My Ebola story: Gwokyalya nearly lost her sight before going to hospital

Ms Scovia Gwokyalya. PHOTO | DAN WANDERA

What you need to know:

  • On January 11, the country declared an end to an Ebola virus outbreak that had emerged almost four months earlier and claimed the lives of 55 people. In this 11th instalment of our new series, Scovia Gwokyalya shares her ordeal with the disease.

The fear of going to the isolation facility when the government declared the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in Mubende District in September 2022, could have compromised the safety of many residents and possibly caused unaccounted for community deaths categorised as probable.
Ms Scovia Gwokyalya, a mother and resident of Kitere village, Madudu Sub-county in Mubende District, counts herself lucky to have regained her sight shortly after admission at the Ebola treatment Unit in Mubende. 
She had tried to dodge getting to the hospital after a scary rumour spread through parts of Mubende that there was a plan to harvest human organs from some patients. She had developed most of the symptoms of Ebola, including vomiting, joint pains and diarrhoea. Her eyes also felt painful and were teary.

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Ms Gwokyalya had attended to and nursed one of her grandchildren, David Ssemyalo, who later succumbed to a “strange” illness at Mubende hospital on September 19, 2022. This was before the government announced the outbreak of Ebola on September 20, 2022. When she got back home, she felt very weak but thought she had just developed a fever.
The cold that was on and off, diarrhoea and vomiting, were among the early signs that made Gwokyalya very uncomfortable shortly after the Ministry of Health declared the outbreak of Ebola. She already figured that her grandson had possibly died of the Ebola virus since he had presented all the signs and symptoms of the disease.

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Ms Gwokyalya decided to find ways of getting some medicine at a nearby clinic, but was also mindful about infecting other family members. She kept the symptoms she had to herself, but kept away all her clothes from the reach of the family members. The vomiting and diarrhoea, however, were taking a toll, although she had bought some medicine from a clinic at Madudu Trading Centre. 
“I got treatment for three days at the clinic. I still felt no change but remembered some health teams that checked on me after the death of my grandson had left me with a number that I could call in case I got any health challenge,” she reveals.

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Ms Gwokyalya finally decided to inform her husband and children that she was not fine. From September 22 to September 28, 2022, she battled the sickness but felt no improvement. This is when she made a decision to go to Mubende hospital. She was accompanied by her husband and when they got to the health facility, the health teams named her as an Ebola contact person. 
“When I identified myself, the medical teams swung into action. Surprisingly, I was not immediately transferred to the Ebola treatment unit because the medical team had not received the results to confirm my status. I only remember the laboratory results were delivered on a Sunday. The results confirmed that I was Ebola positive. This is when I got transferred to the Ebola treatment unit,” she said.
After two days at the Ebola treatment unit, Ms Gwokyalya was able to drink some juice and eat a piece of pineapple.
“It was a terrifying experience. I felt extreme cold for two days at the ward. I tried to cover myself with a blanket but the cold nearly took my life. When I witnessed several of the patients collapse and die, I knew that it was my turn. I had nightmares and often fell off my bed in great fear. But after two weeks, I got better,” she reveals.
While at the treatment centre, Ms Gwokyalya worried about her family members back home. She had tried to isolate herself from them but thought some might have fallen sick. At the hospital, she was totally cut off from the family without any communication.
Unlike many of the other patients, Ms Gwokyala almost lost her sight even at the time of treatment. She says she would get moments when it would suddenly get dark and she could hardly see a thing or identify any object. Such episodes would happen for a few minutes at a time but they were very scary. 
The medical team later realised that she was dehydrated. She was forced to eat some fruits, have some drinks and put on drip hydration. She had lost body fluids because of the severe diarrhoea and vomiting. Luckily, she is among the patients that survived, even though she had lost a lot of body fluids.
Because the Ebola isolation unit was a no-go area for the caregivers, patients who regained some strength took charge and took care of the other patients with the help of the medical teams at the patient ward.
Ms Gwokyalya was one of these. When she regained some strength and had courage to walk through the patient ward and wash some clothes, she was spotted by one of the nurses. The nurse quickly assigned her to take care of an 11-year-old patient. The boy was too weak and could hardly eat any food.
“Scovia, you are now a parent and we have given you a child. Look after this young boy by giving him some drinks. He is now your son,” Ms Gwokyalya recalls the instructions given by the nurse at the time.
“This was a big assignment because I was still weak and this was the only day that I had managed to get out of my bed,” Ms Gwokyalya remembers. The boy was identified as Benedicto from Madudu Sub-county in Mubende District.
“Fortunately Benedicto’s bed was next to mine. I would wake up and give this little boy a drink and pineapples. He had no appetite and had sores in his mouth and he had a swollen face. I always convinced this little boy to take some juice,” she says.
“The nurse would come and wake me up, asking whether I had served some food to Benedicto. I made sure I did my assignment even when I felt very weak. I got more concerned about this little boy because his condition was very worrying. But God was on our side. We both survived,” she adds. 
“One morning, just after I had regained some strength, the nurses came to my bed. I thought they had come to check on my condition. They asked whether I could talk and walk around the ward. They told me that a team from the hospital had visited my home and the family was fine. They disclosed that they were ready to escort me home since I was now fine.
“I then received a phone call through the medical teams from health teams that informed me that they had visited my family and that they were fine. They wanted to get a clear history about my home people and possibly how I could have contracted the disease. They got all this information because at this time, I could clearly talk,” she reveals.
“Before receiving the good news from home, I had got troubled and had nightmares about my people. I got worried and thought that some of them were sick. But they were all safe.”
Ms Gwokyalya is happy that because she took caution and decided to self-isolate before going to the hospital, the other seven members of her family did not get infected with the Ebola virus.
“I told my husband and children to take care. I kept away all the clothes that I was using and ensured that I washed my own clothes. This was before I got to the hospital where I was diagnosed with the Ebola virus disease,” she says.
After discharge from the hospital, Ms Gwokyalya, who settled back home, later started experiencing some joint pains but quickly informed the health teams that had been assigned to check on her. 
Surprisingly, she once again started experiencing scary dreams that always made her wake up. She had a medical checkup and is now on medication but free from the Ebola virus.
Dr Pasker Apiyo, a consultant physician who was in charge of case management for the suspected and confirmed cases at the Mubende Hospital Ebola Sudan treatment unit between September 2022 and January, explains that severe dehydration and severe bleeding was the leading cause of death for all the fatality cases.
“It is very possible that a severely dehydrated patient can lose balance and sight. Such a patient requires quick rehydration. We had many patients who had severe bleeding and several did not survive,” she says.