IT’S 9 June 2021 at the Lady Pohamba Private Hospital (LPPH) ground floor casualty reception.
I am being discharged after a week at the facility fighting for my life having contracted Covid-19.
Incidentally, it is my second discharge from the hospital in less than a month.
But this one is phenomenal.
It is a discharge after literally, as Psalm 23:4 puts it, “walking through the valley of the shadow of death”.
I promised God I would pray for the staff in that hospital, specifically those dealing with Covid-19 patients if they would allow me to do so.
So, I asked a senior sister if I could do it, and she said ‘yes, please doctor’.
They gathered around and I prayed for them.
But I am not sure if I was praying or just releasing my emotions of the previous week.
I am generally emotional, but I don’t remember when I last cried continuously in front of people.
I think it was when the soil was being put into my mother’s grave on 16 April 2016.
I remember one of mum’s close friends, Mrs Makundi, the wife of an Anglican bishop from Tanzania, sitting next to me and holding me, calling me by my first name, ‘Perpetua’, as she always did, and just letting me cry.
So, I prayed and cried.
I thanked God for the dedication I had witnessed at LPPH from the first day of admission when I had to wait for hours to get a ‘real’ bed.
I prayed for their personal needs, I thanked God for the joy they spread in that hospital, for the unwavering and non-discriminatory dedication to each and every patient that came into their care.
I begged God to give them lots of energy, continued love, and dedication to caring for Covid-19 patients.
When I was done, we all said ‘amen’ and tearful goodbyes.
On my second admission that I was being discharged from, I had been brought in in a wheelchair, gasping for air, confused.
But today, I left walking, and my son Tijara couldn’t have been happier, having almost carried me to the car as we had headed to the hospital the week before.
Yes, I miss that team, and I will forever cherish my experience at the facility thanks to them and what I learnt from them – that every profession has black sheep.
And that is why my week at LPPH was nothing but a newfound realisation that there is a crop of medics who love what they do, despite the difficulties they endure, despite the dangers of Covid-19.
I don’t exactly remember much about days one and two at LPPH with Covid-19, but these are my observations:
First off, I had wondered what it was like being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 – do the medics wear all that protective cover we see them with when they are testing you for Covid? How do they feed people with Covid?
Do they get close to you?
So many questions were answered in an instant.
The medics put on protective gear, masks, gloves, and over their uniform another layer of protective, disposable clothing, but they treat you just like any other patient.
I felt safe, cared for, appreciated.
When a patient is admitted, the team is running around, filling out forms, creating a file, asking you those critical questions about your age, underlying conditions, etc., and placing those ‘things for checking your vitals’ all over your body.
It’s an emergency – many patients at this point are out of breath and need oxygen.
Because of a lack of beds and space, they create some comfortable space for you.
I remember being put on oxygen as I had reached a point where I could not breathe on my own.
When I came to, I was attached to several drips to revive me as they treated me with a concoction of Covid-19 medicines.
I remember distant conversations around me.
Someone came to my bedside and requested that I eat something small.
I sat up with a struggle, not sure what I was eating, but it helped, and went back to sleep.
Moving from my ‘bed’ to a washroom a few metres away was one of the greatest struggles I had to endure.
They put you in a wheelchair and with an oxygen cylinder, they take you to that little room.
If you are not able to do anything for yourself, they will lift you up and put you on the toilet.
I told the nurse I would try to use the toilet while she waited outside, holding on to what little pride I could.
I managed, got back on my wheelchair and rang the bell for her to take me back to my bed.
Even speaking one single word is a struggle. You’re panting as if you had just finished a marathon.
Back to bed, they put your drips back and you doze off to wonderland.
As a diabetic, frequent visits to the washroom are normal, so, this was a challenge.
But the nurses came every time, took me to the washroom and back to bed without complaining and with lots of smiles.
Eventually I got a ‘real’ bed.
Sleep is what you do most of the time for those first few days – if you can.
I had a neighbour who couldn’t sleep – especially at night.
I would request some milk and it would help me doze off.
When I would wake up, I would find a nurse next to my bed going through a file.
I learnt she was checking to ensure I had gotten my medication.
There were many types, and when I had to take each varied.
The number of tablets you have to swallow can easily be no less than 12 at a time.
There was also a painful injection to the stomach I will explain later (picture 5).
So, they ensure you get everything you require.
But not all patients cooperated.
In a conversation I overheard, two nurses were discussing two male patients who had decided they would not take a certain tablet because they did not have that condition.
Only when I got home I discovered I was on that medication too.
Once in a while, a nurse would check if I needed a snack, some tea or just a chat.
They made my stay bearable.
Oh, those angels.
On day three, one of the nurses told me he wanted to move me to a better space.
“So, I will move you to that corner there. It’s spacious, you can dance, you can exercise, and can have fun there and no one will disturb you,” he said.
I was convinced he had my best interests at heart.
I remained in that little corner until I was discharged.
From day three, I decided I would try and slowly walk to the toilet.
I was panting with every step, and someone would walk with me, all the while telling me how my breathing was improving.
Those nurses understand what it means to take those little steps of faith, and they encourage you to keep doing it, but also to get help if you need it.
These dedicated medics also clean you up.
On the first two days, I really couldn’t do much, and tried to wash myself when I would go to the bathroom.
But on day three, when they brought me warm water at 05h00, I told the nurse I would do it right there.
It was a milestone, but she still came around to ensure I was fine.
I cannot remember the names of all those who came in and out of my ‘little room’, but some were a constant.
Among them were nurses Albertina, Shatika, Ompili, Israel, Hilya, Sacky, Edward and many others.
There were cleaners, and there were those who ensured you got your diabetic meals and extras if you wished.
One nurse advised that I keep some sweetener to ensure I have enough when I needed it for an extra cup of tea, and she was right.
Then there was young nurse Ompili.
She reminded me of some of my students.
She kept losing her pens.
I advised her to tie it to a string.
There was a day she came in in the evening and told me she had held on to both her red and black pens – it was a milestone. She made my day and I also promised her a set when I got better.
I will keep this promise.
There was a doctor who held the fort for Dr Willie Bruwer, a specialist physician and pulmonologist, for my first two days.
Bruwer is the main doctor taking care of all Covid-19 patients at LPPH.
The assistant doctor may have been Dr Sakila, who is very serious about his work, like everyone else.
He insisted that one must sleep on one’s stomach as it made the lungs heal faster or something.
It was a tough exercise, but I tried when I could.
Bruwer resumed on day three.
He came to my bed with a large team.
I had a very bad stomach ache and could not sleep.
He requested a sonar, which could only be done at some point in the evening.
On day four Bruwer visited and informed me I had a kidney infection, which he said is normal for Covid-19 patients, and that they would monitor it.
That was enough to make me feel ‘better’.
‘NO WONDER YOU ARE SO INQUISITIVE’
We had struck up a conversation the previous day which was not only about my illness.
“So, what do you do, doctor?” he asked.
“I teach at Nust,” I said.
I told him what I taught and he smiled.
“No wonder you are so inquisitive,” he said.
We chatted some more, and I got to know roughly how many patients he saw in one day – shocking.
I got to know what he was most anxious about: He, like all the senior sisters I spoke to, wished people would just get vaccinated.
He was clear that it made a difference in the response my body had made to the treatment.
I asked him how he cleared his mind of all the misery around him.
“When I get home, I allow myself to enjoy moments with my family. I sometimes read a book totally unrelated to my work. I find things to do that are different from my routine, but my patients don’t really leave my mind,” he said.
I was tempted to tell him I had some nose bleeding that morning, but I let it pass as I thought it was a once-off.
On day five, when the good doctor visited, I still did not mention the nosebleed, although it had happened again and more severely that morning.
I don’t know why, but I assumed it was because my nostrils were dry.
But I had a more urgent matter to negotiate on – one very painful procedure I was undergoing twice daily: receiving 100 ml of a medicine used to thin my blood.
Blood clotting is common with Covid-19 patients, and I had to receive this medicine through injections to my stomach twice a day.
I think for as long as I live, I will remember those painful injections.
So, I asked the doctor whether I could be administered only one injection a day rather.
He looked at me, smiled, went through my file, and said: “I think we can get you off to once a day.”
I screamed in jubilation, and he laughed.
“But no more negotiation,” he said.
“Doc, I can’t promise you that,” I said.
The following day, he came again with only one sister.
He looked through my file and said: “You know, if you continue to improve like this, I might discharge you sooner than later.”
It was the best news I’d ever heard.
And true to his word, after getting the vital results from Pathcare, he said he would discharge me that day or the following.
But first, he had to ensure I got an oxygen concentrator machine to take home.
One needs to be shown how to use it too.
Besides helping with breathing at home away from medics, this machine is provided to free up beds.
– The full version of this article can be read here: http://wanjasnotebook.blogspot.com/
* Dr Wanja Njuguna is a Covid-19 survivor.