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Surviving COVID-19: Five Nigerians tells their survival stories

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[FILES] A building of the Nigeria Centre For Disease Control (NCDC) is pictured, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Lagos, Nigeria May 7, 2020. Picture taken May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

There are over 7 billion people in the world, and even though everyone seems to be living such individual and disparate lives, the past 13 months have emphasized how connected we all are, and irrespective of the status or position, or the location, everyone has been living the ‘same’ reality – survival first.

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In 2020, 7.8 billion of us collectively and individually experienced the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a collective, lives were definitely altered, as individuals, these changes may vary.

Another statement of fact is that there have been over 160,000 confirmed COVID cases in Nigeria. At one point or the other, one hundred and sixty thousand people all across the country contracted the COVID-19 virus – but not all of them survived. For these people, their families, the COVID-19 survivors, and many more, things will never be the same again.

Five COVID-19 survivors share their experiences below.

Oreoluwa Sowemimo — 22-Year-Old Graduate

“I am a 22-year-old graduate of Covenant University. I got sick with COVID in December 2020, just a few days before Christmas.” Oreoluwa, who just recently graduated from Covenant University, was waiting for her NYSC call-up letter when the pandemic hit.

She had gotten a remote internship position during the lockdown, to make the best use of the time. Towards the end of the year, she decided to learn to drive as well. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

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She says, “I came back home one day from driving school and noticed that I couldn’t taste or smell anything. It was two days to Christmas – Wednesday, 23rd December.”

To confirm her suspicions, she had to get tested. Due to the festivities, businesses and centres were closed. “I told my mom about how I was feeling. I needed to get tested. But I had to wait till Monday . . . Needless to say, it was a terrible Christmas for me. The symptoms were gradually getting worse. I was beginning to feel very sick.”

She immediately went into isolation to avoid exposing her family to the virus, in case she indeed had COVID. She spent Christmas cooped up in her room alone and sick.

“By Monday I was able to do the test. The result was positive, as I suspected. I didn’t know how to feel about this news. As we know, COVID affects people differently. Some people contract the virus and are asymptomatic. I wasn’t. I got very sick. I had body pains, was weak, couldn’t keep food down. It was really terrible. I have a seven-year-old sister with whom I’m very close and we spend a lot of time together. I had to stay away from her, to avoid exposing her to the virus.”

Oreoluwa returned to isolation after she got the results of her COVID test. She knew she had contracted the virus at her driving school – that was the only place she ever went to, since she worked from home.

At the driving school, she says, “ The car, of course, is small. We had to share the back seat with strangers while waiting for our turns. It obviously was not a good idea to have been learning to drive in a pandemic.”

Continuing, she says, “the tiredness was the worst part of having COVID. I was taking supplements and a herbal mixture my mom made that includes pineapple, ginger, and some roots.”

Things soon began to look up a week into her medication, as her sense of smell and taste gradually returned. “I started to feel better after a week of isolation and medication. My strength slowly returned. I could keep food down. It was really an emotionally draining experience and I’m still getting over it. I went for my next test about 3 weeks after the first and the result was negative!”

Oreoluwa has been posted to Kwara State for her three-week NYSC orientation programme. “Apart from being apprehensive about spending the next three weeks with strangers from all over the country, I’m just over this pandemic. I just want to move on. Some people that got the virus are living on oxygen. I’m lucky to be alive. COVID is serious and we should take extra measures to be safe.”

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Professor Tinu Agunloye — Radiology Department, University College Hospital (UCH)

Professor Tinu Agunloye works at the Radiology department of the prestigious University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State. She experienced the pandemic at the point where pain and recovery collide. She saw COVID patients en masse at the hospital, saw her colleagues fall sick, and she was infected. Of the 900 COVID patients that were treated at the UCH isolation centre, 400 of them were members of the staff.

She says, “it was an emotional year for everyone, but especially for health workers. At a time when everyone was ushered in, away from the virus, we had to go to work – it was definitely challenging.”

Over 17,000 health workers have died from COVID across the world. They can’t return to their homes for fear of exposing their loved ones to the virus. They get sick because they come in such close contact with the virus.

“I know health workers who have had COVID twice because they are on the frontline. The other fear was going back home. Because you are a potential source of infection to your family. Especially if you’re working in the isolation centres. And if you have a relative with underlying health challenges, things could spiral out of control.”

She goes on, narrating the experience of a colleague that lost his wife to COVID. “A colleague of mine had COVID but he was asymptomatic. He was fine. His wife, on the other hand, was asthmatic. She got the virus from him and became very ill. She didn’t survive.”

She is hopeful about the vaccine and its impact on diminishing the pandemic. “Now we know more about the virus. We know what to do now. If everyone does what they have to do, we will be fine. Now that we have the vaccines, we know they will help with making the virus milder. We will have fewer infections. But the journey has not been easy and we still have a way to go.”

UCH has been supplied with nearly 50,000 items of Personal Protective Equipment, including scrubs, gowns, face shields, headcovers, and shoe covers, for their health workers from an initiative called Project SafeUp. The hope is that these will help to keep health workers safe as they help to take the nation to a zero-COVID level.

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Nafisat Atiku — 27-Year-Old Employee

Nafisat Atiku who lives in Abuja was still able to go to work in December 2020. She had avoided the virus since March. However, just before the year ended, she contracted it.

“I was diagnosed with COVID in January. I had contracted the virus at a work meeting in December. I came in contact with a colleague who already had the virus.”

A few days after that meeting, she woke up with severe pains in her legs. She felt lightheaded and weak. She had to call in sick that day. She wasn’t going to make it to work.

“The colleague that I had contracted the virus from eventually notified the company that she had tested positive for COVID. She advised that anyone that was exhibiting symptoms should get tested. At this time I was already feeling very ill.”

Getting tested was however not straightforward for Nafisat. “I got tested shortly after the news from my colleague. However, I wasn’t able to get results immediately. My symptoms kept getting worse. I was constantly weak and throwing up. I had a debilitating cough and fever. I had lost my sense of taste and smell. I had to start using vitamins and supplements till my results were released.”

Though she did the COVID test in December, she did not receive her results until January, three weeks after. “In January when my test result was eventually released, I tested positive. But at that time, I was already on my way to recovery because I had been consistently using the vitamins and supplements.”

She continues, “when I took the test the second time later that week, I tested negative for the virus. I’ve been gradually recovering. But ever since I tested positive for COVID, I have had these excruciating chest pains. For a few minutes, I’ll be unable to breathe. I just have to lie down till the pain goes away.”

“You never know how your body will react to COVID. Healthy, young people have gotten it and died. Too many people have died from the virus.”

“Mask up, use your hand sanitisers. Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, take responsibility for your health and be a good neighbour to those around you by not endangering their lives,” Nafisat advises.

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Kolade Johnson — Health Administrator and HR Professional

Kolade Johnson Kayode is a Health Administrator and HR Professional at a popular hospital in Lagos. He got exposed to the virus in March 2020, when a patient with flu-like symptoms was admitted into the hospital.

The patient did not reveal that she had just returned from the UK where she might have been exposed to the virus. Relating his experience, Kolade says, “Everyone went about their normal business without trying to take extra precautions. We didn’t know we were exposing ourselves to the virus.”

As the woman’s health steadily deteriorated, she eventually revealed that she might have indeed been exposed to the virus. The hospital reacted immediately. The nurses were quarantined and the authorities were alerted, but it was too late – one of the nurses had already been infected.

“A couple of days after the exposure, I started to feel funny. I had a sore throat and felt fatigued. I disregarded it, thinking I was coming down with malaria. A colleague of mine also complained of similar symptoms. By the third day, I had headaches, terrible body pains, a high fever, and a sore throat that had become a horrible cough.”

Kayode had tried to delay the inevitable, thinking he was merely fatigued. He treated his ‘malaria symptoms’, but that didn’t help. He had already contracted the virus. A father of three young children, Kayode was naturally concerned for his family.

“My wife has underlying health conditions. My children are young, I was worried about exposing them to the virus. I immediately went into isolation and started using a combination of western medicine and herbal mixtures. Anything to beat the virus.”

Kayode is a relatively healthy man, with no underlying health challenges, but surviving COVID was not so easy for him. He says, “Between April and July, I tested for COVID a total of six times. I stayed positive till July. Although by June I was already back to full health, I continued to test positive. It took me four weeks from exposure, to start to feel like myself again. The first two weeks were the worst. I was weaker than I had ever been. I was easily exhausted and often breathless. But after about four weeks, I was back to normal.”

Now fully recovered, Kayode doesn’t take the virus lightly. He takes extra precautions to protect himself and his family.

“Despite the fact that I always have my face mask on, I do frequent steam inhalation, just to clear my airways. I believe heat works to weaken the virus. So I place my head over a bowl of hot water to steam when I return from an outing or if my throat feels funny.”

Sharing his experience with the second variant of COVID, Kayode says that no symptom should be ignored. He advises people to be on high alert when it comes to the virus. “People should accept the reality that COVID exists. However, if we can adhere to some basic hygiene measures, COVID can be taken care of. If we observe social distancing measures, mask-wearing and regular hand washing, we’ll be fine. More importantly, do not stay around people who do not believe in COVID, because they’ll be exposing you to more danger.”

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Ivuoma Tom — Nurse

For Ivuoma, a frontline health worker, COVID was not a walk in the park. She suffered severe symptoms that almost cost her life.

She says, “The worst part of the sickness was my inability to breathe.” A common symptom of the COVID-19 infection is shortness of breath, as the virus attacks the lungs. She continues, “I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I had very bad palpitations and my heart was always pounding. It was hell!”

As a result of her severe symptoms, she had to be put on bed rest, even as she began to experience worse symptoms. “My legs began to swell.. I couldn’t walk for almost five days. It was five days of depression.”

Ivuoma who now feels better is back at work as a health worker. She admits that she could not have gone through that experience without her friends and family around. “I’m grateful that I had such a strong support system during my illness. I don’t know how I would have survived without them. They kept encouraging me and were there for me.” She says.

She emphasizes that everyone must maintain healthy practices, as our best bet to survive the pandemic. “Please COVID-19 is real and dangerous. I encourage you to go get vaccinated and let’s get the world COVID-free. I believe that by observing all COVID protocols, keeping social distance, wearing our masks, and maintaining hygienic practices, we are saving not just ourselves and our family, but the entire community, and the world at large.”

With the vaccines already making rounds around the world, there is light at the end of this ‘COVID tunnel’. However, we need to remain alert and conscious, keeping up with all health precautions and working collectively to beat the virus. This means, continuing to use our face masks, washing our hands regularly, and social distancing – until as many Nigerians as possible are fully vaccinated.

Do you have a COVID story to share? Join the conversation with #SafeUp on Twitter and Instagram.


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