‘THIS THING ALMOST KILLED ME’
Reflections from a young Kenyan man who
When watching the news and seeing statistics about the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to just view
them as numbers. That was me before October 17 when I started exhibiting acute COVID -19
symptoms. Before that, I had had mild signs which I initially dismissed as fatigue from working long
hours the previous weekend. There was a lingering headache, general body pains and a slight cough that
I ignored for three days. On the fourth day, I developed a mild sore throat which I self-medicated for with
antibiotics but got worse instead of better. By the time I was getting to the hospital that evening, I had
a severe headache and my body temperature was at 39.5 degrees and my blood pressure was dropping.
The doctor recommended that I do a COVID-19 test on Monday after my blood work showed no anomaly. The hospital could also not admit me because my medical insurance provider does not allow for
admission without a conclusive diagnosis. I drove back home that evening feeling better – perhaps the
effect of strong painkillers and IV fluids that were administered to me at the hospital.
When I woke up the
following morning, there
wasn’t a single part of my
body that was not in pain.
I remember calling my
sister and telling her
“this thing is killing me.”
I honestly thought I was going to die. I was having difficulty in breathing, severe headache and a very high
fever. My brother and his wife who are both medics rushed to my house in the company of my sister
and mother also found my blood pressure extremely low. I believe that their quick action saved my life. By
then, we still were not sure if it was COVID-19, but we took all the necessary precautions. Other than
painkillers and fluids to manage the fever and blood pressure, I was also put on zinc tablets to strengthen
my lung muscles, steroids and vitamin C supplements. My positive diagnosis came four days later.
COVID-19 is a very lonely disease, especially when you live alone.
While I was initially isolating at my parent’s place, when I finally went for the test I moved back to my house
where I lived alone because I highly suspected that my results would return positive. During my home-based
isolation, I had no personal interaction with people other than the neighbours I occasionally chatted with when
I went outside the house for sunlight.
Even though my family and friends called every day and at times several times a day to check on me, I felt so
alone. At times I would need something but not have anyone to send to get it for me. There were days I cried.
There were days I was scared.
My family were the biggest source of support during this time. At some point, I was scared that I had exposed
them, especially my mother who not only has advanced age but is also both diabetic and hypertensive. One
morning she called and told me to stop worrying and concentrate on getting better.
“When we decided to come and get you from your house we
knew that there was a possibility that it could be COVID. We
were not going to let you die. I will make the same decision
over and over again,”
she said to me.
On Monday, November 2, I ventured out of the house for the first time since I began my self-isolation. I had
been discharged from home-based care a few days earlier, though still advised to limit my interaction with
people for another seven days. I needed to get to the ATM to withdraw some money for my house supplies
which were running low. After being indoors for so long, it was refreshing to see people and life. It was also
scary to see how casually people were treating this virus on Kisumu streets.
People went about their business like the disease was no longer there. The security guard at the parking
entrance of one of the shopping malls in the middle of the CBD who should have been checking body
temperatures and ensuring those accessing the building washed their hands, or at least used a hand
sanitizer before being allowed in, was busy scrolling through her phone as people passed by.
While previously there was strict adherence to measures put in place to contain the pandemic, the easing
of measures, which among other things allowed for the re-opening of bars and entertainment places,
allowing events of up to 200 people and reduction of curfew hours seemed to have given the public the
impression that the war against the disease had been won.
Alarmed by the sharp increase in infections which had reached 1,025 by 28th of October, Kisumu Governor, Prof.
Anyang’ Nyong’o, and County Commissioner, Josephine Ouko, issued a joint press conference promise to take
stern action against individuals and businesses flouting containment measures. The warning seemingly fell
on deaf ears. Matatus still carry 14 passengers, night clubs and entertainment spots are still operating
Speaking in Nairobi during his 16th national address since COVID-19 got into the country, President Uhuru
Kenyatta described the month of October as the worst in terms of fatalities and new infections.
“This is 4 times what the rate was in September. If one person
was positive in September, four people became positive in
October. That is the literal interpretation of this statistic. In
October only, we have had over 15,000 new cases of Corona
infections and approximately 300 deaths according to the
National Multi-Agency Command Centre on COVID- 19,”
I had largely tried to observe the measures encouraged by the Ministry of Health. I used a fresh mask every
day, washed hands regularly or used a hand sanitizer. I also tried to avoid crowded places, but at times
that was not very possible due to the nature of my work. I run an events company, and crowds are my
business. While it’s not clear where I got the infection from, I could trace my symptoms to a political event
that was held in a neighbouring county about a week before my diagnosis.
My company was the main supplier for the high profile political event that brought together about 2,000
attendees from various parts of the country. While we tried to ensure social distancing with the setup, the
size of the crowd, which was initially planned for 700, tripled. One other person in my office also tested
positive for the virus and we have since reviewed our protocols at the office to protect our staff and
clients by strictly adhering to the Ministry of Health guidelines.
Among the counties that have seen a sharp rise in new cases is Kisumu. The day I got my diagnosis, the
county recorded 30 new cases. That was coincidentally the day President Kenyatta and former Prime
Minister Raila Odinga brought Kisumu to a standstill when they hosted political events attended by
thousands of residents who paid little attention to social distancing or wearing of masks, despite a spike
of new cases in the county.
It was refreshing to see the president acknowledge the role he and other politicians have played in getting
us where we are with the current wave of new infections when he spoke on Wednesday, November 4. I can only hope there
will be strict enforcement of the new measures he announced, otherwise, towns like Kisumu will soon have
their healthcare systems unable to cope with new infections.