No-one ever thinks they are going to come down with the virus, but hey, here I am, fighting for my life.
This year, 2020, can be described with many adjectives; different for each person, but a common and definitely generally acceptable denominator would be the use of “crazy” in the description. Like a page off a horror movies script, a lot has played out; beginning normally, progressing ominously, and here we are at this stage, alive in a totally different world.
In spite of how crazy life has been this year, I still have made out time to keep a journal. Somehow, my thoughts are clearer when they stare back at me from a book. Some critical days have me recording the day’s events, and moreso in these days when we are gradually fading into a new phase as a planet, and of our lives. This is definitely the most challenging time to be a healthworker or even a patient for that matter. I will share the excerpts of my diary; I will keep writing, updating, in hopes that long after now, WHEN I pull through, I will still be writing.
Friday 24th April
As a frontline doctor in this season, each day was a battle to look forward to; I and my husband, a doctor too, prepared our minds in prayers daily before leaving our two young kids, and heading into the frontline of the COVID-19 battle. This morning was no different; it was a ‘beautiful’ morning like any other, except for the mild cough I woke up with. It was dry and intermittent, the kind that made you weary of having to spend energy coughing, with nothing to show for it.
I took solace in the fact that it wasn’t very discomforting. But then the natural doctor’s investigative instinct in me took charge, as my mind perused the last few hours in search of a probable trigger, and voila! Bleach! I chalked it up to the bleach I had used last night. Somehow, I must have managed to inhale quite a lot of it. The cough would definitely stop by the end of the day, I thought, and with that thought I cast it off my mind as I prepared for work.
I had to take the bus to work as usual. This season, physical distancing was very much prohibited, and a bus that would hold over 50 people on a normal day carried just 5 people. I tried to maintain my distance from everyone; little did I know I would be the one everyone would be avoiding. That cough progressively worsened, and people on the bus kept giving me really suspicious looks with many making sure to keep their distance. I sighed in embarrassment, intermittently sipping water from my water bottle, willing and praying the cough would stop. Nothing could have been more embarrassing in the year 2020. Anyone who coughed was suspected of being infected with SARS COV-2. I stared out of the window, trying to ignore the small ruckus my persistent coughing was causing.
On getting to work, I went about my duties. To my elation, I coughed less when I was on the ward, and began holding unto the hope that it would gradually reduce and naturally grind to a halt. I never want to experience what I experienced on that bus ever again. But my hopes were a little dashed when it returned while I was in the Doctors’ Room. The cough was really starting to get on my nerves. Thankful for the face mask I had on and the relative privacy, I cleared my throat noisily.
It went on this way until the end of the work day when my husband came to pick me up with the car. I tried to listen quietly to my husband and kids chatter in the car as we drove home, even though my mind was running wild with thoughts. Maybe, even more today, I was grateful I had this- a healthy, happy family. I was also grateful it was weekend.
During the weekend, I gave myself the task of becoming aggressive with my lemon, lime, ginger and honey tea. I drank the mixture like water, until my stomach could take no more. I washed the cup at the sink and set it down separately, testing my throat for any sign of cough left. I would pour another mixture right away and wash the cough right down! I defiantly set about my chores. Whatever this cough was, it definitely wouldn’t make me unproductive.
Fast-forward to Sunday, 26th April, 2020.
That Sunday, I was up and doing. I cooked the Twitter-popular jollof rice and chicken with salad for the family. My husband had gone to work. Towards evening, the cough had stopped completely and I was really grateful. I tried to keep an eye on the kids while I participated in the CMDA EBSUTH Alumni Bending Corner meeting on Zoom with other alumni members scattered across the country and the world, I had the chance to see the faces of so many people I had not seen in years, catch up and have fun, and for 2 hours, I forgot all my worries.
Minutes after the meeting, the relatively calm ambience of that Sunday evening was shattered by one of the kids. She had left the tap running and flooded the house. And so the better part of that evening was spent mopping up and getting everything put back in order.
After that, I prepared dinner and had my daily exercise of jump rope, grateful for the air flowing freely into my lungs. Things we took for granted. I hung my rope and strolled into the shower, humming a hymn.
I had only been in the shower for a while when I realised that I couldn’t smell anything. I took in a lungful of air, to clear whatever may have blocked my nose. I still couldn’t perceive anything. Panic set in.
I picked up a bar of soap to sniff; my heart was going miles per second. No scent. My hands shook as I tried another bar of soap. Nothing. Maybe the problem was with soap.
Throwing a towel around me, I hurried out of the shower and grabbed my cream. It’d usually have a sweet, milky scent. Zilch. No scent at all. I picked my phone and tried to calm down myself, while I sent quick messages to some of my friends on WhatsApp and an SMS to my husband.
I informed them that I wouldn’t know poop if it poked me in the nose.
After much talk and encouragement via phone calls from family, I found the courage to tuck the kids in and go to bed, praying silently to see the morrow, that my breath would not slip away while I slept.
Tuesday 28th April
Pulling myself out of the bed that morning, I tried to shake off the incredible fatigue. Some things didn’t just know when to go. I was still anosmic. It felt funny, like I was hungry in my nose.
I pushed it to the back of my mind and went about my chores. Going to work was out of question for at least another week, so I stayed home. Thankfully, my husband was back from his shift of the previous day.
It was evening, around 6:00pm; most of the day was uneventful. I then settled down to see a movie with my husband. It did not take long before I felt my breath drift away, and with its departure came a sudden wave of exhaustion that left me winded. I sat up straighter and inhaled deeply. I inhaled again. I couldn’t breathe. I really couldn’t breathe. I panted, ordering my lungs to take in some air.
I was certain that I could just stop breathing in the next couple of minutes. There was no air here. I felt suffocated. I needed air. Urgently. Lifting myself from my husband’s side, I went to the window. I would get more air there. My husband looked up from the movie we’d been watching together, he knew something was wrong.
He came to me, his face revealed his deep worry. “How do you feel?”
“Let’s call the ambulance now,” I managed, gasping with the effort it took to say that much.
I had thought we should call them now and buy time. Maybe when I’d passed out in the next few minutes, help wouldn’t be far away. Yes, I was definitely that life-threatened. We phoned 999.
I paced while we waited for them to call back. There was no way I could sit or lie down, I could not risk it. I needed to keep breathing. I managed to change out of my pyjamas, pulling on some decent clothes.
I continued pacing while my husband went on his knees and prayed. He stopped me long enough to give me communion and anoint me. God. God. God. My heart cried. Surely He could hear me. Surely He was right here with me. I went to kneel down beside our bed. For a moment, all I could do was lift up my heart, to the only One who has the final say. Words felt heavy, but my spirit groaned in defiance. Then I spoke to my Father, I prayed with all my heart.
“God that I know that You didn’t bring us to England to leave us on the way,” I started. I paused to drag in enough air to continue. It was difficult. But I pressed on. I reflected on the things my God had done for me in the past. The God who had led me through deep rivers and ensured my safety, the One who had shown me mercy when I was at many a precipice of survival… When my son was 6weeks old and I had passed out, He had shown up. The God that carried me when I had Zitelu, my second child, here in the UK and I had a retained placenta for 3 hours, He had not changed. He was here. I told Him I was in His hands, a place I have always known as the safest place to be. I called on that trustworthy name, Jesus, whom I knew had always shown up, to deliver me yet again.
Between the prayer and his anxiety, my husband had been phoning my mum, she didn’t pick up. He phoned his mum and asked her to begin to intercede on my behalf.
That was a little before I felt it. This serenity. I became aware of this peace that none other than my Father could give. Anxiety seeped out of my bone marrow like liquid. The palpitations quietened until they became a distant echo. The sense of foreboding thinned out into a calm that felt like still waters and my breathing slowly returned to normal. I understood what the Bible meant by “Peace in the Storm”.
I walked to my husband and held his shoulders. They felt tense under my touch. I massaged them slightly, easing the pressure. “I have peace,” I whispered, hoping the calm in my voice would reassure him. He stared at me, uncertain. I hoped that didn’t come off sounding like, even if I don’t survive this, I have peace, because I really did have peace. It was a complete exchange of my anxiety for God’s peace, no matter what was going on right now.
The ambulance crew called back in no time. Within the first minute, the guy at the other end couldn’t believe what I told him. He said, “Look mate, you’re not short of breath. You’re completing sentences.”
I almost burst into laughter, he had no idea, who would believe anyway? He then proceeded to ask me a barrage of questions. I already knew they were not coming.
At the end of the rather long history taking, he told me what I already knew. “There is no need to send a blue light ambulance to you. Call your GP in the morning.”
At the mercy of whatever it was that was wrong with me, I had to wait till next morning. I chided myself immediately. No, I wasn’t at the mercy of any illness. God’s peace saturated our hearts and our home at that moment. Within the next half hour, the panic melted away.
I phoned my mum again. This time she answered. She listened to me very calmly until I was done talking.
“Ka m gwakwa gi,” she began firmly, “I know the covenant I have with God.
I will not lose another child. God has told me so very clearly. Even with your younger sister, God’s word bu ihe kara m obi. You are healed in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
I marvelled at the way she said it with a calm note of finality. She trusted God with such reckless abandon, holding firmly unto His promises. Nigerian mothers sha…
Later that night, I had another episode of breathlessness. We considered going to Accident and emergency, but how would I describe my symptoms? This thing just came and left like it was teasing me. They would probably think that I was crazy or just seeking attention.
We rang 111 instead. The doctor I spoke with was almost certain that it was covid. He advised warm baths, warm drinks, moderate exercise and to get tested for covid. I wondered how I was going to sleep that night. What if I suddenly became too tired to breathe and actually stopped breathing! My eyes widened at the possibility.
I then reasoned that just in case my breath would drift away again, the stinging sensation of ginger could re-alert me, so I went to get ginger. I would sleep with a piece of ginger in my mouth.
Funny enough, the ginger felt like have a lump of tasteless ice block in my mouth. I chuckled. My taste buds were probably dead. We prayed together. I slept with ginger in my mouth and my husband’s arms around me, the sound of his heartbeat lulling me to a peaceful sleep.
COVID-19: MY JOURNEY- THE COVID-19 TEST RESULTS
Thursday 30th April through the weekend
Throughout the day prior, I kept having bouts of the acute episodes intermittently, but I tried not to show it to my husband, I kept on with my ginger et al, and my prayers, reading Ps. 91 over and over again, even in the Ikwo dialect, until my Spirit heard and my heart believed it.
But today, Thursday was different. I felt slightly better today. I had slept in. I waved at my kids climbing all over their father in the sitting room, while I went to drink some warm water. My mind was soon ambushed with thoughts of covid. Was it covid? Did I have covid? What if it was covid? Maybe I had covid.
I’d been booked for a test within the hour. They sent me a message first, then called to inform me. It was a bit sudden. I informed them that I couldn’t get ready on such short notice. They immediately rescheduled and gave me two more hours to get ready.
We had breakfast and I headed out. I packed at a drive-through. They came to the car. I smiled warmly, returning their greetings. The next 5 minutes were spent collecting sample. Swabbing was uncomfortable. It was a sharp pain in my nose. I was glad it didn’t take long. I sniffed, closing the car door.
Before I started the car, I dialed a brother and colleague, Dr Peter Idagu, and talked with him throughout the 40minutes drive home. His words strengthened and encouraged me. Surely, I’d win this. God is for me.
Weekend started in a haze of joyful improvement. The exhaustion episodes were more widely spaced in hours. I was definitely on my way to recovery. I believed that, holding unto faith with both hands.
Except that on the Saturday, I started coughing again. And exactly when I wanted to sleep. I stood defiantly and strode to the table to get my warm lime, ginger tea and garnicia kola. I coughed while I drank. Each cough was answered with a dose of the drink, until I eventually slept off.
Monday 4th May
Throughout the weekend, my thoughts had been on a riot. I struggled to tame them. Seriously, what if the result came out positive? I countered that immediately, stubbornly refusing to give the devil space in my head. It could actually come out negative. Then all this paranoia would be utterly ridiculous.
By the end of the weekend, I had begun to convince myself that I couldn’t have had covid-19. It’d been exactly 4 days since I was tested. I hadn’t heard anything about the result. That could mean that I was negative. The cough however, persisted aggressively, with my lime and ginger tea giving it a piece of my mind each time.
I listened while my husband phoned the occupational health team of his Trust to ask about my covid result. They requested for my details and he supplied them.
Then came the longest 30 seconds of my life. The fear returned and I did my best to keep it at bay. I could basically hear my heart beating and the wall clock ticking away. I slowly released my breath, forcing myself to calm down. My husband reached for my hand, soothing.
“It actually came back positive,” the soft, feminine voice relayed.
For a moment, time stood still and everything else ceased to exist. It was just me and some bug crawling all over my respiratory system. I sat dazed, hoping she’d made a mistake or something. Maybe there was a mix-up or maybe, just maybe… I actually had the corona virus disease.
Oblivious to the silent pandemonium raging in our heads, the lady went ahead to spell out other info; on the need to continue self-isolation for other members of my family, how I would probably still have post-viral cough for another 2-3weeks and how I could return to work if I felt up to it.
Her words sounded like a distant hum. I had totally disconnected from reality.
Postviral cough? I shuddered at the realisation that I’d had the virus all this while and had only fought with ginger tea, warm lime, lemon garnicia kola and my prayers. And my Father had kept me. My eyes filled up and spilled over.
I phoned my mother and told her the result. I could almost hear the wheels turning in her head. I waited patiently for the shock to register, before proceeding , “This is not to instil or fuel fear. Not at all,” I admonished gently. The battle was already won. I was still here, still breathing, wasn’t I?
“It is to buttress a testimony of the Lord’s faithfulness and everlasting love…” She listened in stunned silence while I narrated the rest of the story.
After I’d ended the call, I lifted my heart and worshipped. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil. I only had mild symptoms, that made me wonder if it was actually covid. I knew people that had symptoms that were more intense. Some had recovered while some were still in convalescence.
If one could conquer fear, then most of the battle would be won already. Fear would put the focus on the virus, magnify it and paralyze our faith, leaving us defenseless. That was why I always made it a point of duty to not write covid in capital. I chose not to magnify it. JESUS remained the focus, covid or no covid.
The Holy Spirit had taught me this lesson on March 17th, the week before the lockdown started, when my son had fever. He said, “Do not give in to fear.” He knew all about this and He knew that fear was the devil’s weapon. So I always said to myself, “Do not give in to fear.”
I flashed back to the week when the lockdown started. Weeks before all of this started. I was already on self-isolation with my whole family before the actual lockdown commenced. I always woke up to my husband’s constant 12am prayers. We organized daily bible challenge to keep us sharpened with the sword of the spirit. We always connected to Dunamis TV and fed on the word, listened to lots of Christian music, danced to God and had a lot of fun while at it. We exercised together too and made some financial commitments which God had specifically directed us to within this pandemic. It was a period solely dedicated to God. We’d refused to give fear a foothold.
That didn’t in any way tamper with the physical precautions we took. We adopted a different kind of schedule to survive the pandemic. I would leave the house in my clothes and shoes. On getting to the hospital, I’d change my shoes in the car, walk in and go straight to the laundry room to change into scrubs.
I would sanitize my hands after touching any surface at all, including the keyboard. I’d washed my hands very frequently, wore masks almost all through the 8-9 hours shift, aprons when I needed to go close to patients and used visors for suspected cases.
At the end of the shift, I’d washed my hands and changed into my clothes. When I got into the car, I’d sanitized my hands. Immediately I got home, I’d change my shoes in the car and get a hot shower before touching my kids.
I grinned at the memory. Imagine that after that, I still came down with the virus. That was baffling, to say the least. The devil did come for me, but my stronghold and foolproof protection was my God.
THE CONCLUSION: 2 weeks later
Dr Chinenye Uzondu and her entire family were mandatorily isolated for 14 days, like many other families have undergone. No other member of her family showed symptoms within that time frame. Not one.
Her and her husband have resumed work and continue to join the frontlines, battling the COVID-19, making donations to the poor, encourage others, and they keep their faith in God, knowing that there is indeed no PPE, Vaccine or medication more powerful than the name of Jesus.
As the fight against the pandemic rages on, many families are going through a lot. DO all you can to make it easy for your neighbour, pray for the infected and frontliners all over the world, obey hygiene and safety recommendations. CMDA and her doctors all over the world will keep answering the call to service, and doing whatever they can to shine light in a dark place.
Need Counselling or Prayers this season? Call 0700 CMDA HOPE (0700 2432 5673)