I didn’t plan to be a nurse. It is a fact I never shy away from. In fact, my mother had earlier in life written me off in any medical course. I had been an angry, impatient and particularly rebellious little girl.
Mother dear couldn’t wrap her head around my lack of manners. She kept moaning in tired resignation, ” you’ll never be a nurse or a doctor. Because if a patient presents with a headache you’ll inject medicine into their heads.”
Years later I’d discover that she wanted to be a nurse herself so I’m here living her best life. Parents!
This noble profession prepared me for several things in life. It especially taught me to be flexible and accommodating. It is gloriously refreshing when I can swap my shifts with a colleague and get an extra day off. I did exactly that on that fateful Wednesday the 13th of May 2020.
As I stepped from my apartment, the late spring freshness wafted into my nostrils like fresh roses. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and held it in for a precious few seconds smiling to myself. Gingerly, I made my way across the road and onto a lean concrete pavement that wound itself across the sleeping Dalry Cemetery in Edinburgh city heading off to my workplace.
Instinctively, I stopped near a once white tombstone and gazed towards an imposing Scottish spire. Its gothic stained glassy top shone in a beautiful spectre of a million dazzling rainbow lights behind the burning golden ball of the morning sunrise. In childlike wonderment my eyes glistened as iridiscent rays stretched over this tombstone. Whoever lay here must be a happy soul. He attracts the morning sky.
I shook myself from this unending, stupefying reverie and reminded myself that at this rate, I was going to be late for work. Determinedly, I trudged forward and a sense of foreboding suddenly gripped my heart. Just as fast, it left me. Momentarily, this got me very puzzled. Perhaps it was because everyone else is fighting Covid-19 one way or the other. Perhaps because like many other frontline workers, I am very nervous.
I consoled myself knowing that we didn’t have any Covid-19 positive case at the care home I worked in.
I spent the day with two health care assistants who are wonderful at what they do. For the period I’ve worked in care homes, I have enjoyed the magic of team spirit. Being a team leader during a crisis needs you to believe in your team. To have an outsized sense of possibility whipped together with a diminished capability for pessimism. We had to pull through our 12 hour shift.
But even the best laid plans go haywire, don’t they?
I had a day off on Thursday and Friday, I was meant to go back to work on the weekend. I woke up feeling lethargic on Thursday morning. Through my Covid-19 eyes, this is my zero day.
After the shower, my neck itched. Either I’m suddenly allergic to my shower gel or something is wrong with my towel. I decide the towel is guilty without letting it have its side of the story. I popped it immediately into the dirty linen basket. I would get to it later. I do not know why my throat is so dry. My lips are cracking and the Vaseline lip moisturizer isn’t helping. I think I’m coming down with a sore throat. I can’t stop clearing my throat.
It is my hair wash day. Oh I love washing my kinky curls. I have a certain unhealthy obsession with washing my hair. I relish the scent of my deep conditioning cream. I savor with orgasmic delight the different fumes of the flowers and oils that make up the natural hair moisturizer. Just that today I can’t smell it. It surely isn’t expired? I check again. Expiry date is sometimes in 2022. That’s odd. I tell myself. I can’t stop clearing my throat either. And is it me or is this place getting hot by the minute?
My appetite is almost non existent. It is now 1307 hours BST (1507hrs EAT). I have not had anything to eat. I make a cheese omelette and it miraculously has no smell. I am at peace with that because I like eggs just not how they smell. However, they are tasteless! Whatever games my body is playing on me they have to stop. My neck continues to itch. I apply some antihistamine cream and make a mental note to pass by Lidl to buy some skin-friendly detergents.
By 1900hours the itch is gone. The constant clearing of my parched throat has been replaced by a deep hacking cough. I feel cold alternating with hotness of body. It is officially a ping pong. Hot cold. Hot. Cold. Cold. Hot. I have this aura of darkness around me.
I wake up at 2.30 am covered in buckets of disturbingly drab sweat. I do not sweat easily. My Zumba instructor, before the Covid-19 pandemic, kept pushing me harder than everyone else because he thought I was not giving it my all. I did. I always do. My sweat glands are just too fussy and they play hard to get. You can’t easily excite them. Until tonight.
Perhaps it is because of the dream I’ve just had. In this dream I’m strapped onto a ventilator and I keep trying to ask the attending nurse to let me see my heart’s rhythm on the cardiac monitor. The nurse is busy splitting tubes to use on the next patient. Come on, I silently pray, I need to see that rhythm. I am not very good with cardiology so I want to ask my Critical Care Nurse instructor ( mentor) what in the world that rhythm is. But the nurse is very busy and I wake up.
There are smouldering embers in my throat and someone is intentionally fanning them to life. I suddenly cough again and this time it hurts like broken promises. I go to the kitchen and get some warm water from my mini flask. It soothes the throat albeit temporarily.
I had to change pillows because the one I laid my hot head on was drenched in sweat. I love pillows. My bed has six pillows at any given time. Yes I need to hold something (until someone shows up) as I sleep come beat me. Some girls have boyfriends and husbands or partners. I have pillows.
I am working today. I head to the carehome with heart in my hand. Even the sun seems to have left my skies. It is ominously sulky. I don’t care how much workload I have today. All I know is I’m tired and my legs feel like pins and needles. From the calf muscles to the soles of my feet it feels like some fire ants are having a post lockdown party. I try stretching and running as I go to work but I’m as uninspired as a politician after elections.
Just after washing my hands, on my way to my locker to get changed, the manager summons me to the office. She stands two metres away and tells me one of the residents had turned Covid-19 positive. This is the resident I had been worried about (she had read my documentation and reports and everything a nurse should write in case of concerns) on Wednesday.
Residents refer to the people being cared for in a care home. I am saying this for the sake of Dr.Mary, my close friend who thinks a resident is a doctor undergoing his or her residency program in a hospital. It is a homonym Doc. Tembea dunia Mary, tembea ha ha.
I immediately tell Nurse manager R what I’ve been feeling. She makes the right call and tells me to go back home, self-isolate and phone NHS 24. Now, fellow Kenyans, NHS 24 is a phone service for the national health service of United Kingdom. You get to consult a doctor on phone and you may be advised to go to the hospital or something like that.
It took about 5minutes for the doctor to get back to me. I explained my symptoms and she dropped the bombshell unapologetically. “All your symptoms are suggestive of Covid-19 infection especially now that you’ve been caring for someone who has turned positive.” She goes ahead to outline things I should do including a test to confirm but I’m not listening. Suddenly I can’t breathe through my nose because it feels congested. She keeps asking if I’m there . I am there. Just not there.
I didn’t handle it well. I didn’t handle it well at all. It feels like scratching your brain through the nose. It feels like being forced to gag on your tongue. When they trained me how to collect the swab for Covid-19, they didn’t mention it would make me squeamish too.
There is a beautiful aspect nonetheless. We have a Drive thru testing centre. It is for key workers and healthcare professionals exposed to Covid-19 in need of testing. You get swabbed while in the taxi. The Council (government) organises for your transport from your house and back. Therefore swabs are taken whilst in the car.
But Satan had other plans. The taxi never showed up in my case. They only offered half-hearted apologies an hour after I had already undergone the test! I booked my own Uber and was careful to stay masked and come straight to the house after the test.
I keep praying that I didn’t expose the two Uber drivers I used that day. I didn’t even know where the test centre was. I got lost and kept circling it until a kind missus directed me. Story for another day.
Self isolation ongoing. I feel very tired. My joints ache including these tiny finger joints. The pins and needles feeling intensify on my legs. I was too tired to exercise. I slept for ages. I struggle to breathe through my nose. It is blocked. My brain automatically wants me to use my mouth. However I know if I do so I may never get better.
I keep saying to myself: the nose is for breathing and the mouth is for talking. This is the mantra that saves me. I repeated it the entire duration of my isolation. I wasn’t having this virus change things.
I know I have Covid-19 even if the results are not yet out. This is no normal flu or cold. I confide in Dr.Mary. She tells me I’m overthinking though I know she is playing safe. On one hand she is my friend and her unwritten job description is to make me feel sweet in this unforgiving world. On the other hand, she is a paediatrician and she knows better. Gotcha Mary make up your mind! Doctor or friend? Haha
I also confide in another friend who’s like a big brother. He prays for me and tells me to stop imagining things. I guess friends generally don’t want to help us in our journeys of overthinking. They just want us to be calm and see the best in everything.
However, these two friends were wrong and I think they knew it. They just didn’t want to confront their fears. After all, they hadn’t met anyone close to them who’s Covid-19 positive. They sure didn’t want pretty lil Cate to be the first one! But I have done them the honors.
I still teach Hypertension on Facebook. I pretend all is well. I can’t allow this to stop me from writing. Honestly if there is one thing God gave me as a gift, not only to the world but to myself, is writing. Writing keeps me from going nuts. Writing helps me go nuts safely. Writing saves me from myself. Writing calms down the voices that would otherwise be too loud inside me. Informative writing aimed at sharing knowledge is borderline orgasmic to me.
I didn’t handle it well either. I posted on Facebook right when most of my Kenyan friends were rubbishing the Ministry of Health’s daily briefings. They said and I quote, “I’m yet to see or hear of anyone who’s Covid-19 positive. Kwani where is the government getting all these numbers from?”
I posted that to, one, make people know Covid-19 is not an imagination and two, help myself process it.
I had to pull it down. The curiosity was from outer space. The ignorance in how people handled it too much for me to bear. More than the toll the virus has on everyone, the fear and stigma and generalized doom will be the end of us.
I remember listening to Chris Cuomo (CNN Prime time News Anchor and brother to New York City Governor Andrew Cuomo) when he had the virus.
He had intimated that the virus wants you to sleep and lie down for it to thrive. So he had to move and work out no matter how he felt. He had to do deep breathing exercises no matter the resistance in the airways. I decided to be Chris Cuomo. Just the female version. Without the money and definitely without the experience.
I ChrisCuomod my body. I even managed to do push ups. Two and a half and now I want an Olympic medal. Or a Head of State Commendation or a Medal of Honor, come on folks, get me a medal will you? The fact that the second one is done while I’m half alive doesn’t count. The baseline is that it gets done and I manage the remaining half by collasping on this old grey carpet that needs vacuuming asap. I danced Zumba. I also tried jumping jacks. Youtube became my darling. Thank God for accessible and affordable internet in the UK.
You should have seen me arms raised high above my head, neck straight like an experienced swan; balancing on the balls of my feet as I deeply breathed in and out. In then out. Then cough like the world was coming to an end. Cough some more. Consistency is the key here, so I coughed my lungs out.
I’ve done more series of exercises in my period of isolation than I’d ever done before. This was purposeful. The possibility of deterioration and death were lingering at the back of my mind. More ChrisCuomo to me yay!
I had lengthy talks with the virus. I reminded it that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that it can’t accommodate both light and darkness– my body, not the virus Karen. So I gave it an ultimatum. I told it to push me down for the period I am in isolation because that’s all it had. It responded by giving me more rigors. I shook like a twig in the wind. I was as hot as I was cold.
It sent me a memo in the form of blinding headaches, constipation with zero appetite. It fired off messages in the shape of deeper and more frequent bouts of continuous cough. It sent me to my knees with crushing joint pains. Everything that can hurt hurt.
The virus cackled maniacally and intensified pain in my throat. My nose suddenly had a river of life that never ran dry. My disposable tissues had nothing on it. I wrote ‘more tissues’ as what I needed most when manager R asked me for a shopping list. She brought boxes upon boxes of them. These babies should last me till eternity. Hehehe. The virus was deciding how I lived my life.
I had moments of extreme sadness. I wanted my mother. I also wanted to sleep and be told I’m going to be alright. I hated being alone in a foreign country. I wanted my neighbors. Why am I single? I wondered. I felt ugly. I hated my dry lips. I wanted people to talk to me but I also didn’t want to talk. The mental torment of this monster is beyond description.
I was grateful albeit begrudgingly to be single and live alone. I didn’t think I’d handle the thought of exposing other people. Glad I was to be away from my mum and dad who I’d expose to this virus. Happy my siblings were away from me.
I missed the sun. As if on cue, it dutifully rose every morning before half past five. It peeped through my bedroom window, mocking my sadness. I opened the curtains to allow it in. I badly needed to see the sun, my flaming ball of orange every spring morning. I wanted to gaze at the feathery blue skies. I wanted to see other people.
I used paracetamol 6-8hourly because of the fever and rigors as advised. I also bought a mouthwash which I used to gargle and this greatly eased the pain and discomfort in my throat.
I had to rehydrate too. I downed numberless gallons of lemon,ginger and honey concoction. Being a renal nurse only complicated matters for me. I started a fluid balance chart for myself. Stop laughing…I recorded my input and output. I watched the color of my pee and panicked one morning when it was deeply saturated. The only thing I lacked was a urine measuring jug. Okay, now I am laughing.
Today, I watched the rising sun again. I paused again at the same spot –that tombstone. There was no foreboding. Just a deep gratitude that the sun has kept shining.
Tantalisingly, it curled beneath the rustling birch trees casting shadows so replescendent and gratifying that my heart melted. I almost touched it. The magic after a mirthful winter, the sweet smelling flowers along this path that permeates the air with warmth like that of a hug from a dear friend.