By Tunde Akanni, PhD
A medical test like never before! Spectacle of social distancing. Venue was the fenced-up compound directly opposite NIMR itself at Yaba. It was a drive-through exercise with three stops beginning with gauging of temperature; a short interview including confirmation of data already supplied online while registering. You are then told to expect a mail in 24/48 hours from NIMR if you test negative. “On the other hand, you hear from Lagos State Government…” “Did I hear that?” Time to activate prayer mode. You are immediately flagged on to the next shed where two samples will be taken from the throat and nostrils. All these while you’re in your car; you are only required to stretch your neck out some bit. The last stop point is where blood sample is taken-two bottles. It’s all over.
Same day NIMR announced its readiness to commence testing for Nigerians, I did my best to help give the announcement a substantially enhanced mileage, retweeting repeatedly and tagging as many media colleagues and others for more possible visibility. Indeed, I also brokered an online interview for NIMR DG, Prof Tunde Lawal Salako with a Twitter connection of mine, a Nigerian born international journalist based in Germany, Ruona Mayer. Ruona wanted to compare testing in Germany with Nigeria’s.
So, when will the testing campaigner go for it? Shortly before I went online to register, I’d just finished treating malaria but this feeling of complete wellness was yet to return to my body. “My bodi still dey do me one kain.” I therefore tried reflecting on the checklist for Covid-19: High fever? Coughing? Sneezing? Stooling? Do I still know the exact meaning of all these again? My recent activities got me confused.
I returned to Lagos from Abuja Monday March 23, 2020 after I was done with an assignment in Abuja. I had this feeling of unwellness which I suspected to be Malaria, after all it is often said you’re your own best doctor. I didn’t want to be unduly presumptive though. Tuesday March 24, therefore, I dashed to the LASU Health Centre. The physician that examined me prescribed a laboratory test. A couple of hours later, the result was ready and malaria was confirmed. He wrote the malaria drugs I needed to buy and I headed immediately for a pharmacy and got them.
Days after I finished the prescribed drugs, I wasn’t feeling fine still. Fever continued to feature as one of the symptoms of the dreaded coronavirus. Governors and other big people in the society were testing positive. “So who cannot be positive?” “But how could I have caught this thing as I have not related with any of the known cases?” I had to attempt some kind of playback of my recent activities.
Most important perhaps was the Leadership newspaper award ceremony I attended at the International Conference Centre, Abuja. I was a guest of the day’s most outstanding awardee, Prof Is-haq Oloyede, Registrar and Chief Executive of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB. Sitting however directly behind me was a man who coughed ceaselessly and seemingly recklessly as I never missed the impact on me each time he coughed. I couldn’t wait for the ceremony to finish. Somehow, later that day I began to have this feeling of malaria which Ialso suspected could have resulted from some recent mosquito bites. But the memory of the ceaseless cough persisted.
While at the airport in Abuja awaiting my flight to Lagos, a good friend and colleague called to speak with me. Rounding off our conversation, she cautiously advised: “be careful as you fly back, Dr T”. The airport, really was its unusual self. Social distancing was conspicuous. A row of as many as four or six seats occupied by only one person with several others preferring to roam around or stand in isolation. The fear of covid-19 was palpable. The television broadcasts added to the tension with details of the mounting tragedies in Italy and Iran and the UK. But how sustainable is this social distancing thing? Will it be doable inside aircrafts? What are the airlines’ preventive measures that they are still flying?
Finally, my Ibom Air flight was announced. There emerged the long line of passengers. The ticket checkers still ran their regular routine of checking ticket validity and matching same with ID cards and all. So much to think about regarding Covid-19 but the airport checks didn’t seem to be bothered. I remained deeply prayerful.
Sitting next to me was this stocky, knickers sporting guy of average height sweating profusely. “Why?” But the airlines’ staff ‘passed’ him for the flight like the rest of us, so no basis for any questioning. I only needed to be careful as earlier cautioned. My friend’s caution kept me awake for the entire duration of the flight. I tried sipping the water served intermittently as advised against Covid-19
The end of the flight didn’t terminate caution for me. The airport cabs still remained same but are they safe again? I thought about different options but still settled for one of the airport cabs.. Dropping me off at home later, my driver apologized for not helping with my bag. “Personal safety won’t allow me touch your bag sir”, the driver politely hinted. “I understand”, responding quickly to allow him drive off.
Entering the house had to be methodical, no longer characterized by warm welcome from the people at home. With the repeatedly dispensed information that the virus can hardly survive hot weather, I chose to leave my bag on the verandah of my apartment to get sufficiently heated up by the sun and remove any possibility of any nonsense.
To remove all doubt and get reassured of my health condition prompted my decision to seek clarification at the LASU Health Centre the following day even as the university had closed down on account of the palpable fear. It never occurred to me that the malaria would be as protracted as it later was. And then the punctuations: You could be asymptomatic; fever is a major variable and so forth. And then the healthy looking Gov Fayemi dropped the bombshell: The two-day wait for the result of the test was not easy. Are you ready for the same tension-soaked experience, I asked myself repeatedly.
But the most merciful one has been splendid. Therefore, rejoice with me, the scare ended April 16, 2020. It turned out to be my earliest birthday gift for this year. I went for the Covid-19 test at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, Yaba April 14, 2020 following due process. Due process, yes, notwithstanding being communication consultant to the Institute. Alhamdulillah, I tested negative when the result came out April 16, 2020.
I’m no less grateful to Allah for fellow human beings with the stories of daily discharges from the Lagos Infectious Diseases Hospital later replicated in other parts of Nigeria. Permit me to urge you all to test early so we can continue to be thankful together.
Here’s thanking Allah, the most beneficent and the most merciful for granting me a new lease of life.
Tunde Akanni, PhD, is a Lagos based communications scholar and development consultant. Follow him on Twitter: @AkintundeAkanni