The Managing Director of Healthplus Pharmacy, Bukky George, has shared how she and ten members of her family recovered from the coronavirus pandemic.
Relieving her experience in a post titled “When the unthinkable happens” via her official Facebook on Thursday, Mrs. George says she has learnt an unforgettable lesson. She writes:
“What I did not bargain for was the very slow process of recovery post-discharge. The two of us who had the respiratory illness remained weak for at least 4 to 6 weeks. I coughed throughout this period.
“For me, the biggest takeaways are the mercy and grace of God on my family and I, listening to experts, leveraging networks, no man is an island – you need your family and friends, and acting with great speed”.
According to the CEO, she had always rated herself as the least likely person to be infected by disease because she was strict about the issue of hygiene, health matters and maintaining standards.
George disclosed that as the pandemic trended in Asia, Europe and the Americas, she was abreast of development. She says:
“I swiftly put in place processes and procedures at home and work. For example, I coordinated the return of my children from their schools back to Nigeria, ensuring proper decontamination on arrival and 14-day self-quarantine for each.
“We initiated working from home before the Lagos State lockdown. My home too was on lockdown before the Lagos State lockdown. ‘No one in, no one out” was our mantra!
The shock of having an entire family testing positive
Her ordeal, however, started on a fateful weekend in April when a member of the family started coughing.
Being a chesty cough, the Healthplus boss did not initially pay attention because she had always believed that dry cough was the symptom associated with COVID-19.
When the cough became persistent for a few more days, she deemed it necessary to take him for a visit to the hospital where a COVID-19 antibody test was carried out. She says:
“The result came back positive. Antibody tests have about a 70% degree of accuracy. I was trembling like a leaf when I got the news. I was in total shock. How did this virus get into our fortress? I will never know for sure!”
Her first reaction was to immediately reach out to a friend who facilitated swift Polymerase chain reaction tests the next morning, adding that every member of the household including the drivers was tested (nose and throat swabs and sputum tests). She adds:
“I asked the doctors about the timing of the results. I was told 48 hours. A call came through in 24 hours and the doctor said if it was a good time to talk. Well, there is never a good time for news like this. We have a lot of positives’.’
George noted that she grabbed a piece of paper and started scribbling and consequently discovered that 11 out of 12 persons had tested positive.
According to her, the family had several vulnerable elderly persons with underlying conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease, asthma and allergies. She recalls:
“My life flashed before me! I am aware that COVID-19 infection is not a death sentence but I have learnt from statistics that about 3% to 4% of infected persons will die. What are the odds that all of us will be spared?
“I was frightened. I was even more gutted by the fact that I had commented on the lockdown that if I get COVID-19 infection, I will die because of my underlying health conditions. Now my result was positive!”
The pharmacist stressed that she has learnt a lesson of a lifetime making her vow to confess the negatives again as ‘there is power in the tongue.’
Journey to the isolation centre
After breaking the news to the family, her son researched information on what COVID survivors did and shared the details with her.
“We, therefore, shopped for alkaline foods such as lemon, watermelon, pawpaw, kiwi, pineapple, cucumber, kale and other green leafy vegetables while avoiding acidic foods such as sugar, dairy, processed foods, apples, grapefruit and drinks.
“The next day, we packed our clothes and personal items for 7 days. We checked into the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba for isolation. The testimonial of Mrs Eyamba Dafinone on Arise News was reassuring as we journeyed to Yaba.
“There were five of us in the female ward and six in the male ward. We were placed on Antiretrovirals (Lopinavir and Ritonavir aka Aluvia), Antibiotics (Azithromycin), Calcium, and Vitamin C.
“We continued our prescription medicines (where relevant) and nutritional supplements. The supplements included our usual multivitamin and mineral Complex, Immune Boosters, Zinc, Black Seed Oil and Vitamin D,” she said.
Her experience inside the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Yaba
In her narration, the hospital was clean and the isolation building had been renovated from the Ebola times. While disclosing that she found it comforting, she and other affected members of the family tried to stay positive, determined to make the most of our stay. She reminisced:
“All was well on Day 1 after admission. No one had symptoms. On Day 2, I was coordinating our affairs when I suddenly felt my lungs fill with a fluid like I was drowning. It was very uncomfortable and I felt some pain under my rib cage.
“It appeared like my chest was being pumped with fluid using a bicycle tyre pump. I raised an alarm. Luckily, our ward mate was a registered nurse who contracted COVID-19 in the course of duty. She swiftly grabbed a bucket, boiled water in a kettle, poured the boiling water in the bucket, put in a scoop of mentholated balm, sat me on a chair, I bent over the bucket and covered my head with a blanket.
“She coached me to breathe in and hold for 10 seconds, then breathe out and in again. I repeated these for 10 minutes. When I stood up, I felt better. Next was chest physiotherapy. She patted my back for some minutes. I was then offered a very hot cup of tea. I felt much better.”
Tackling a recurring nightmare
After the momentary seizure, the winner of 2019 Nigerian Healthcare Excellence Award confessed that she had to go online for information on COVID-19 breathing techniques, adding that the relief lasted for about three to four hours before the mucus started building up again.
She figured the need to quickly repeat the process of steam inhalation, chest physiotherapy, breathing technique and hot fluids three to four times a day. She shared further:
“I was really afraid to sleep that first night. I told my folks to check on me periodically. When I completed my last routine and slept on my tummy, I surprisingly slept like a baby that night.
“The cough started a day after the respiratory illness. It was a raspy, productive cough with white sputum. My friend shopped and made us two bowls of herbal paste made by chopping, blending and boiling 5 ingredients – Ginger, Garlic, whole Lemon, whole Orange and Pineapple. A heaped teaspoon of this paste in boiling water, in a mug, sweetened with honey became our mainstay. We shared with our fellow inmates.
“Over the next five days, I got progressively worse. No fever, no loss of smell, no loss of taste, no headaches, just this horrible respiratory illness! Breathing was laboured. There was a fullness in my throat like I had extra flesh inside the base of my throat. There was a tugging sensation across my throat and chest. There was perpetual painful turbulence in my chest. I felt awful. The symptoms, which were sometimes indescribable, were worse at night.”
The recovery stage
She recalled the animated documentary she had earlier watched on CNN that described the damage that COVID-19 causes as it ravages the lungs, stressing that the thought bothered her a lot.
The challenges, notwithstanding, she made friends with other ladies in the same ward who also came from all walks of life, across all ages.
According to her, some were infected by their husbands noting that quite a few on admission were doctors and nurses who caught the virus on the job. She adds:
“We had pregnant patients too. Every morning and evening, we read the Bible and prayed. This kept us going. We kept hope alive. We developed a special bond. Three of us in the ward, however, had the respiratory illness.
“My pulse oximeter was my companion. As long as the oxygen saturation in my blood was equal to or greater than 95, all was well. So I tracked this measurement periodically each day. I dipped to 92 on a few occasions but the breathing technique I found on Youtube and my other routines bumped my numbers back up.
“Hot water bottle was suggested and we bought two. I filled both with hot water and placed them on my back. The backache disappeared by the next day. We all had to wear our 3 ply surgical masks all the time while on admission.
“I set up a WhatsApp group called ‘’Male Isolation’’ for my family in the male ward and posted on it all we were learning and practising in the female ward. Keeping busy and active was great for the mind. The children had online school, so they were occupied. They just needed adequate data.”
The pharmacist observed that the facility had many depressed and anxious people, remarking that many cried. At a point, the burden of looking out for so many of her family members and domestic staff gutted her.
“I was anxious. My pulse rate was high on many occasions. Through our ward windows, we watched the increasing numbers of people come for testing. A young lady was rushed in but unfortunately died. Her kids were so young. This was heartbreaking.
“While exercising one day, we met a young lad whose dad passed away due to COVID-19 infection. His mum and sister were also on admission. A grandpa was on admission, unaware his wife did not make it. Although the mortality rate at 3% seems low, when you know a casualty, it hits home hard. These are not just numbers, but real people with family, friends, and aspirations, cut down in their prime.”
Journey back home after discharge from isolation
Mrs. George applauded the frontline healthcare workers at IDH, stating that they tried their best. She states:
“Their garb of the jumpsuit, face shield, masks, gloves, boots, shoe covers and head cover must have been very uncomfortable, but each day, they visited the wards and did their jobs.
“One main complaint I had was the inadequate monitoring of the patients’ health. Chest X-rays and blood tests were not carried out. Just food and medicines were given. Oxygen was available when required. Bottled water was grossly inadequate.”
Upon discharge, George recalled that officials of the isolation centre decontaminated their bodies, bags and suitcases with their contents with bleach solution. She further says:
“We stayed at a friend‘s apartment which was empty while our home was fumigated and cleaned. We cleaned professionally each day for five days to remove traces of the fumigation chemicals. We couldn’t afford to add further distress of any kind to our respiratory system. A 14-day isolation period was required of us after discharge.
She expressed appreciation to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Lagos State Governor, health commissioner and other isolation frontline workers, stating that given the limited resources and poor healthcare infrastructure, they have performed well.
“I am now 100%. We hope the antibodies we have will protect us because this disease is novel and there are a lot of uncertainties.”