At the COVID-19 isolation centre

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Lekan Sote

COVID-19 is real. I am one of the 1,897 patients discharged in Lagos State after treatment, as of Sunday, July 19, 2020. If my understanding that by going through this, I have immunity – can neither be infected, nor infect others – I am going to the bank with the assurances.

After feeling feverish, I consulted a doctor, by a telephone call, to observe government’s social distancing regulations. The doctor asked me a few questions, and then instructed I should check my blood pressure.

At a private hospital, the attendant kept me at a safe distance. Moments later, the medical director, sneaking a look at me through the door of his office that was slightly ajar, ordered I be attended to. The result was 163 systolic, 74 dystolic, with pulse rate of 84.

I called my doctor, who sounded alarmed. With the fever, I also had migraine, shortness of breath and now, high blood pressure. He prescribed some drugs, and warned me sternly not to take beyond the first dosage, without his instruction.

I took the drugs, and measured my blood pressure again the next day. The result was 93/61, with pulse rate of 72. He warned me against using those drugs, and prescribed malaria drugs for me.

After three days of no improvement, I called him. (This social distancing thing is both a preventive, and an impediment). He suggested I go to a well-known diagnostic centre in Oshodi, Lagos State.

He sent me the telephone number of a contact person, whom I called the next day. He was courteous and helpful. I set out on a hopeful note, expecting to know what was wrong with me, and take necessary remedial steps.

As I proceeded, I observed that I was feeling dizzy. Luckily, I was close to the public hospital, where my brother-in-law, Dr. Wọlé Soyẹmi, who indicated a high index of suspicion that I had COVID-19, works.

He added that the spread through community transmission is here, and that it is safer for everyone to go and take the test. It’s neither a stigma, nor a death sentence, to test positive, I suppose.

A prominent traditional ruler from Lagos East Senatorial District was recently admitted to the intensive care unit of a Lagos COVID-19 isolation centre. He, and his Olórí, have improved, and have been discharged.

I decided to buy some immunity booster-drugs, and watched things for a day or two. I took the drugs, and started the watch. I felt relieved, but I kept checking my blood pressure every day. But with the continued shortness of breath, I called Dr. Soyemi.

He immediately referred me to the Infectious Disease Hospital, former Mainland General Hospital, where Ebola patients were quarantined, somewhere past the Yaba College of Technology and former Nigeria Head Office of the West African Examinations Council.

You can imagine my apprehension. But I needed to go to where help was available. Pull had come to shove, and rational action should expel fear. Americans would say, “You have to do what you have to do.”

At the gate, a security man told me that there were no doctors on duty, because it was a Sunday evening. I was crestfallen. I called Dr. Soyemi, who had made the reservation. Three doctors showed up in less than five minutes.

They checked my oxygen level, wrote a series of tests that I should take before they could start medication. But instruction came from the Medical Director. I should be admitted, and observation should start immediately.

He wasn’t taking chances. This was close to nightfall, and he wasn’t sure I could return to the complex early enough through a crazy Lagos Monday morning traffic. It takes almost a week for test results to be released.

On Monday morning, somebody came to take my blood sample. Another doctor came to take my phlegm sample and take a swab through my nostrils. That aspect irritated my nostrils for some time.

Treatment commenced immediately. I commend the initiative of the MD and his team of doctors and nurses. I think their timely action saved my life. But those drugs can weaken you. A doctor explains that such is experienced by patients with high personal immune level.

I made a mistake by taking those drugs after taking only corn flakes, and went to sleep. You mustn’t take those drugs on an empty stomach. I woke up to use the bathroom. I fell twice, the drug overwhelmed me. I have a laceration on my face to show for it.

Even that late, after a patient raised an alarm, the nurses and attendants swooped in, took me into my room, brought in the oxygen cylinder, which I eventually didn’t need, stabilised, and kept watching out for me all night.

Sometimes, Nigerians working, no, toiling, hard, are not even noticed. Dr. Bimbo Bowale, the IDH’s MD, whom I never had the privilege to meet, runs a tight ship that works with the precision of a Swiss watch.

Information about patients are passed to the appropriate quarters without delay. The doctors, nurses, cooks, attendants, engineers –yes, there are engineers– work like a team. The IDH system is truly a sum of its whole parts.

But I noticed that the staff were polite, courteous and alert to their duties, but were not overly friendly. I put that to the necessity of social distancing and not wanting to be emotionally attached to patients that they may lose. It’s only human. I regret that I won’t recognise most of them because of the “astronaut” gear they wore.

I was told that my treatment, medication, food, and suppliers were free, funded by the Federal, and Lagos State governments, corporate institutions, like Guaranty Trust Bank and Access Bank, and individuals, like Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola. Bill Gates was not in the number, and there are volunteer doctors and nurses.

My roughly 12ft X 10ft room has a bed and pillow covered with man-made leather, no bedsheets or pillow cases provided, a locker, a ceiling fan, and a split-unit air-conditioning system. Cabling suggests future introduction of a TV set with DSTV. Electricity was constant. A live band came to entertain us on Sunday.

The final ritual as you leave the isolation centre is that they provide you with medications to take home, and then use hypochloric acid to decontaminate you, your luggage, and everyone who came to take you back home.

But I diďnt know how mosquitoes always got in every day, and why they kept serving me what I thought was diabetics meal, and asking if I was diabetic, despite my answering them in the negative whenever they asked.

My beef is that despite providing temporary accommodations for doctors, word on the street suggests that government insensitively halved the COVID-19 allowances paid to doctors, nurses, and ancillary staff. Government doesn’t also provide them and their families with free drugs to boost their immunity: These Nigerians, who have put themselves in the line of danger to keep other Nigerians alive?

Reminds you of soldiers fighting the Boko Haram insurgents, who complain that their allowances are not paid, or not paid promptly. It is dangerous for morale, and also weakens the yeoman’s efforts that government is putting in to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.

The personnel on COVID-19 frontline should be encouraged.

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