Beating Covid: Webare’s 14-day battle against the virus in ICU

Tuesday July 27 2021
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Mr Benon Webare while on oxgyen at Platinum Hospital in Wandegeya, Kampala, in December last year. PHOTO/COURTESY

By Benson Tumusiime

In the series dubbed ‘Beating Covid’,we trace victims who caught the virus and overcame it.Here's the story of an NGO worker who at first did not take Covid-19 symptoms seriously before his condition deteriorated

“My name is Benon Webare and I am the operations coordinator of a group of NGOs specialising in gender-based violence in Rukungiri District.

I developed cough and flu in early December 2020, which I treated for two weeks.
During this period, I developed a sore throat but I took it lightly given that I was working in rural communities where I was often interacting with many people, and driving on dusty roads. In fact, I thought that my throat was reacting to the dust.

Then I went to a drug shop and I bought penicillin, which I took. However, the sore throat did not clear. I also tried to take cold cap because of the flu but it was also not going away, and this took almost a week.

After three days, I visited a certain clinic in Rukungiri where I was given some antibiotics to deal with the issue. When I started taking that antibiotic, the cough became more frequent. Later, I started feeling weak but I thought this was normal since I had had a hectic work schedule without taking leave. I thought it was fatigue and so I did not worry so much. 

However, the cough persisted and my energy levels were going down. It got to a point where it became difficult for me to communicate on phone. I visited the clinic again and told the doctor what I was facing. He advised that I should do an X-ray.

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The results from the X-ray indicated that one of my lungs had an infection but the second one was okay. The doctor then said he would love to assume that I had Covid-19 but since the disease affects both lungs at the same time, so he concluded it was pneumonia. 

Persistent symptoms
But the cough intensified until my supervisor told me to go to Kampala to get better treatment. At that time, one of my workmates with a car was travelling to Kampala. So he took me and dropped me at my home in Bweyogerere, Kira Municipality in Wakiso District.

When I arrived home, my wife had organised means of transport to take me to the hospital. She took me to TMR Hospital in Naalya Estate. When I got there, they immediately suspected that it was Covid-19. I was admitted and put on oxygen because I had breathing challenges. Later, they took samples from me to test for Covid-19. After 48 hours, the results confirmed that I had the disease. 

I honestly have no idea where I got this infection from. But I believe I was infected while in Rukungiri. Around that time, I was involved in so many activities with public officials, journalists and many other people in the NGO sector. 

We were meeting officials in hotels, and council halls where I believe that I could have picked the infection from. I was told about one particular participant in one of the trainings who died of Covid-19. Some people said I could have picked the infection from him.

When I got the results, psychologically, I was fine. I didn’t panic. My only concern was that I would be in the hospital for a long time. which would mean I would have to settle big financial bills. Indeed the bill at TMR Hospital was Shs1.2 million per day.

On the third day, the doctors advised that I could go home and stay in an isolated room. They would come and check on me. This would probably be better than staying in the hospital where I was incurring a huge bill. So I agreed to that.
But when we got back home, the situation worsened. Breathing became a problem at night and very early in the morning.

The next day we went back to TMR. However, my wife called my niece who is a medical doctor and she advised us to go to Platinum Hospital in Wandegeya, which was slightly cheaper.

Breathing challenges
As soon as we arrived at Platinum Hospital, I was taken to the ICU. My condition had deteriorated as I had serious breathing challenges. I ended up spending 14 days in total in the ICU. The doctors initially put me in ICU for seven days and then got me out. But after other seven days, I was taken back.

During that time, I was not allowed to see any family member apart from my wife who would sometimes sneak there to check on me, bring food and pick clothes. As much as I felt paralysed and could hardly move, my wife told me that I used to eat. She told me that my appetite was high.

14 days in ICU
The hardest time during this illness was when I was taken to the ICU. I could not really tell what was happening. I can’t remember all the things that happened. For example, my wife told me that at some point, I told her I dreamt that I was going to Mt Kilimanjaro and I would be her ambassador there, but I do not remember any of this. It was a difficult situation for me, my wife and other people who were helping because when you are in ICU you are partly dead. 

During my time there, I saw my neighbour being taken away, I was told that he did not make it. I saw people passing on, sometimes within hours of each other. That situation tortured me psychologically. I started asking myself whether I would be the next. 

I felt my temperature rising, and my heart beating so fast. 
I will also never forget the day I finally left the ICU. I was being prepared to leave and my senses were back but I failed to pass out urine because my oxygen levels were very low. 

Eventually, however, I recovered. I ended up spending one month in the hospital and another month in isolation after leaving the hospital. 

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Benon Webare. PHOTO/COURTESY

The other difficult moment was worrying about the finances to treat me. I had used all the money I had at TMR. So when we got to Platinum Hospital, I was worried about the bills. About Shs70 million went into my treatment (direct hospital bills, medicines procured from outside pharmacies and costs of isolation, among others). I am still counting the amount, given that I am still on treatment.

I pretty much experienced most of the symptoms related to Covid-19 such as dry cough, tiredness, flu, body ache and pains, headache, loss of taste and smell, difficulty in breathing and chest pain.

During this time, I would always remember the scripture in the Bible where Paul was thrown into prison for preaching the gospel. He was helpless with his colleagues but the church and people outside kept on praying until Paul was released.

That was the story in my mind. I believed that my brothers, sisters, my wife, fellow church members, my children and others were praying for me. I knew that God would get me out of this. What also helped was that the environment I was in was very supportive right from the time I was in Rukungiri. People didn’t run away from me and this contributed to my mental strength. I really got a lot of support from my family and friends, including financial support from my employers, who met all the medical bills, feeding and other logistics.

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.

Dealing with after-effects
Although I have left the hospital and I am better, I currently have diabetes, general weakness, and ulcers. I still struggle up to now to climb stairs. The muscles of the limbs have not gone back to their original state. My muscles are still very weak. I can’t stand for a long time. When I sit on a rough surface for a long time, I get a bit of paralysis and my throat is not back to normal yet.

I would say that when you are sick, allow others to take charge. There are people who are not good with delegation but you should let others help out. The second thing is to accept that you are not in control. There were many patients that I saw saying, ‘I can’t be seen by a man, I can’t be seen by a woman.’ The moment you take that route, know that you are heading for big trouble.

You also need to value and appreciate every contribution even if it’s just a good morning. These are things that make a difference in your life, and psychologically you feel good with people around you.

I also advise people to go for treatment early, don’t allow symptoms to persist for a long time. I took long to figure out that it was Covid-19. When you get any symptom, whether it’s a simple cough, or flu kindly go and test for Covid-19 alongside other diseases. People have refused to test and have ended up in ICU battling the disease.”

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