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Q and A With COVID-19 Survivor and Nurse

By Marion Gachuhi (mgachuhi16@gmail.com)

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Kenya hard with 99,308 cases, 82,478 recoveries and 1,734 deaths according to Worldometer as of January 19, 2021. I spoke with Gerald Ngugi, a Covid-19 survivor and Nancy Gichuki, a nurse at one of the major hospitals in Kenya, concerning how COVID-19 infected and affected them respectively.

Q: How did you know you had COVID-19?

Gerald: At first, I wasn’t aware that I had been infected with COVID-19. I was generally weak so I went to St. Bakhita hospital but they did not have testing kits.

Q: How do you think you contracted COVID-19?

Gerald: I don’t even know how I got it. I don’t board Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) because I get picked up and dropped off every day from work. While at work, I only share a car with my boss. But my boss never had COVID-19 so he cancels out.

Q: Had you taken the necessary precautions to avoid getting COVID-19?

Gerald: I wore a mask simply because it is compulsory at my work place and also to avoid getting arrested by the police. I washed my hands because they get dirty from time to time. Unajua vile tunapenda salamu. Lazima ningesalimia mtu na ninawe mikono (We love handshakes so after handshaking with others, I would wash my hands).

Q: What symptoms did you have?

Gerald: I felt a sharp pain beneath my lowest ribs and the pain would shift to my back whenever I laid down. Coughing was intense, I was weak, had lost appetite and I had to be taken to the hospital. My lungs were clearly failing.

Q: How many days did you take before getting tested for COVID-19 after getting the symptoms?

Gerald: It took me 10 days. I thought I was suffering from Malaria. So I went to a pharmacy and was given a five days’ pneumonia prescription. The more I took them, the worse I got. I didn’t even think of getting a COVID-19 test because I thought it was a conspiracy theory for the government to acquire foreign donations. But after a while, reality struck; I heard of a couple of people I knew and who died of coronavirus and I got scared. So I went to St. Bahkita Hopital in Nairobi, Kenya and got tested. My diagnosis read that my blood was infected but they didn’t have COVID-19 testing kits. So they referred me to Kenyatta Hospital. My symptoms worsened and I was taken to Kenyatta where I was tested for Covid-19 and

placed on Oxygen immediately.

Q: How long were you in hospital?

Gerald: 14 days in hospital but 12 days on oxygen. From 11th-25th November 2020. I remained in hospital for the extra 2 days because I lacked money to fund my treatment which hindered my clearance.

Q: Were you on oxygen throughout?

Gerald: No. It reached a point I only needed a humidifier. I don’t recall exactly which day it was since I was in a life-threatening situation.

Q: What was your experience in hospital like?

Gerald: There was a form of rotation in the wards.Those who began recuperating were placed in the same wards as those who hadn’t yet recovered so as to boost moral support amongst each other. It was an unspoken gesture of the healthcare workers. We also took care of each other hence creating a bond amongst us. If anyone needed help, we’d call for assistance by clicking a button. One time I had a seizure and one of them called for assistance and saved my life. Also, if my wife wanted to send me fruits, I would request she buys three more packets because I had three friends and they would reciprocate when they had fruits delivered to them too.

Q: How much did COVID-19 treatment cost you?

Gerald: Kshs 417,204.This was inclusive of medicine while in hospital. However, when I got discharged, I got another prescription to buy medicine from outside the hospital that costed around Kshs 14.,000-15,000.

Q: How did you fund it?

Gerald:  My friends lent me money and I also had a fundraising. In total, they covered over 50%. Some of them were on my neck about refunding them but others understood my situation. So I first began by paying back the former. Currently, my hospital bill stands at Ksh. 27,000 that I get to pay via installments cut from my salary.

Q: How did you being infected with COVID-19 affect your family?

Gerald: I was away from them for a long time and we missed each other. My brother had been in the hospital for two months due to an accident. So some people began thinking that I’ll stay in hospital like he did and began talking behind our backs. Also, being the breadwinner, I had to step up after getting off oxygen. I constantly communicated with my wife who ran my errands so that our family would always be provided for. My family faced stigma from our community while I was in hospital. We are actually facing stigma till now.

One parent told their child, “Nikikuona na mtoto wa flani, ntakugonga mpaka ukufe.” (If I see you hanging with his child, I’ll strike you to death). I’ve had instances where I would greet someone then others would follow them around to warn them against coming near me. Some of my neighbours stopped talking to me completely. Some people had even said that I would die. Whenever I approach people who had their masks off, they put them on immediately and their body language reeks of fear.

Q: How are you coping with being a COVID-19 survivor?

Gerald: Life is just normal apart from the stigmatization from some of my friends and neighbours. I am glad that one can recover from it unlike some other diseases. I am very careful also. I constantly wash my hands, clean food before consuming, wear my mask and sanitize my hands. I also identify myself as an ambassador since I sensitize others about the importance of following precautionary guidelines, through my story. I’m a living testimony.

Q: What would you advise others concerning COVID-19?

 Gerald: COVID-19 is real and people should stop thinking it’s a conspiracy theory. It’s not a matter of you searching for it; it’s a matter of it searching for you. Someone may be following the guidelines and still get infected. One may even avoid getting close to me, a survivor, yet get infected out there. It may be a simple slip as touching a surface that has COVID-19 virus on it and that’s it. Everyone needs to be sensitized more on precautionary measures to take. I remember when I arrived back home, I asked my family not to come close to me and I went into isolation for 14 days. It was tough not getting to hug my wife and children. And they had to constantly sanitize themselves. Also, if one stays with the symptoms for too long without seeking treatment, they may end up dying.  However, I know of some people who tested positive and quarantined in their homes while doing exercise and drinking the lemon, ginger and garlic juice. Afterwards, they tested negative and went back to work. Isolation is important for the first four days because that’s when there’s the highest risk of spreading it.

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Q: Can you briefly explain what COVID-19 is?

Nancy: COVID-19 is a virus that causes a variety of respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurological diseases in human and other animals.

Q: Which animals get COVID-19?

Nancy: Bats. They are the habitats of COVID-19. Camels also have a strain of coronavirus.

Q: There are quite a number of conspiracy theories concerning the origin of COVID-19.     What is your view on this?

Nancy: According to WHO, it originated from Wuhan in China from the bats in the wet markets.

Q: Why did a bat from China become the first habitat for the COVID-19 virus and not any other bat in the world?

Nancy: It isn’t clear why that is so. Nobody knows about that.

Q: Why is COVID-19 spreading so fast?

Nancy: It is spread through droplets suspended in the air and the COVID-19 virus is heavy. This means that the chances of people to inhale it are high. Droplets come from coughing and sneezing and can be suspended in the air even for eight hours.

Q: What is the incubation period of COVID-19?

Nancy: The incubation period is 2-14 days and symptoms include fever, chills, coughs, headache, some lose their sense of taste and smell. However, there are others who don’t develop symptoms and are referred to as the asymptomatic but they can still spread the virus.

Q: Is there a means to know who once had COVID-19?

Nancy: There’s a study that was carried out at my hospital and when blood got tested, those that had developed some antibodies, revealed that they once had COVID-19 and were asymptomatic.

Q: Do the asymptomatic people have a higher mortality rate than those who develop symptoms since they are unaware they have COVID-19?

Nancy: Most of them heal naturally as it passes for a common cold. Actually, some nurses who’ve come into contact with COVID-19 patients were asymptomatic.

Q: Does COVID-19 cause a permanent effect in the body?

Nancy: Yes. The survivors develop permanent damage especially in the heart, lungs and air sacs. The effects are not immediate; they may be felt later on. According to WHO, one can develop clots in the heart and get a stroke. Also, some are getting permanent loss of taste and smell.

Q: Which is the most effective COVID-19 treatment?

Nancy: It depends with the magnitude of the disease. Those who have tested positive should first quarantine at home for 14 days, feed well and especially on vitamins, hydrate and get tested again. However, if they develop difficulty in breathing, they should seek medical advice. We use medicine such as Azinthromycin, Paracetamol and blood thinners for example Heparin.

Q: Do COVID-19 survivors have full immunity?

Nancy: No, they can be re-infected. Some got infected in the first wave, recovered and got re-infected.

Q: Since COVID-19 causes permanent effects, does it mean that survivors are at a higher risk of re-infection?

Nancy: In spite of their respiratory system weakening, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are at a higher risk of COVID-19 re-infection. However, they may get other respiratory diseases in future such as Bronchitis.

Q: When is someone, who has recovered, ready to mingle with other?

Nancy: Immediately after testing negative. However, some who are positive are still allowed to. For instance, someone still had COVID-19 after three tests within three weeks and were allowed to go back to work because after the third week, it is no longer infectious.

Q: What do we know about the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University that is expected to arrive in Kenya from February 2021?

Nancy:  I think people are not well educated about the vaccine and are dependent on social media. I would advise people to follow instructions from the WHO and to stop believing myths on social media concerning all kinds of COVID-19 vaccines and understand the importance of the vaccines. I know of people outside Kenya who already have received COVID-19 vaccine and are doing well.

Q: What happened when your hospital received a first COVID-19 patient?

Nancy: We were all scared of taking the virus to our homes. I’m glad our administration and isolation department was well equipped to receive a COVID-19 patient. We also had PPEs and the Infection Control department was prepared to handle a COVID-19 patient.

Q: Have you been in charge of a COVID-19 patient?

Nancy: Yes. I’m in the Accident and Emergency department and we have to screen everyone who comes in, for COVID-19. I’ve also nursed several of them.

Q: How has COVID-19 affected your family?

Nancy: Imagine I’ve had a rough day at work and I ensured I never came back home with my scrubs. But once I got back home, my boys would put on their masks (laughs). Even after I showered! If I dared cough, they’d inquire if I had COVID-19. Part of my family lives abroad and initially, we weren’t at peace due to the rampant spread of COVID-19. Also, in my neighbourhood, some people refused to get lifts from me since they thought that I was a COVID-19 carrier. We are however learning how to cope with it every day and we shall come out of it very soon.

Q: Why are scientists working around the clock to develop a vaccine and not a cure?

Nancy: Vaccination will break the chain of infections and the curve will progressively drop till the pandemic is over. Vaccination is also cheaper.

Q: Is the curve going high or low?

Nancy: Low. Because more people have been educated and sensitized concerning precautionary measures against the virus such as wearing of masks, keeping of social distance and other protocols given by the WHO.

Q: Why is hospitalized care for COVID-19 expensive?

Nancy: It’s only expensive for those in the I.C.U. on life support. Per day, it may cost Kshs. 50,000 or more depending on the hospital. They would stay in life support until they can breathe normally thus the stay can vary from patient to patient.

Q: What are the most effective ways to prevent one from getting infected with COVID-19?

Nancy: Wearing of masks, maintaining social distance, cleaning the hands with soap and water and sanitizing hands. Since handshaking and hugging is discouraged, some people do fist bump which isn’t advisable because that’s also a way of spreading the virus.

Q: What are some of the fake news surrounding COVID-19?

Nancy: At the onset, some said that Africans would drop dead like flies once COVID-19 reached Africa which caused a lot of fear amongst people. Also, others have been taking concoctions extensively to a point of destroying their organs such as liver and stomach. These concoctions erode the mucus membrane of the stomach hence causing ulcers. Some have been taking an herb locally known as Wanjiru-wa-Rurii but botanically known as Ajuga remota, while others take a juice made of garlic, ginger and lemon believing that it prevents or cures COVID-19 but there’s no evidence of such.

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