The evening of July 9, 2021, was just like any other night. With the absence of the breeze, any healthy human being would be feeling warm but I was shivering and my brother was driving me to the hospital.
I was feeling feverish, I had a headache that kept reminding me it’s there every 10 minutes, the smell of food made me nauseous and my stomach felt like millions of sharp pins were piercing through it.
Earlier that day, I had asked my boss and HR to give me the rest of the day off when I started feeling general body pains and didn’t have the energy to sit behind my dining table turned home office to work.
Since March 2020, when President Akufo-Addo announced the first lockdown of Accra and parts of the Ashanti Region, my company had asked all of us to work from home. We had only started going to the office once a week when I fell ill.
On that Friday, I thought to myself that I had contracted COVID-19, however, I quickly dismissed it because I never thought I could catch it. I don’t leave my house except to the market every other Saturday and my now once a week trip to work.
At the hospital, my temperature was normal, my blood pressure was normal yet I didn’t have the energy to even sit. The doctor ordered two labs – malaria and typhoid – the results came back negative. Nonetheless, he gave me a prescription for malaria, typhoid.
Thankfully, I was not admitted so I came home just before midnight. On Saturday, I felt good. The severity of my symptoms had reduced and the rest of the day was uneventful. I thought I was recovering though I still didn’t know what I was recovering from.
Then at 8 pm on Saturday, my crisis began. Lying on the couch in the hall, I picked up the aroma of food from the kitchen, it made me nauseous but I held my own. Then I tried to drink some Milo so that I could take my last medication for the day. Halfway through the cup of milo, out came projectile vomit. For about 8 minutes I was just bringing out in painful batches, the little milo I had in my stomach and anything else that was in there. By 9 pm, we were on our way back to the hospital.
I was told it was side effects from the meds I was taking, and the doctor prescribed additional meds to deal with those side effects. I woke up Sunday morning drenched in my own sweat as though someone had poured a bucket full of sweat on me as a ‘wake up from bed’ prank. Though, it wasn’t, I was a little relieved because I was thinking whatever it was it might be leaving my system. I was also feeling much better than I was when I went to bed.
By Sunday evening, I was feeling feverish again, had intermittent headaches, general body pains, stomach aches and I had lost my sense of smell and taste. On Monday morning, I had all the signs of a normal cold and I stopped taking all the meds I had been given.
Instead, I activated my regular common cold routine; lots of oranges, water and sleep. However, on Tuesday, I realised I was not removing a lot of mucus from my nose I was supposed to, meanwhile, I was feeling cold and sweating at the same time so I drove myself to Lapaz Community Hospital to do the test for COVID-19. This was the facility nearest to where I live that I knew was conducting the COVID-19 test.
By the time I got there the following day to pick up the results, it was ready. “Did a doctor order for this test?” the lab technician asked while folding my test results.
I was nervous at this point. Though I was hoping it was negative, I was also hoping it was positive. Then at least, I can get the right medical attention I needed.
“No,” I said. “I am not feeling well and I decided to do the test,” I added.
“Well, it is positive,” he said.
I sat there bent over, clutching my hands in between my thighs. I live at home with my parents who are both over 60 years old, my nephew has been with me for weeks. What have I done?
“What do I do now?” I asked him.
“We can treat you here or we can refer you to a facility of your choice,” he said.
At this point, I was in no mood of going anywhere else so I asked to be treated there. He got one of the lab technicians, the man who had taken my sample the day before, to rush me through the process to see a doctor. Since this was my first time seeking medical care at the facility, I had to get my card and then before I knew it, a nurse was taking my vitals.
I checked again, normal temperature, although I was burning up and shivering in equal measure. My blood pressure was still normal.
About 5 minutes later, I was sitting in front of a doctor talking about my symptoms again.
He gave me a prescription, one of the drugs was not available at their pharmacy he said.
While I was seeing the doctor, my brother had come to the hospital with a cousin of mine. I called him when I was on my way to the hospital to pick up my results. It was at the hospital that he learned about my COVID-19 diagnosis.
I was not admitted, however, the doctor asked me to self-quarantine for 17 days after which I am to take the test again. The ride back home from the hospital was us moving from one pharmacy to the other for the additional medication they didn’t have at their pharmacy. That was when I texted my boss and told her about my diagnosis so that she can inform my colleagues whom I had come into contact with just two days before I started exhibiting symptoms.
When I got home I went straight to a guest room and we activated our makeshift COVID-19 protocol.
Back in February 2020, when the virus was hopping from one country to the other, we knew Ghana might be a victim so we started discussing it at home. When we recorded our first two cases, we had discussions at home, educated each other on safety protocols. Purchased sanitisers for all of us who were going to work and two of my nieces who were going to school. We discussed what would happen if anyone tested positive. We even decided on a room that would be used for quarantine so that others can safely provide care.
Now, here we are, making use of the designated quarantine room, after finally being able to buy the drug at the fourth pharmacy we visited. I forced myself to drink some of the porridge we bought on our way home so that I can start the meds right away.
That night, I had breathing problems, I didn’t know what to do, but I had read enough about COVID-19 to know that I needed my lungs to beat this thing. I knew I had to fill my lungs with air, then I remembered an episode in “The Resident” when they had to turn a patient who had just undergone surgery upside down so that he can have enough oxygen in his lungs.
I figured it might help, so I laid down in the face-down position and started deliberately breathing in and out. I had occasional pains in the chest. I was also used to lying down on my side because of my stomach ache but in this current position, it was aching me more than before. However, I knew I needed oxygen so I was willing to endure all the additional pain if it means my lungs will get what they need.
I didn’t sleep much, I had this weird sense of being thirsty as though I haven’t drunk water in days. I am still experiencing this.
I woke up Thursday morning after 8 am feeling tired. My breakfast was waiting behind my door, I didn’t bother brushing my teeth, I just went at it. Though I hated the very idea of eating I knew I have to eat if I had any chance of surviving this COVID-19.
From that Thursday, I started getting better, the severity of the symptoms were reducing. This time, I knew it was for good because I have a diagnosis. No matter how horrific, at least I knew what I was treating and how to deal with it.
One thing about quarantine is not COVID-19 because with time you start feeling okay by the day, however, you are left alone with your thoughts for 24 hours. Your mind wanders. Though mum and dad were fully vaccinated (they were part of the first recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine and they had received the second jab before I fell ill), I had heard about breakthrough cases where vaccinated people still contract the virus and in some cases, the worst happens.
By Monday, which would be 5 days after my diagnosis, I had informed everyone I have come into contact with the week before my diagnosis about my diagnosis. Nobody from the government reached out to me to trace my contacts. I was told at the hospital that people from my district assembly would contact me to check if I was self quarantining as directed… nothing happened.
By my 10th day in quarantine, the headache was gone, no longer feeling feverish, stomach ache was gone, a few breathing problems here and there, intermittent dry coughs, sense of taste was back but I couldn’t smell anything yet. My brother, whom I had spent more time with when I started exhibiting symptoms had tested negative. At the time, he had only taken a single dose of the AstraZeneca Vaccine. He was also part of the first batch, however, due to the date he took his jab, he was not eligible to take the second dose that my parent qualified for. He only got his second dose last week when the government held the vaccination exercise for those who had taken their first dose in the latter part of March.
On the 17th day in quarantine, I was happy. I still had some of the symptoms, however, I thought those were just issues I had to deal with. Driving back to Lapaz Community Hospital, I was grateful.
They took my sample, a different lab technician this time. I asked them to send me the result via email this time because I had no intention of going back to the hospital.
When the results came back, I had tested positive for COVID-19 again. I was worried, so the following day I went back to the hospital to see the doctor.
I saw a different one this time, he had my record and I showed him both results. He asked about symptoms, I told him they were intermittent but my sense of smell was still not back. I heard him remark something about how my second positive results could be due to the sensitivity of the PCR test. He gave me another prescription for the same meds I was given when I was first diagnosed and he issued additional 14 days in quarantine.
I didn’t mind because if I was still positive, I was not going to knowingly infect others. I came back home ready to do it all over again. “At least, this time I am doing it in a much better place than 18 days ago,” I soliloquised while standing in front of my bathroom mirror looking at my unkempt beard and my bushy hair which were now exposing the fact that I am going bald.
From quarantine, I resumed work. Although by 1 pm every day, I would feel tired and have to take a nap, I was determined to prove that I was back. I also realised my body has really changed. Just like my thirst issues, whenever I delay eating my meal for at least thirty minutes because I want to get something done, I would be shaking until I finish my food. Then I have to relax for almost 30 minutes before I would come back to ‘normal.’
The 14 days were over and I went to do another test. This time, the headache is gone, no muscle pains, stomach ache is gone, and I can pick up a faint smell. However, the results came back positive.
I went back to the hospital, where I met a different doctor. She was concerned about my three positive test results and she nearly referred me to Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research. However, because at this point I had no symptoms and I was slowly regaining my sense of smell, she gave me the same meds and added a new one. Once again, this came with additional 14 days in quarantine.
Last two weeks Friday, my third quarantine officially ended but I pushed taking my test further for additional seven days. I remained in quarantine nonetheless, only taking a trip to Korle Bu Teaching Hospital for an antibody test just to be sure if my body is producing the antibodies I needed and whether I could take the vaccine.
My results proved that I had an acceptable level of antibodies and that I can also take the vaccine when it becomes available.
Last week, I was finally able to break quarantine haven survived COVID-19. However, I am now dealing with the aftermath. I am still trying to understand the different signals my body is sending me. My eating pattern has changed. These days, I go to bed with water by my side because I can wake up in the middle of the night with a throat as dry as the Sahara desert. I must also make sure I have food I can easily microwave at night because I could wake up at 11 pm hungry. Sometimes, by 6 pm I’m going to bed and sometimes, by 11 pm I’m wide awake drinking 750 ml of water at a go and just waiting to go to sleep.
I believe these could have been prevented or lessened had I taken the vaccine. Now, don’t confuse things. I am not an anti-vaxxer, never have been and never will. The only reason I never took the earlier vaccine like my parents and my brother did was that I thought others needed it more than I did. Ghana had only taken delivery of 300,000 doses of vaccines. I knew there were lots of people living with underlying health conditions and others who are older whose chances of surviving COVID19 are slimmer than mine.
I also believed the government when they said we will get 17 million doses in June, yet they never came. The only reason I didn’t take the recent Johnson and Johnson vaccine was that I was still in quarantine and unsure whether I could take the vaccine given my positive status. Now, I’m in the clear and I’m joining the queue in the next inoculation exercise.
At the time of writing this, 1,069 people who had contracted COVID-19 in Ghana have not lived to tell their story. While I am dealing with the after-effects of contracting the virus, I am now part of the lucky ones to have survived this virus. Many of those 1,069 people might be here today if they had the chance to take the vaccine.
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