Beating Covid: Positive attitude saw Olanya through the sleepless nights

Friday July 16 2021

Mr Robert Olanya during the interview last week in Gulu. PHOTO/CAROLINE AYUGI


At around 3pm on May 28 while still in Jinja Town, Mr Robert Olanya made a phone call to the booking clerks of the bus he had used earlier on to travel to Kampala. 

He wanted to use the same bus to return to Gulu. But they told him that the bus was full and leaving. Nevertheless,  Mr Olanya was determined to travel back to Gulu that day.

He hurriedly caught a taxi, which ended up being held up in traffic jam in Mukono Town. Mr Olanya decided to disembark and jump on a boda boda, and successfully manoeuvered his way to Namayiba Bus Terminal in downtown Kampala to board the bus a few minutes past 7pm.

However, his luck run out when security agents stopped the bus at Luweero Town since it was past curfew time.

His hopes of reaching Gulu that night slowly faded when the police told them to spend the night at the spot they were stopped, saying they would only be allowed to proceed with their journey the next morning.

“So, we slept at the police station, and continued with our journey on Saturday, May 29. When I reached home at 1pm, I was feeling very tired,” he says.


Thinking it was simply fatigue due to the hectic journey and a bad night’s sleep, Mr Olanya decided to retire at 6pm instead of his usual 11pm.

“I instructed my wife to let nobody wake me up. This was to give myself time to have enough rest and prepare for the church service at Awach, about 33 kilometres away from my home in Koro-abili on Gulu-Kampala highway, the next day,” he says.

Persistent symptoms
But when he returned from church, Mr Olanya, who is an evangelist at New Foundation Community Church, Awach, felt more fatigue. Nevertheless the next day (Monday), he travelled to Kitgum and Agago districts for work. Mr Olanya works as a medical lab technician with Regional Health Integration to Enhance Services in Northern Uganda (Rhites North Acholi).

“We were meant to go and offer clinical support in some health centres in Kitgum and Agago districts but my journey ended prematurely along the way in Kitgum when I started feeling feverish,” Mr Olanya says.

Once driven back to the hotel room in Kitgum Town, he did a quick malaria test, which turned out positive. He then started on anti-malarial drugs but the fever escalated and his condition worsened. 

“That night [May 31], I signed out of the hotel and asked to be driven back to Gulu since I had a severe headache, high fever and chills. A subsequent complete blood count showed a lot of white blood cells in my blood and the doctor told me to continue with the malaria treatment,” Mr Olanya narrates.

Two days later, he suspected he could be infected with Covid-19 when he started feeling an itching sensation in his throat and his eyes felt like they were on fire. “When I went to Gulu Regional Referral Hospital for a PCR test and it turned positive, I celebrated because I now knew what the exact problem was,” he says.

Because he was given medication and asked to manage his condition from home, on his way back, Mr Olanya rang his wife to let her know what had happened and asked her to prepare their visitor’s room for him. 

However, Mr Olanya says the wife got scared, which escalated her hypertension yet she was pregnant.
Placed on home-based care, Mr Olanya’s prayer was that she and their first-born son would not get infected since they were exposed to him the moment he returned from Kampala.

 He believes he was exposed to Covid-19 on May 28 while travelling to and fro Jinja for the business trip.
Isolation was tough for him. His family members kept away from him. “I felt very lonely. Whenever my family members wanted to bring for me water, food or herbs, they simply dropped it by the door,” Mr Olanya says. Sadly, he says, his neighbours started spreading rumours that his entire family was Covid-19 positive. This is despite the fact that Mr Olanya had told the village chairperson that he was the only one who had contracted the virus.

So, to ascertain the truth, the LC1 leadership visited his home. They found out it was indeed only him, but he says the rumours remained.

Healing path
Being lonely and isolated by his family, however, was better than the horrible feelings he experienced every night when his condition would get worse.

“In the night, it even attacked my central nervous system. My muscles hurt and I sweated a lot and felt like my eyes were popping out. I got hiccups for about 20 minutes each night and I was afraid it would kill me, because it could take away the little energy I had,” Mr Olanya recalls.

“That pain was horrible, it felt like my nerves were being squeezed, I could not taste or smell anything and felt like my bones were cracking. This was on the fifth day after I had started feeling fatigue. I literally started counting down my days,” he adds.

Things got quite bad and Mr Olanya says he almost lost breath on three different occasions at night. He called on the surveillance and taskforce team but was told the hospitals were full and all ambulances were occupied.

But 10 days after treatment, Mr Olanya says he started feeling better and could walk out to exercise or check on the farmlands. Besides the prescribed drugs, he bathed in the sun for an hour each day and ate only salads since he had lost his sense of taste and smell.

“During the day, I would take long walks and stay in the open spaces at home, like in the garden, to pray. Besides the drugs I was prescribed to take, I continued taking the concoction of ginger, garlic and hibiscus mixed with warm water, which cleared the severe cough I had,” he says.

Loss of sleep
“I used to sleep at 11pm and wake at 5am before I became infected. But I lost sleep when I got sick. Even now that I have recovered, I go to bed at 8pm and by 10:30pm I am awake till morning. Sleeping pills are not helping either and I have managed it by reading books to sustain me,” he adds. 

Mr Olanya advises that one of the things that helps with quick recovery is to be bold and believe that all will be well. He likens fighting Covid-19 to a military battle, where those who are scared end up losing the fight.
“If you don’t believe in healing, even the medication will work slowly, because you wouldn’t have mentally activated your body’s defense system to manage it,” he says.

He is happy that he is healed but is very careful and now even wears two facemasks. Whenever he sees someone without a mask, he interrogates them.

“Others get their masks from their pockets and wear them. While some explain that they have complications such as asthma, I advise them to wear it,”  Mr Olanya says.

Mr Olanya was tested negative on June 21, but he says he still isolates himself at home because he feels he still needs time alone. “My neighbours still say I have Covid-19 and do not want to come to my home, so, I have left them alone,” he says.

Drop in cases
Over the past three weeks since President Museveni announced a virus induced lockdown to contain the surging Covid-19 cases, the number of people testing positive for Covid19 has been dropping.

Ministry of health officials have attributed this drop in figures to a number of initiatives that have been put in place, including the public vigilance to report cases to authorities.

Common symptoms of covid
According to Ministry of Health, the commonest symptoms of Covid-19 range from fever, dry cough, tiredness to flu, aches and pains, sore throat, headache, loss of taste or smell, difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath and chest pain.