This afternoon, I have a conversation with the new doctor on the rounds this afternoon – a middle aged man, average height and slightly cross-eyed. He is walking past my bed; he raises his thumb up at me and calls out from underneath his blue protective gear: “hope no problems?” “I think I am,” I reply. He walks towards the Old, bald man’s bed and then looks at the rest of us.
“How is he faring?”
“He is improving,” I tell him and go on to highlight areas of his improvements: “He’s got his senses back, he doesn’t sleep on the floor anymore, he feeds by himself now and he doesn’t pee on his body anymore but he is still frail.” The doctor nodded, “he must have had a pre-existing condition that has now degenerated due to the onset of COVID-19 in his system,” he began to explain. My neighbor to the right – the one who had a breathing attack on Day2 – chipped in: “if only people out there could see some of the things going on in here and the devastating effects of this virus, maybe they’d wear a mask.”
I seize the moment and introduce myself to the doctor,
“I am Olorunfemi and I am a storyteller; my honest opinion is that we don’t tell the stories from the frontline enough. Now that I am here, I am chronicling my experiences here, like a diary thing.” The doctor’s cheeks widen beneath the mask, I guess he is smiling. Inside the protective suit he’s donned, he’s sweating profusely. The first thing that crosses my mind is “If the virus wasn’t real or wasn’t so harmful, no one would inconvenience themselves this way”. Despite the obvious discomfort, still he listens to me.
“How is it like being a doctor in a facility like here – the front-line?”
He begins: “I will not lie to you, it is hard – working round the clock clad in these protective suit. As you can see, I am sweating inside this thing but I can’t even get it off – not even to wipe the sweat. We may not be infected but we are affected by the virus; and not just us, our families too. There are times when I have had to stay away from home – times when I get home and I can’t get close to my wife and my kids just so that they can be safe.
Sometimes, it is the time you spend away from your loved ones especially when work gets overwhelming. There are even times when we ourselves get exposed and we would need to isolate till we can confirm through tests that we are really infected or not. We definitely don’t want to pose a risk to the ones we love who are waiting for us, back at home. Also, people stigmatize us for working here – once people know you work at the Isolation Center, they try to avoid you. I get that experience all the time and it is not a good feeling at all.”
He goes on to talk about how very quickly a mere difficulty in breathing can escalate and the patient could be knocking on Heaven’s Gate especially when there is no cylinder of oxygen on ground.
When I ask about how the ICU has been running on oxygen and the implications, her replies: “a patient uses about 2-3 cylinders of oxygen in 24hours and we cannot afford to not have a supply of oxygen. I spent the whole of yesterday looking for cylinders of oxygen – we went round and round before we could secure some cylinders. Now, tell me, what will happen to tens of people who are on life support and their fate is hanging on whether we get cylinders or not. Currently, a cylinder is – I think – N13,000. If one patient uses 2-3 cylinders in 24hours and there are 10 patients on oxygen for 5days, calculate how many cylinders we always need and how hard it is to get those cylinders.”
The whole ward is listening now, there’s silence everywhere, punctuated occasionally by dry coughs from different patients in the ward. I pause and let the moment sink in. He needs to move on and attend to other patients and so I try to be wrap the conversation up.
“How do you feel when you go out there and you see people not wearing masks?”
He shakes his head, “sometimes I get angry. Sometimes I wish the government could find a way to enforce the use of masks. From here, Olodo, to Monatan to Academy, you’d hardly find one person wearing a nose mask – it hurts! We have a morgue here and there are bodies there. A woman was brought here on Sunday evening and she passed away yesterday – Monday evening. The virus is crazy like that. So when I see people not wearing nose masks, it pains me like, do you not care for your life?!” The conversation is quite chilling; the doctor has to attend to the bald, old man and so I thank him profusely for his time.
Breakfast – Yam x Fish Stew x beverage
Lunch – Amala x Ewedu/Okro x Beef
Dinner – White Rice x Stew x Beef