of N15,000. I could have paid whatever she had asked for. I quickly paid, and a card was issued. An officer was then dispatched to go and fetch my wife’s file from the general centre, while I quickly went to fetch my wife. It took a lot of efforts to take her to the VIP centre. She was immediately ushered into the consulting room. Moments later, the doctor walked past me with her to another room. Although my anxiety mounted, I was thankful that she was in the hands of a doctor. Some minutes later I saw the doctor tiptoeing towards me. From his countenance, I knew that he did not have good news for me.
I rose before he could reach me. He asked me to follow him. I got in and found my wife under a machine. The doctor told me to look at what he said was my wife’s oxygen level reading. According to him, the reading was not good, as it was way below the manageable 92 or so. According to him, all the signs showed that my wife was COVID-19 positive. That message was just a confirmation to me. It did not shock me. When I asked him for what he could do, he said he would prescribe some medication, which he did. He thereafter asked us to go Gwagwalada General Hospital for a confirmation test and, if possible, use their quarantine facility.
The journey to Gwagwalada was a tortuous one for all of us. My wife was crying and vomiting in the car. She was certain that she was going to die. We got to the hospital in Gwagwalada and got the shock of our lives. The officers at the testing centre said that they had no test kits and that their holding facility could no longer accept new patients. One of them gave us an address and phone number of a private hospital well-known for carrying out COVID-19 tests at a humongous fee. While on the way back to the town, I recalled that a friend of mine and his family had just survived the pandemic. I called him and he sent me a copy of the prescription he had for his own. He also gave me a number to call if I could not find anyone at the International Conference Centre where he had advised me to go. It was way past 5 P.M. by the time we got to the International Conference Centre. There was nobody there. I called the number my friend gave and the lady who answered said they had closed. We would have to wait till Monday, the 28th of December 2020 – about six days away.
I had to live with the morbid fear of the possibility of COVID-19 ravaging my 15-member family. Meanwhile, the prescription sent to me by friend became handy for all us. My wife was able to sleep that night, thankfully. I made calls to friends who sent prescriptions that were similar to the one earlier sent by my friend. One whose wife is a senior nurse was particularly helpful. I got all the medication and, of course, resorted to other self-made herbal concoctions until the 28th when we were finally lucky to have the test. Naively, I had expected to get expert medical attention immediately from the test centre in Area 3. That was not to be. We were told to go home and wait for the results in a week. Those results did not come till about 10 days later, by which time we had gone to hell and back. Thankfully, though the results of my wife and sister were positive, they were already well. Surprisingly, only one of my daughters showed slight symptoms. All the others were well. I stayed longer in bed, and it was the turn of my wife to worry about me. I feel physically fit now, but I still have nightmares.
There is zero preparation for the pandemic on the ground. People are still living in denial and the Government does not have a clue about the level of unpreparedness out there. Without the luck of having friends who lent me their experiences, I wonder what this story would have been. For those who are likening COVID-19 to malaria, I pray for them not to experience it, and indeed not to be infected when they are without loved ones who would sacrifice their lives to save theirs.