The two men seated beside me in that rickety bus headed for the mainland that afternoon laughed when the radio came on, and a presenter began to talk about the coronavirus.
“Here we go again.” One said to the other. “Everything is all about coronavirus these days. COVID-19 related issues have been on the news over the last few weeks.”
“I wondered myself. I doubt if coronavirus is real, my friend. The government is not telling us the truth.”
“I agreed with you.” The driver joined in, his voice the loudest, and laughter was shared. “This government is not to be trusted.”
The short conversation between these men would remind me of one I had with my coworkers back at the office—we talked about something similar earlier that day. I had suggested that I was feeling weak, and Nkechi, our project manager, quipped in that she, too, was feeling unwell.
“Headache?” She asked me.
“Yes. And cold-like symptoms. It’s almost like I can’t smell anything.”
“Wow, me too.”
When some other staff, who was listening in, jokingly suggested COVID-19, there was an uproar amongst the others present. Out of six, two staff said there was nothing like COVID-19. They said I was just down with fever and nothing more.
“Go see a doctor and get some medications.”
The bus came to a halt at the last bus stop, and I alighted, beads of sweat across my forehead as I walked home. My head was still throbbing by the time I had a meal and took a bath, and so I slept, suspending work for the night.
When I woke, the headache was still there; and even worse, there was now even more nasal congestion. I have allergies, so I did not take the nasal congestion seriously until it became so bad that I could not smell thick plumes of smoke escaping trailers on my way to work the next three days.
I also was not only unable to smell my food but unable to taste it too. My appetite was down, and I felt tired all day, a soreness in my neck keeping me on edge.
Nkechi did not turn up for work. She had called in sick earlier. So, I couldn’t ask if this was how she was feeling. Yet, I could pretty much guess that it was.
At night, even though I had bought fever medicines from the pharmacy on my way home and had gobbled them down as soon as I pushed the door open, my body was as hot as a bulb. I shivered and wished my fiance had not traveled. She left to visit her parents and was going to return by the weekend.
When at dawn I vomited, and my breathing was starting to become laborious, each breath producing some sort of wheezing, I knew I had to seek medical help.
Google was not helping me. Each page I turned to suggest something even worse than the one before it. One page didn’t only suggest COVID-19; it suggested some bronchitis or something like that. Said I was going to die soon.
I called in sick at work. Next, I went on to visit my state’s teaching hospital.
The hospital pretty much enforced the no-mask-no-entry policy. There were placards everywhere. Seeing that I did not have a mask over my mouth and nose, I was not allowed entry until I went outside the gate to go fetch a face mask from one of the roadside vendors. A security guy poured hand sanitizers on my hands, and I rubbed as I walked into the hospital.
The doctor who attended to me was a man in his 50’s. He asked about my medical history, nodding as I talked.
My heart sank when he climbed to his feet and said: “I will have to send you for a COVID-19 test. You might have caught the virus.”
My heart thumped as I walked down the lobby that led to the lab within the facility, where I would be tested. I was quite afraid. I had called my fiance twice, but she wasn’t picking up the phone. Everything I had read on Google the previous night now sat on my chest.
The laboratory scientist must’ve felt my fear. Because, as she worked to drive some kind of stick up my nostrils, she kept saying: “Relax, it’ll be fine.”
The test results came out two hours after. I was infected with the virus. The doctor asked me not to cry and would not stop trying to talk me into believing that COVID-19 wasn’t the end of the world.
He gave me two options: stay in the hospital’s facility until I was well, or go home and quarantine myself. I chose the second. He gave me some medication, painkillers for my headaches, anti-malaria drugs, etc.
I called my finance as soon as I got home. She picked this time. The first thing I said over the phone was: “I am going to die, babe.”
I wasn’t joking when I said this. I really did think I was going to die. The news suggested it—people were dying. Google also said so.
“You won’t die.” She said.
Two days before my fiance returned home, my coworkers had already found out that I had come down with the virus. I had told my junior staff, and he had gone ahead to tell the rest of them.
Nkechi, too, had been diagnosed with the COVID-19. We spoke over the phone once, and she was feeling just the same way as me. She said the other coworkers wouldn’t come to see her either.
On the day she returned, my fiance walked in to meet me curled in blankets. She was putting on a facemask even though she was in the house. She wouldn’t touch me. She laughed a bit and said something about how I sounded like a child these past days.
When I was strong enough to sit, my back leaned against a wall; she laughed, also, about how none of the neighbors had agreed to come to see me when she told them I was sick. She said they had said bluntly “never” and expressed fear of dying.
She would feed and care for me until I was well. The healing process was tasking, as fear from all those googled pages kept poking at me. But I healed fine. And when I stepped into the office after two weeks, there was laughter, and they jokingly said: “Please don’t come close to me.”
Right now, I am doing my part to stop the spread of COVID-19. Although some people ignore regulations, I always try to focus on keeping myself and my loved ones safe.