On 30th August (a Sunday), I begun to feel unwell with fever. I called into work on Monday to report sick, in order to be in conformity with the COVID-19 guidelines. However, I did not believe at all that I was sick with COVID-19. I thought it was one of those rare fevers I get that lasts only one or two days after my body lowers resistance following over-exertion while exercising. After all, had been careful in following COVID-19 guidelines. But as we all should know by now, one cannot be careful enough when it comes to this plague and the way it is now spreading in the City of Kampala.
My fevers did not disappear as I expected. Friday of that week, is when I started to cough a bit and feel these sore or tingling sensations in my throat. I moved from the International Hospital (IHK), to Makerere University then finally to the Makerere Student Sick Bay looking for testing services that were hard to get. On Sunday, I called the Ministry of Health (MoH) for my results, the news was not good. An ambulance was sent to pick me and transport me to Mulago Hospital on Sunday 6th September.
By the time I was checked in (which took like 3 hours) and climbing the steps to the High Dependency Unit (HDU) ward, I was short of breath, coughing and felt like I was about to collapse due to lack of air. I was immediately put on oxygen support which I believe saved my life that night! I spent eight days in the HDU, but however, I had to be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as my conditioned worsened and the battle intensified!
I was in ICU for a total of eight days where in some moments I despaired for my life (as my air passages at times felt like they were closing up). In ICU I was hooked up to sensors that monitored my heart, lungs and oxygen levels and was given much closer attention. During my time in both the HDU and ICU, I witnessed at least five people die of COVID-19 right before my eyes. I observed and felt the power of the virus and the power of death, but fought back by keeping positive, keeping active, following the directions of the nurses and doctors and by lots of prayer and good music!
In the purgatory (to utilise Roman Catholic language) – the place between Paradise or Hades – of ICU, the machines and sensors with their ominous sounds are the deciders of your fate whether for death or for life, the doctors are the heavenly messengers who give you the best support they can and monitor your journey to whatever fate! The real battle is in how well your body (and mind) fights back against the virus! My greatest fear in ICU was to be intubated on one of those ventilation machines where the survival rate was like 50% as I was told by one of the doctors and that I had witnessed for myself!
Mine was a long and epic battle, spending a very lengthy time of over 23 total days in hospital! Being supported by prayers of many family and friends. Oh what a glorious day when the stone was rolled away by the angels of ICU (doctors and nurses) and I emerged from there raised up by God from the bed of near-death! After the eight days of ICU, I spent another seven days recovering in the HDU and then the General Ward. I was finally discharged on the 29th of October.
Yes, my friend, I was like you! I thought I was more enlightened than most about COVID-19 and had followed the guidelines as best as I could. Yet the disease got me! Interestingly, no one at home was infected. I don’t know how they escaped! I observed that those who suffered most in hospital were the middle aged to the elderly. These were the ones also dying from the disease. Younger people fared much better though there were those young people who I saw suffer greatly.
My experience taught me quite a few things. First, that COVID-19 is a stealthy disease. The symptoms will not present themselves in the way you expect. The doctors in ICU told me that most people think they have malaria or typhoid when they really have COVID-19. The coughing and chest pains or restricted breathing (in my personal experience) may only come when the disease has already taken a firm hold and reached a certain threshold, by which time, you are in a critical state!
I also noted through discussions with the doctors that COVID-19 does have other impacts on the body apart from the devastation to the respiratory system. Doctors were observing that COVID-19 was having a multiplied effect (or causing) on conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.
I for example, observed that for the first eight days or so of my stay my blood pressure was either normal or below normal but as the damage increased to my lungs, the blood pressure shot up and stayed up for a while till I was recovered enough. I also observed that people with other conditions or morbidities such as over-weight, high plod pressure, diabetes, etc. had a harder time with the virus. I also experienced loss of appetite at first and a curious hardness or loss of hearing at times.
When I came down with COVID-19. I had taken a medical check just weeks before and was given a clean bill of health. I had been dieting therefore had lost weight and my blood pressure and everything else was in the normal range. So as a result, the body fought better. Then further help came from a good diet where I saturated my body with immune boosters like lemon, garlic, tangerines, oranges, ginger, lots and lots of vitamin C, vitamin D&E, lots of zink and lots of vegetable and fruit based fresh juices.
Another measure that helped save my life was following the doctor’s directions to sleep on my stomach which allowed for better oxygen circulation especially during episodes when I was short of breath or coughing. The rest was administered by the doctors by way of an anti-blood clotting injections, anti-inflammatory drug injections and antibiotics to prevent pneumonia from setting in.
Ultimately, when COVID-19 has taken hold and has reached a certain threshold you are in the hands of God. I believe in the end, what made the difference between life and death for me, was only God’s grace and power that saved from intubation and further from death! I believe as a person of faith, that it does make a difference to have people pray for you and support you with what you need.
In this post-hospital period, I am still recovering. The damage to my lungs is real. I thought that I would bounce back to normal in just a few days after leaving hospital. No way! I realized after some good research that it could take anywhere from three months to a year to get my lungs back to the way they were before COVID-19. Assuming fibrosis or scar tissue does not set in. I am still short of breath and cannot handle heavy physical exertion but I am improving every day and functioning quite normally. A week or two of rest after hospitalization is definitely necessary.
On the whole, it is very important to take the test as soon as one starts getting any of the symptoms of COVID-19 – and especially any extended time with fever, Go and be tested! Thanks to wise leadership, Uganda, has indeed gone a long way in preventing the spread of the virus and in building the capacity of the country to take care of the sick but a lot more could be done like for example: increasing the availability of testing services; increasing the rate at which drugs, oxygen and equipment are replenished and available in the hospitals (or in emergency vehicles) so the frontline workers do not face shortages; improving sanitation and hygiene in the hospital wards; certainly more front workers and more support for them and providing post-hospitalization counseling and therapy. That is my wish list!
Before I end, I must loudly applaud and give great credit to Uganda’s COVID-19 response teams; the great women and men, doctors and nurses on the frontlines battling COVID-19 and saving many lives! I was impressed with how the doctors and nurses in the HDU at Mulago and in the ICU approached every situation with fortitude, grace and positivity whether the situation was hopeless or hopeful! The care was first class, close and constant! I thank them for saving my life!
I was also very impressed with the State of the Art technology at Mulago and the food served to patients was also really good, at least while I was there! After this harrowing fight and experience with the deadly pestilence, I know I will never be the same again in the way I look at and live life.
Simon Kisaka is a Communications Specialist