I was careful but I also had moments of naivety

Monday September 14 2020

Amanda says although she has lost a lot of time, especially from work, she is grateful that she is now okay. PHOTO | COURTESY

By Abdul-Nasser Ssemugabi

Amanda Ngabirano did not believe she could get Covid-19 since she was being careful. However, after losing her sense of smell for six days, she was advised by friends to test. A positive diagnosis led to 14 days of quarantine and although she is now okay, she warns Ugandans to follow set guidelines in order to stay safe.
Facing the test
I did not think I had caught the virus because I am quite careful. But after losing my sense of smell for about six days, my friends advised me to test, since that is one of the symptoms of Covid-19. I gathered courage and went for a test.
The testing procedure was my first worry. It looked painful and uncomfortable, especially, the nasal swab. It is irritating. It goes quite far, almost close to the eye...somewhere deep! I did not like it. However, it takes a short time. But the second and third swab was through the mouth. That was more comfortable.
I walked into a private medical centre and requested for it. When I was told how much I had to pay, I was shocked how expensive it was and wondered how many people would afford that test. It cost me Shs350,000. I hesitated to pay, debating whether it was urgent and necessary, moreover it all looked painful. But I decided to pay, for my comfort and safety, and that of family and workmates. But seriously, it is a lot of money.
After the test, my swab was taken to Lancet Laboratories. Two days later, I was called and told I had tested positive. I was meeting a close family member, and we, of course, panicked and quickly picked our masks and put them on. Funny! We realised its people so close to us that can pass on the virus in that style; that when we are with them, we feel safe and covered, because we are family, friends or colleagues, and forget all the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). After a few minutes, we accepted the bitter truth and went ahead to celebrate the gift of life. We enjoyed our evening and notified people at home. I was advised to isolate for 10-14 days. 
I was confused and did not know what to do. I worried more about my family and close contacts than myself. I notified all my contacts and they were equally sent into panic. I told them to make sure they tested, and isolated to protect their family and networks. I realised how most of us were taking this lightly; but now it was with us.
I started tracing where I could have been exposed. Anyway, I bought Vitamin C tablets, paracetamol and a thermometer to monitor my temperature. That night I hardly slept. I saw myself dying in a few hours. Anyway, two days later, with the help of Hon. Dr. Ruth Aceng and her team, I was evacuated and taken to Mulago National Referral Hospital, where I was admitted. I have only been hospitalised when going into the labour ward. So, I thanked God for good health.
It was a strange experience to walk and sit myself in an ambulance. I saw the driver climb an island along Yusuf Lule Road, to beat the traffic, with a siren on, and felt bad because I did not feel that sick for such bad driving. I hate seeing green being destroyed. But well, it was an ambulance, carrying a patient.
 The welcome to the hospital was strange. The fumigation was kind of ‘dehumanising’. It was about 8pm. I had showered, and was ready to sleep as soon as I got to the hospital and there I was wet and stinky. Also, some receiving staff were quite rude and did not treat me right. I was kept in a filthy corridor for an hour before I got a bed. I asked the guard why the wastes were thrown on the floor yet there were bags? He said the nurses threw them down carelessly because the cleaners would do their job. I was disgusted and expected the worst. But that was not the case. The rest was quite clean, for the 14 days I stayed at the hospital, I was comfortable. Life was strange, though. Being sick and not. Living in fear of what would come next.
I also hated the long and frequent power outages and there was no back-up at all. It scared me. And also, our food lacked vegetables which were being advised to eat. Also, their temperature gun was not working for days. So, I had my own and kept monitoring my temperature myself. But it was also comforting seeing even medical doctors as Covid-19 patients.
The hell that’s distancing
Because of how the virus is transmitted, one feels rejected, abandoned and dirty. My husband brought me fruits and we could not see each other. You carry your bags yourself. You are not allowed to move out of the block. For asymptomatic cases, with all our energy, it was like a bad jail. Even when you are a patient, you will never have an attendant next to you-because it is Covid-19. The first night was traumatising for everyone. Some shed tears.
A married couple, whom we nicknamed love-birds, made us feel jealous. They were so intimate that we thought it was cool to both be positive at the same time. But they were advised to keep a distance from each other because their bodies may respond differently. They had separate beds only during the night but during the day, I think they were for “if we die, we die.”
You are given food at a distance. Never mind it’s tasteless. I received food from outside and the guard who delivered it threw the pack right on the floor and disappeared. It hurts. But we also feared those from outside; we knew we were recovering, and never wanted to risk being re-infected by them.
Not all gloom, though
I liked that the doctors had enough time to explain about the disease, and that we were given meals—all at no cost. We felt a bit pampered. There was a time we were surprised with a pack of oranges, and the “eat fruits” advice by the medics made a lot of sense-to the haves and have-nots. We also got our bed sheets and towels changed whenever we requested. We also had sockets, right next to our beds. There was enough space for me to jog around, and some days I could do 6km-just within the block, and on the terrace. Generally, the hospital was, surprisingly clean-the Mulago I had in mind was the stinking one. I also made new friends, by the way.
I am a very healthy person since childhood, probably the healthiest in my family. My mother says that too. I never got as ill as the rest of my siblings.
Otherwise, when my body gets tired, I get feedback through morning allergies. It’s always a clear sign that I need rest.
So, in addition to Vitamin C supplements, antibiotics, lots of tea (ginger, lemon, honey), I was also advised to have adequate sleep, which actually helped me a lot after many hectic days following my new assignment as chair of the National Physical Planning Board.
I thank Mulago National Referral Hospital doctors for being available. That helped me fight the fear. I thank my family; they were scared but believed I would fight it successfully. Many people were touched and prayed for me. That showed me love, which gave me comfort, and hope that I would beat the virus.
Catching up
I have lost about three weeks. Before all this, the momentum of my work was quite good. The week I was admitted I was meant to be in Arua and Gulu, to engage the technical, political, religious and cultural leaders about physical planning and what the Board expected from them. Last week, I was meant to be in Mbarara, Masaka, Fort Portal, and Hoima, and this week, I was supposed to be in Lira, Soroti, Mbale and Jinja. But it’s time which I can make up for. Also, I am happy I tested, otherwise I would have spread the virus unknowingly. It was a blessing in disguise.
I was careful but I also had moments of naivety, probably stupidity. I would have my mask on, but sometimes I would have some trust in the people I was with, and take it off. It would be too warm and I felt suffocated sometimes, so I would put the mask a little down. I also failed on social distancing many times, not because I was careless, but because of the circumstances I found myself in, where crowds were not well managed. I also think I was not sanitising as often as I do now.
Anybody can get infected and re-infected. I think the virus will be around and most likely we shall all catch it whenever we get exposed. So, we all have to continue being very careful.
I fear you all as much as you fear me. I do not want to be near you. Do not be near me-and you must wear a mask if you are around me, or I walk away or change my route. You may be positive.