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Close Call

Close Call

Lutgard Musiime writes about almost losing her grandmother to Covid-19, and how her family survived the ordeal.

Chidi Afulezi
Chidi Afulezi


"Hello, granny did not have a good night and was taken to hospital by ambulance, get ready, I am coming to pick you."

This was the phone call that woke me from my sleep with the news of my grandmother’s deteriorating state of health. I did not have time to think, I just found a free bag, threw in a few clothes, hopped in the shower, and in less than 5 minutes I was ready for my brother to pick me up and take me to hospital. My grandmother given her age was not shy of hospital visits but this was different. She had always suffered indigestion issues which almost took her to the surgical
table for an operation for an obstructed intestine, but luckily this was worked on without her having to go under the knife.

We had pre-maturely been discharged from the hospital where she had been admitted for about 2 weeks after a scare that the ward where we had been was secretly housing Covid-19 patients without the knowledge of other patients. This had been a hard week for me because I had to continue commuting between the office and hospital. So after a hectic day at work, I would run to the hospital and relieve my aunty who would have spent the whole day tending to her mother. In the night, we had to sleep under the patient’s bed because the hospital did not have the luxury to provide a bed for both the patient and the caretaker (This is a common occurrence here in Uganda). At exactly 5:30 am, you would be woken up by the cleaning team to put up everything that was on the floor so that they can clean the ward before the doctors made their ward rounds.

Sleep was a by the way during this period because half the time my grandmother would be trying to run off the bed to go God knows where. So you had to ‘sleep’ with your ears on the ground. To cut the long story short, I had a friend who worked in that particular hospital unfortunately he also succumbed to COVID-19 at the end of the last year 2020 (God bless his soul). I had met him as I went to buy some hot water from the canteen to bathe my grandmother. (Yes, hot showers in
these hospitals are an actual luxury), as we were going to enter into the ward where my grandmother lay, he held back his steps. I remember him telling me as if it were illegal in such a low tone, “Lutgard please be careful, that ward has Covid patients.” My first reaction was shock followed by anger because we had been here for almost 2 weeks and no one bothered to say a thing. I immediately picked up my phone and broke the news to my mother.

I come from a very close-knit family and by daybreak, we had gotten permission to leave the hospital and manage grandmother from home. Even though the doctor thought that this was a bad idea, at the age of 86 years, with a failing immune system, it was better for grandmother to run away from the hub of the virus before she could catch it, if she hadn’t already. That day, one would think we had five patients in the hospital, because almost all my grandmother's children and grandchildren had gathered already. She was taken to her last-born’s home and I remember saying my goodbyes to her and being very hopeful that she would recuperate well because she did not look to be in bad shape anyway.

After this disappointing phone call that morning, despite my body screaming at me after the 2 weeks hospital ordeal, we were back in the hospital, a different one and arguably a better one with my sweet grandmother in the woods. Her lungs had given up on her in the night and an ambulance had been called in time to save her life. I reached by her bedside at the emergency section when she was plugged to call kinds of machines and the beeps alone were enough to understand the battle that was ensuing. “She is now better,” a nurse told me as she was smiling probably looking at the confusion on my face.

My uncle (a priest) was somewhere in the corner praying to the Lord to spare his mother’s life. My auntie and the husband were having conversations with doctors and signing off papers, my brother trying to understand what had happened in the night from the caretaker, basically, the whole clan was in the place and it was a hive of activity. We were soon assigned a room and if it is any better, we didn’t have to sleep under the bed like in the earlier hospital. I had to keep watch of the oxygen levels and notify the nurses of anything that seemed unusual. A timetable was drawn among the clan, with the boys having to take the day shift and the girls take the night shift to care for my grandmother.

Since she could not eat, a nasogastric tube had to be fixed, and if I tell you it took a team of 3 energetic men and 2 women to get that tube down her throat you will not believe it. Each day was a better day and she grew stronger and we were sure she would make it. Remember until now we are still treating a string of ailments as before and not COVID-19 as this had not been confirmed yet. On the 3rd night in hospital, the COVID-19 results returned and our fears were realized. She was positive. These came back when I was not physically present but my mother broke the news.

This was during the 1st wave of infections here in Uganda where the stigma of
COVID-19 was still at its peak. The infections were around, some deaths had happened but it was not as ‘real’ as it is for the second wave now. The nurses who had been very nice to us until now had become nonexistent. I remember my mother whispering as she gave me the news and asking me to isolate, buy the medication which had already been sent to me via text, buy lemons, and NOT TELL ANYONE. Luckily for us, we were able to find a nursing home where the doctor agreed to treat our grandmother until she got well. How she survived I will say, is by the grace of God. To us who were exposed, I cannot say for sure that we had it or did not, but what I can say is we sure survived.

Where my grandmother contracted the COVID-19 from will forever remain a mystery but the stigma surrounding COVID-19 is way more damaging than the disease itself. The stigma is unnecessary. We are all potential victims but the good news is that we are all potential solutions.

Wash your hands, Sanitize, Cover your mouth and nose with a mask and Social Distance.

We can beat this.