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COVID-19 BLOG: My visit to coronavirus isolation wards

NASIBO KABALE
By NASIBO KABALE
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Saturday April 18 2020

When my boss first told me that we would visit a Covid-19 isolation ward, the thoughts in my head started doing backflips trying to convince me how this might just be a suicide mission.

I tend to take extra measures when it comes to everything and I have always lived by the mantra that no story is worth dying for. So I kept wondering why should I take a chance, especially with a disease that has no cure.

It took me a while before I could say yes, but when I did, I was sure there was no turning back.

A PRAYER

On Friday morning, I put on some raggedy clothes and shoes that I would not mind burning should the need arise. As I kissed my daughter goodbye, I said a little prayer. “Dear Lord, please protect me, if not for my sake, then for the sake of this child,” I said.

By the time I got to the office, my anxiety had disappeared and it had been replaced by the newsroom rush. There is no way of explaining it but the newsroom gives you a mad rush to deliver a story and a tunnel vision that blurs every other thought that may be weighing you down.

The Kenyatta National Hospital's Infectious
The Kenyatta National Hospital's Infectious Diseases Unit at Mbagathi hospital in Nairobi. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The Health ministry had granted us access to the Kenyatta National Hospital Infectious Diseases Unit and the hospital’s satellite Infectious Diseases Unit at Mbagathi hospital.

We thought things would be quick but like with everything in government, it took long. We waited for more than an hour to access each unit.

When we finally got inside, interviews started almost immediately – the staff giving us a breakdown of what goes on at the facilities and what to expect.

I must say that the staff at KNH wards were very friendly and I completely understand why Brenda Cheroticha Covid-19 survivor, kept talking about them in her interviews.

A TOUR

At Mbagathi, staff led by Dr Mutua Mbuvi, who gave us a tour of wards there, made sure we were well-prepared and well-kitted.

Speaking of Cherotich, we got to see her ward, right next to that of Brian Orinda, another Covid-19 survivor. Cherotich's was now occupied by a female who did not wish to speak to us out of fear of stigma.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I took from this facility was just how much we take for granted out here and how little we think of the virus given the length the healthcare workers take to protect themselves and the people around them.

The process of putting on a hazmat suit took close to 15 minutes, with extreme care. I had to put on a mask in a certain way. I wore gloves, and goggles in a way that would prevent fogging.

The medics explained how we would rather walk out than try to adjust any of the kits while inside the ward.

Perhaps what amazed me is that almost everything we wore, save for Wellington boots and goggles, was thrown out.

The patients inside both facilities were doing very well.

FEW ACTIVITIES

The majority were going on with their activities around their phones or laptops. Some, however, seemed really deep in thought, with very few activities to do while inside.

The facilities felt so cold, and I don’t mean temperature-wise. It felt so lonely, and as though time had stood still.

I did sweat a little inside the suit, and the goggles got a little foggy, but I tried as much as I could to remain calm and aware of my surroundings, all the while being very respectful towards the patients.

REMOVE CLOTHING

Once we were done with the tour around both units, the routine was the same. We had to remove every item we put on as we sanitised our hands.

We were sprayed down with chlorine before we tried to wiggle out of the suits to avoid touching them.

Every step required sanitising the hands until we dipped the boots in a chlorine bath and finally got out of the facility.

When I got home, I was still a little paranoid, I took my spirit mixture and sprayed myself from head to toe before removing all my clothes and shoes and putting them in a polythene bag.  

I took a long shower and it was only then that I let my daughter give me the big hug that she gives me at the end of every day when I come back from the newsroom.

This was just one day. Now think about someone who has to do this every day?

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