A medical doctor, Otobong Asuquo, recently discharged from the Isolation centre at Ibom Specialty Hospital, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, after surviving COVID-19, shares his experience at the centre with PATRICK ODEY
How did you contract COVID-19?
We went for an outreach involving a foreign mission in Uyo. A team came from USA so there were foreign and indigenous health workers there. I was operating at the theatre but I don’t know how and when it happened. It started with a sore throat; I had it for about two days. I also had a serious fever and the paracetamol I took did not help.
Then I started having a dry cough; I had that for a very long time. I usually have malaria without having a fever but this one was terrible. So I had to go to the hospital and you know what would take a doctor to the hospital must be very serious. After about three days, I had joint pains. The most striking symptom was anosmia (loss of the sense of smell). It was the one that made me suspect I was not dealing with malaria but COVID-19.
How long did it take you to realise that?
As of the time in Akwa Ibom State, there was no single case of COVID-19, so when it started, I thought I was dealing with severe malaria. However, investigation showed absence of malaria parasites. Even the widal test I did showed everything was normal. By that time, I was becoming worried. That was when I thought I was dealing with COVID-19. It took about 10 days for me to be picked up because when it happened, I had to contact the authorities.
Initially, I thought I was the only one. I was the first to voice out before others who were at the outreach also said they had the same symptoms. We contacted the state epidemiologist and went on self-isolation. After about 10 days, the result came. The time when I started having the symptoms to the time I was picked up was about 10 days.
How stressful was it for you to get the attention of the state COVID-19 Task Force and get picked up?
It was a little bit stressful and difficult and I needed to make people know that. It was strange at that time in the state so everybody was saying it could be malaria. But I was deeply convinced that I was dealing with COVID-19. So, it took us a while to get the attention of the authorities because at that time, it was strange in the state. We said, ‘Why not conduct a test and whether it comes out positive or negative, we will accept it.’
How scared were you when it was confirmed that it was COVID-19?
I was a bit scared because it’s a very deadly disease; it’s a viral infection. It could take two weeks to manifest in ‘A’ and take one week to manifest in ‘B’ and it could take longer for ‘C’, so I was scared. Indeed, all of us were scared but I knew it was either I returned alive or dead.
Health workers are even more scared (of it) because we know the dangers and the different phases of the disease. So this made some of us to be very anxious but we were ready to face whatever outcome we got. But when it was confirmed to be COVID-19 after the result came out, I was not broken because I had anticipated it.
What kind of reactions did you get from your family?
They were worried. What was on their mind was that anybody who had it would die. So, there was panic. My mother, wife, and others were scared; they felt I was not going to come back alive. But I tried to make them understand that I would definitely come back alive. I did not have to show I was also worried so that I wouldn’t complicate issues. I was always reassuring them that I was going to survive it.
Deep down in you, did you have the fear that you could die?
The fear of death came every now and then, but I did not have to be afraid for long because while I was at the centre, some of us were discharged. The fear of death kept crossing my mind but I found reassurance in the words of God that promised me that I was not going to die; that is what the Bible says. I was able to find consolation in the words of God and I encouraged myself when the fear of death came. I knew that I was serving a living God and that gave me faith.
What was your experience at the isolation centre?
When we were going to the isolation centre, we were assured that the place was good. When we got there, I realised it was better than what we had anticipated. The facilities were good; there were constant power supply, water and good facilities. The most important thing was the privacy; we were given private suites with everything inside, including television. We also had Internet facilities.
You could watch the news and read news reports online. They gave us sumptuous meals. We were secluded; you had to be in your room and you could not even see anything outside.
What was your experience with health workers there? Were you stigmatised?
When I talk about my experience, people think we got that kind of treatment because we were health workers. That is not true. There was no form of stigmatisation. They were all well kitted and protected and I think they are nice people. They gave us quality service and I will like to encourage them to keep it up.
How do you plan to celebrate this?
When I was there, I was telling God if He gave me the opportunity to survive it, I would serve as an ambassador and take it upon myself to ensure that people were aware of the dangers of the disease. So I will celebrate it by raising awareness of the disease.
It’s a deadly virus. Self medication will actually kill. I am a medical doctor; I did not have to hide myself. I could have given myself medication but I did what I did because of the community at large. The only way we (health workers) and the government can contain the spread of the virus is by educating people about it. When I heard it was COVID-19, I had to take steps to make sure that my children, wife and immediate family did not have contact with me. They were very happy when my result was negative for the second time. They had a small party and observed social distancing. They were happy and they glorified God because it’s only God that can do that.
So, my own celebration will be to educate those who are ignorant about the disease and people who live in villages. I will try to go to the grass roots to let them know that there is something like COVID-19. I want to push my own success story to them; my own deliverance story. In such places, they don’t watch television or read newspapers, so I will see what I can do with the government to contain the spread of the pandemic. That is because if it gets to the communities, we will not be able to curb it again. That is what is happening in Kano now. These segments of society are the ones I am worried about and I think instead of throwing parties around, I could use my little resources to get to those places.