The ambulance came for me around 1:21pm. Initially I had been told it’d be here for 11/12noon, but heck! This is Nigeria and we understand how this things work. “Can I have a detailed description of how to get to your house from Secretariat,” the lady who had called asked; she was very courteous. I had a fraction of a minute to determine if I wanted the ambulance to drive in all the way to the streets and to the house or if I would rather just meet up with them at some neutral point. I chose the latter.
At the pick-up point, a white ambulance parked in front of a conspicuous building. Everyone who passed by it stared at the folks in it, about 3-4 people stood around, waiting to see what was going to happen. Me, I was struggling to breathe and I was weak so I was taking calculated steps towards the ambulance. I ignored the onlookers and moved close to the van with my bag strapped to my bag and tapped at the window, a woman in white PPE stepped out and another man, the driver, stepped out too to open the door to the van while the woman confirmed if I was truly the one they were expecting.
I hopped into the van and there was another man in it – an old bald man who looked frail and was oblivious of whatever was going on. As an expert at minding my own business, I nodded at the man, sat in my seat and that was it. Another woman joined in at Adeoyo Hospital; a woman – she must be in her late 50s or early 60s. She was visibly weak, her hair unkempt and her breathing labored. She got into the ambulance, said a prayer for us that we’d all make it. She received a few calls – instructed her family not to let anyone know what was going on with her. From there we went on to Oluyole Estate for another pick up. At Oluyole Estate, a second ambulance queued in with us – a new patient to be picked up was dying and already on oxygen. The patient is lifted into the second ambulance with the oxygen cylinder.
Nothing exciting about the ride. From the window seat where I sat, I could see fear in people’s eyes on the street. We would drive past and people on the streets would pull up their nose masks over their noses. It was funny to me because the glasses were wound up. I also knew it was just a temporary feeling and that they’d soon pull down their masks. We in the first ambulance are growing weaker. I keep sipping on my bottle of lime water – pumping my body with Vitamin C just to give it a fighting chance.
We hit Sabo and there’s a problem – a truck parking dirt was on the road clearing out the garbage on the median right in front of the mosque at Sabo and has refused to get out of the way so that two ambulances blaring their sirens can pass. A patient on oxygen is dying in the second ambulance but a garbage truck feels it owns the right of way because it got there first and so everyone else can die and go to hell?
Instinctively, the drivers find a way to reverse through the narrow road and faced on-coming vehicle at top speed. We made it through the hiccup and headed past UCH towards Agodi and on to General Gas. We picked another a woman; she seemed healthy. From there we raced down to Olodo, sirens blaring high.
We arrived at the Isolation center around 5:21pm or so, I was weak and my feet were shaking. My breathing had been regular again for a while and so I was grateful for that. The patient in the second ambulance was wheeled into ICU immediately while the rest of us were led into the Triage and we sat in white plastic chairs. One of the nicest nurses I will ever meet – Nurse Ewe – came around and began to check our vitals. The first patient to be attended to was the woman we had picked from Adeoyo. Her breathing had become very labored now. Her oxygen saturation level was checked and the small device began to bleep. Constant bleeping. “Madam, your oxygen level is veryyyyy low,” Nurse Ewekeye said. Very quickly, things happened – she was put in a wheel chair and taken away.
The rest of us had our vitals down and we were led by one of the nurses into a corridor – the first ward we saw was the Intensive Care Unit; the ward had all its bed occupied with people with oxygen masks over their faces; some of them were visibly trying so hard to breathe. As I stared at them, I began to feel my own breath leave me. I hastened my pace behind the nurse leading us. The Highly Dependent Unit (HDU) was next – we had been led there blindly (though briefly) because the nurse wanted to drop off something for a patient. Next to the HDU is the female ward and then finally, the male ward. Beyond the male ward is the decontamination zone.
The male ward is a long spacious room with about 20 beds, one properly social distanced from the next. A couple of men between the ages of 40-65 were involved in an on-going conversation. I’m so distressed and I just want to get into bed. Finally, I am allotted a bed and I collapse into it. It creaked as I shifted my body with my last joule of energy.
My mind was restless despite the pain of struggling to breathe – I left a mother behind at home and a group of friends were already panicky about the news once it got to them. I remembered what Nurse Ewekeye said in the triage, “you’ll fight and you will win and you will be out in no time.”
Dinner – Jollof Rice x Fish or Yam pottage