By Cosmas Omegoh
As the third wave of Coronavirus is raging and currently wreaking havoc in communities across the country, some survivors have come out to recount the pain and anguish they went through.
Their testimonies send clear warning signals to the citizenry that COVID-19 is still dangling overhead like the proverbial Sword of Damocles, though many are yet to realise the looming danger, let alone acknowledging it.
Our correspondent’s recent encounters with COVID-19 victims and the pain they went through come across as real eye opener. Everything points to one direction: that all and sundry must be careful; everyone needs to exercise a lot of personal responsibility and caution to remain alive.
Recalling her experience, Evelyn (not her real name) who contracted COVID-19 recently noted that “as soon as I tested positive for the virus, I rushed to one of the government facilities immediately.
“My ordeal started with fever, catarrh and cough. Gradually I began to experience sore throat; I later noticed that I was losing my appetite; even while I struggled to eat, I discovered that the taste of the food was gone.
“At the hospital, the first doctor I encountered was kind and friendly. He asked a nurse to check my body parameters which were discovered to be okay. My case was not alarming yet.
“After the drugs were written out, I was told to go home and isolate; I was assured that I would be fine as long as I took my medication religiously.”
She further recalled that “because of the increasing number of patients seeking cure in Lagos, I gathered that the bed spaces were getting scarcer. Where they were available, they were reserved for those whose cases were critical.
“The drugs I was not given at the hospital pharmacy I purchased elsewhere. Some were cheap while some were expensive. But does that matter when life is involved?
“It was a horrible experience, but I gradually got better and became well after the 14-day window was over.”
At the moment, daily report by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) shows rising number of infections. Deaths figures are mounting too.
“The persons worst hit are older ones, particularly people with underlining ailments,” a young Nigerian doctor and missionary, Rev. Sister (Dr) Luciana Agba, who has been working with COVID-19 patients told our correspondent over the telephone.
She listed some of the underlying ailments as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart or kidney problems among others, while warning everyone to be careful.
During one of his briefing, the Lagos State governor, Jide Sanwo-Olu, noted that “the positivity rate in Lagos is 8.9 per cent,” adding that “this is an eight-fold increase over the recorded figure a month ago, and it should rightly alarm all of us.”
Recent reports released by NCDC keep suggesting that the number of infections has maintained a steady rise. Yet, the residents seem not to be listening.
Testing a big problem
According to our investigation, testing for COVID-19 is a big challenge. Many who show symptoms don’t really know what to do and where to go to. It was gathered that testing for COVID-19 is unlike testing for malaria or typhoid fevers. Far from that.
One of the testing centres in Lagos is at the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba.
Our correspondent was told that getting a chance to be tested at the facility doesn’t come easy.
According to Tony, who was at the centre recently, the process is cumbersome.
“It is not an exercise that allows one to walk in and get tested easily. It is a whole process, which could take hours depending on the crowd in attendance.
“It again depends on who helps you or your savvy with your cell phone; for you are required to go online and fill out a whole form with your android phone to book for a date to come for the test. Later you receive an invitation for the testing.
“I wonder the fate of those who do not have phones capable of performing such operation?” he said.
Describing how the test itself is carried out, he said: “You are given two swab sticks to insert into your nose and your throat. You then break the swabs into a tiny plastic container, hand it in and go home. Then within 48 hours, you receive a notification informing you whether you are positive or negative.
“In my case, I tested negative; I give glory to God.
“But what about the market women, the agbero in the streets and every other person who knows nothing about having an email to receive such notification?”
Further investigation revealed that testing is not only key, but indeed the beginning of the journey to COVID-19 treatment. No doctor listens to a patient if they have no test result, not minding if they are showing clear symptoms of COVID-19 or not.
It was also learnt that after some people had tested positive, there is no clear directive as regards to where they should go to next.
No one is there to direct anyone. The patients are on their own. It is either they find their way to government facilities or end up in private hospitals – for those who can afford it anyway.
Patients at Lagos facility
As the epicenter of COVID-19, Lagos has rallied to erect various isolation centres where patients could receive treatment. One, it was learnt, is at Gbagada General Hospital. Another is at Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH), Yaba; then, there is one at Lagos State University (LASUTH), Ikeja, among others. Various general hospitals and designated primary health centres in the state also run skeletal services to assist those suspected to have contracted COVID-19. Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba too runs a COVID-19 clinic.
Private hospitals participation
Our correspondent gathered that there are a number of private outfits in Lagos that are also taking care of COVID-19 patients especially the rich. Some of them, it was learnt, charge as highly as between N.5m -N1m per day.
According to a source, soon after a certain young man lost his sibling to COVID-19, his mother also contracted the virus and died.
The tragedy went full circle when he too contracted the virus. He was rushed to a private hospital that billed N.5m daily for treatment. After days on admission, he asked to be discharged apparently because of the mounting bills; but resurgence occurred shortly after.
This time around, he was rushed to another clinic that charged N1 million daily. Friends and foes, it was disclosed, had to rally round by contributing huge sums to save his life.
Situation at IDH, Yaba
The IDH at Yaba was built in those days of yore and many things bear clear testimonies to this fact.
It is located somewhere a shouting distance from the iconic West African Examination Council (WAEC) building in Yaba. As you cruise down the road leading to the facility, you pass through the Nigerian Army facilities on both sides. Then turning to the left, and to the right, huge tents built to receive, apparently high-profile patients , reveal themselves. Their rich white colours glitter in the mid-morning sun. Then a few metres ahead, one comes face to face with the old IDH facilities. The hospital was established to take care of patients suffering from infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, Lassa fever and the like. COVID-19 was then well out of the way. But now, its sufferers have mostly occupied the hospital; a lot more people have continued to stream into the place in their numbers for treatment.
On approach, the environment is serene and quiet. A huge mango and a young guava tree seem to wave their welcome as they rock in the mild wind. The ambience gives out a false impression that all is well. But that is not the fact. At the facility, only a thin line separates life and death.
To the left hand side, some giant oxygen cylinders stood waiting to be cleared. Their contents had been spent – exhausted by individuals critically needing them to stay alive. Their presence lent credence to the earlier alarm raised by Governor Sanwo-Olu that many patients in the state needed oxygen to survive. He had informed that the state had activated oxygen plants to meet the growing needs of many residents in critical conditions.
Inches to the right sat rolls of seats for patients craving to see the doctors. Two patients, a middle-age man and a teenage girl sat diagonally apart. The man had his oxygen mask on, and was clearly battling for life. He was being attended to by a woman suspected to be his wife.
Up there on the elevated corridor sat the medical team: doctors and nurses, attending to patients. They were not your usual run of mill doctors donning white clinical coats. They all wore combat gears – some green and some blue overalls with face masks firmly on and a special, uniform rubber footwear. Some wore double masks. They were out for battle because the enemy before them is high on guile – vicious, violent, virulent. Their patients consulted them standing. Call that unusual. But the situation calls for that.
Twice, two ambulances cars arrived – one a Toyota Siena. The driver pulled the door open to reveal a man lying prostrate. Apparently afflicted by COVID-19, he lay helplessly and hopelessly guessing at the car roof – unsure of what the future held for him. You now get this felling that death is in the air.
Just then, a sharp cry of anguish rang out, shattering the tranquility of the environment. Eyes turned in a direction deep inside the facility. A lady in her mid-30s was distraught. She was weeping and wailing uncontrollably, stamping her feet hard on the ground in sorrow and anguish. She was almost yanking off her hair and dress to underline her loss. Like the biblical Rachel, she was weeping for her relative because he/she was no more, apparently cut down by COVID-19.
The hospital staff carried on with their regular chores unperturbed. Some kept lumbering across the lawn separating the buildings unfazed, a clear sign that they had long been immune to such scenario. Only a few helpless visitors cared. Everyone had hands akimbo, wondering what was actually amiss.
Cost of getting to isolation centre
A doctor who craved anonymity told our correspondent that some patients who had no cars of their own arrive at the facility at a huge cost to them and the society.
“We learnt that some of the patients needing ambulance service pay as highly as N100,000 to get here.
“Those who have no one to bring them come here by public transport. They sit with other passengers on the bus. That is a warning that people must wear their face masks always, but it appears many are not listening to that. “Before the patients arrive here, some of them might even infect two to three persons sitting next to them,” he said.
Now the good news
However, Dr Agba said that Coronavirus is not actually a death sentence.
“Many have been surviving the virus as long as they properly do what they are asked to do – isolate, take their medications, eat well and rest.”
Her assertion is buttressed by the huge number of people reported by the NCDC to have fully recovered from COVID-19.
However, a source at LUTH told our correspondent that some survivors have had to deal with loss of taste or smell, learning to walk again among other issues.
He, however, believed that, that would be temporary. He then urged residents to endeavour to get vaccinated as soon as they could to stay safe, while expressing optimism that the world would get over the pandemic.