How a slight headache sparked Covid-19 fears

Wednesday May 13 2020
MBOPIC

I don’t think a bacterial infection had ever been celebrated that much since God created the earth. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By JOSEPH MBOYA

A sudden illness on Tuesday night transformed me from a storyteller to being the story.

It started with my friend developing joint aches, which escalated to a serious headache. My suggestion that we seek medical attention was dismissed outright.

As the situation deteriorated, the nightmare began. Could it be Covid-19? I didn’t want to contemplate.

Since I was the ‘healthy’ one, I had to calm the fraying nerves. “No, you don’t have corona. I think it’s just a normal fever,” I declared, although from the laughter that greeted my declaration it was clear my attempt at raising optimism had failed.

Then came another problem: it was past 7pm and the dusk-to-dawn curfew was in effect. I started mental mapping of the nearest hospital accessible from Imara Daima.

My best bet was South B or Nairobi West. In the worst case scenario, I could try Nairobi Hospital, Coptic or Aga Khan. My patient was showing alarming signs of weakness.

POLICE HARASSMENT

I took the matter into my hands. I called my place of work, asked for the staff clinic and found a cheery gentleman on the line.

I explained the nature of emergency facing me and the man was very sympathetic. Unfortunately, he could not send an ambulance.

He advised me to carry my staff identity card on my way to the hospital and call him if I ran into the police. He would talk to them.

He assured me that the police were under orders to treat such cases sympathetically.

Now, if there’s one lesson my 30 years of practising journalism has taught me, it’s this; orders tend to disappear somewhere along the chain of command and the officer on the beat is usually free to use their discretion, nearly always with disastrous outcomes for those they come into contact with.

I had the option of using my press card but this would have involved a bit of inveigling in explaining the case of my patient, who was stretched out on the back seat. We said a short prayer and hit the road.

The Nairobi I saw on Tuesday night was totally different from the city I have known since my early teenage years. Easing into Mombasa Road felt like driving in another planet.

PRAYERS WORK

The road is normally busy at this time of the night with workers heading back home, taxis racing their fares to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to catch flights, while, in the air, the huge planes approaching for landing normally fly so low you almost see those on board.

Not on this night. The road was deserted and, for a moment or two, I was transported to the pages of the popular Christian fiction books Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins, which describe life on earth after the rapture promised by the Bible has taken place.

As I approached the Kenya Railways bridge, just before General Motors, I saw a traffic policeman stopping a G4S van.

My patient murmured a quiet and fast prayer that we wouldn’t be stopped. The prayers worked and I once again had the entire road all to myself.

I fought the temptation to gun down the car because, although my patient would not admit it, I knew the situation was getting worse.

I remembered road crash statistics and was grimly reminded that accidents had caused more deaths on our roads than headaches.

MANDATORY QUARANTINE

I took the turn into South B and was greeted by more shock. You see, the area stretching from South B through South C and to Nairobi West has been my stomping ground and is one corner of our globe that rarely goes to sleep, not this early.

Driving into Mariakani Cottage Hospital, I found a group of friendly watchmen who were more than willing to direct me to the parking.

We ambled into the casualty and found the place empty. A friendly nurse took us through the paces of registration and directing my patient to the doctor.

The dreaded moment was finally here. What the doctor would find out had the potential of changing both our lives in ways we couldn’t even imagine: if he had recommended the patient for a Covid-19 test based on the lab analysis, mandatory quarantine would follow.

Since I had been the one handling the patient, the same fate awaited me.

Subconsciously, I replayed the figures Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe had been doling out in his briefings.

My mind wandered to Italy, Spain, the US and the other places the virus had ravaged. With massive effort, I blocked out such thoughts and focused on getting favourable results.

NO CAUSE FOR ALARM

As I sat there, a man walked in with his daughter who looked seriously ill. From their dusty feet, it was evident that they had done some serious hoofing before getting to the hospital.

My patient came out with a smile that could light up a Christmas tree. It was an all-clear from the doctor. Turns out it was a case of bacterial infection.

There was no need for further tests. We hugged and back-slapped one another. I don’t think a bacterial infection had ever been celebrated that much since God created the earth.

The trip back home was easier and faster. Just as we had made a pact with God as we left home, we said a prayer of thanksgiving; thanking God for having the means of getting to hospital, for medical facilities that are near, doctors and nurses to man them and even the ability to pay for the services offered.

We also remembered to pray for the nameless man we had left at the reception waiting to hear from the doctor on the fate of his daughter.

Joseph Mboya is a Nairobi-based journalist