By Peter Duru
Mrs. Rebecca Apedzan was Benue State’s third COVID-19 case. She is a former member of the Federal House of Representatives, the Benue State Executive Council, an advocate of women rights and Convener of the Benue Women Forum.
In this interview she shared her experiences as a coronavirus victim, how she discovered her status, treatment and survival, stigmatization and life after successful treatment. Excerpts:
FEW days ago you were released from the Benue State COVID-19 isolation and treatment centre at the FMC Apir, Makurdi after a successful treatment. Can you share that experience with us?
It all started when my younger sister who is married to a pathologist at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC came home and visited me. While we got talking she said she had tested for the virus and was negative. And because I can be so daring at times and because I don’t joke with health issues, I just told her casually that they should come and take my specimen that I also wanted to test.
So she told her husband and the following day the man didn’t come due to other engagements I insisted that he should come and take my sample for test. He came and took the sample. After that I put the entire thing behind me. I didn’t even remember that I had taken the test; the day he announced the result to me I was not at home.
They came to my house and called me on the phone and asked that I return to the house. I then got agitated, he insisted that I should come home. At that point I asked if my result was out and if I was positive from the way he was sounding. He insisted that I should get back home that he was waiting for me. I got to my house and discovered that three of them were waiting for me at the door. When I saw three of them I just concluded that I was positive.
We moved into the house and he told me that my result came in and it indicated that I was positive. And before then I had been telling my sister that if my result comes and I’m positive my children should be told before they hear in the media. But she dismissed it that I would not be positive. So when they got the result they contacted my children without my knowing.
I kept bothering about the delay in releasing the result. But they saw it and knew but did know how to tell me. So when they told me that the result was positive, I called my girl and asked her to pack my things in a bag. The doctor who came with them said, ‘just like that’ and I said what else, it should be isolation and I hope I have not spread it to all of them in the house. I have to go on isolation.
So I asked them what of my household. They promised that they would trace all of them and all my contacts, people who have been around me for two weeks. They brought a paper and I started calling the names of all the people I hand interacted with in recent times. I wrote all their names, over 37 people.
In fact the night before I had a meeting in government house, the governor was there and we were all there. So when the governor called me I said he should please tell his close aide that I could not remember all the people we all met with that night, that he should help in listing them and it was done. I didn’t know where the courage came from because I was very calm. Somehow it dawned on me that something serious was going to happen. But the only thing that gave me some kind of strength was that I believed that God would not allow me die of the virus. Then I kept saying I am not sick because from the time they took my sample till the day the result was announced to me I have not been feeling anything. So I packed my bag and I was taken to the isolation centre.
They took me in, after then everybody left me at the door of the isolation centre and I was on my own. Nobody, not even the nurses were in the room with me. During that period, one day was like three to five days to me. Somebody who had been with crowd around her, suddenly you are alone, on your own in one big hall like that, partitioned into open rooms.
Not even a noise was I hearing, just me. If food is brought for me, it is passed to the nurses at the door who kit up heavily. I could not identify any nurse that attended to me because they were all fully kitted. They gave me the food and walked away. It is not a very good experience but I thank God for the spirit He gave me to be able to stand it. You see, this thing is like, if you’re sick and fear overwhelms you, that fear alone can kill the person. I do not wish anybody to go to that place. It is not a pleasant experience.
How many days did you spend in isolation?
I spent 12 days there. On the eighth day they took my sample again so it took another three days before the result came. I was discharged after the tests that came negative. It was not a pleasant experience. The entire place was quiet because there were no other patients. There were two males down the end of the hall but we never saw each other.
I never heard anybody talking from that end. Three days to my discharge a little girl of 11 years was brought in, she was in another room though we could see each other. In fact the day I was leaving I felt so much for her because at my age I was scared.
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The place was isolated as the name implied. It is the last block at the back of the Federal Medical Centre, Apir Makurdi. I think the government has to do more to make the place comfortable because to be alone in a place without a person with is not easy. There has to be something that would take the stress off you and make you relax like television sets.
Again if you are very ill, unlike in my case I was not down and as a Nurse by profession I knew what to do to take care of myself but if you’re not knowledgeable like me there was no way you could do what I was doing. You will get worried and the nurses don’t come in frequently. Like my children got a television set for me which kept me busy. Though I went in with my radio but it was not picking signals in the place. One good thing there is that electricity supply was constant.
Were you placed on drugs and what type of drugs were you treated with?
Yes I was on drugs. I was on the normal drugs they talk about in the media. Chloroquine, vitamins, immune boosters and things like that. Those were the drugs I was taking, no other thing. I was lucky because I had no underlying ailment so there was no need for any other treatment. And throughout my stay there I didn’t even have a headache.
The only thing that can kill there is loneliness and fear. If I told you that I was not scared I would be lying but I had to be brave. This COVID thing is curable, HIV is not curable, diabetes is not curable, cancer is not curable but COVID-19 is curable. The earlier you know the better for you. I’m sure if I was down before they took me in there I wouldn’t have been out by this time. I think mine was very mild, so they told me. I didn’t manifest any symptoms at any given time apart from the time they took my sample and I came out positive, by the time I was there in these number of days it went down and the reason is that I tested early.
If I had not tested and took it for granted that nothing happened or went on self medication, slowly I would have gone down. If they had taken me there in a bad shape it would have been 50-50 chances of survival. So the best thing is that when you know you have it cooperate. Just cooperate with them. I cooperated as much as possible and did whatever the medics asked me to do. Do you know that people called me and advised that I should ask them to transfer me to Abuja but I said the place I was in was meant for human beings.
It was built for people so why would I want to be different. Moreover, here is where I am known if you take me to Abuja people do not really know me. At least here people who know me would have sympathy and give me some form of preferential treatment. So I better stay where I’m known since I did not have complications.
So my honest advise is that people should go and test. People are carrying it all over the place, people have it. Do you know that when I returned home, I heard stories that my neighbours stopped fetching water from my compound. My children would not buy anything from across the road. neighbours pulled their children away from entering my compound. That is stigma and stigma alone can kill. I don’t see any reason why there should be that stigma. So people need education on this COVID-19 because it may linger for some time until a vaccine is found maybe in another one year. If you don’t test how do you know your status. I was not sick, it was when I tested that I got to know that I had it.
One would say you were lucky to have done your test through your in-law but that cannot be said for everyone because there are no test centres here in Benue and on that basis don’t you think it would be impossible to undertake the mass testing people are agitating for?
The test is being done at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, BSUTH. If you request they will do it for you, send the sample to Abuja and after that the result will be sent back. I understand that the results come online. If you request they do. Though I lately understood that the testing kit is not quite sufficient so they also do selective kind of.
I thank God that I am out of it. We heard people protest here and there because of the lockdown imposed by government and I asked myself who is government? Government is you and I. If they say lockdown it is because of you and I. For me it is also because of my family and my immediate environment.
Have members of your household been tested?
Yes they came and tested everyone one of them and the results came negative. And after that they came and fumigated and disinfected my entire house. So we are clean and should be cautious with the way we mix with people for our own safety. In fact we are the ones that should be running away from people right now so that I don’t get infected by anybody, I have to be more careful.
The people who mingled with me did they even guess that they would have it?
As I speak with you I cannot even tell how I got it. I have been casting my mind back to know who I may have possibly got it from. I have not been travelling. I have always been here in my house but people always came visiting so I cannot even tell you I know how I got it.
I’m sure you were aware that Governor Samuel Ortom announced your name to the public after the test that confirmed your status, were you comfortable with that?
Yes of course, I was getting ready to go into isolation for treatment when he called me saying mummy I heard what happened, don’t be afraid nothing will happen to you and I’m going to announce your name. I replied and said he could go ahead. One reason why I gave the nod was because I may not remember all the people who came in contact with me. But by announcing, those that had contacted with me will know and it will help save lives. The person might not know if I hid my identity but if my name is announced everyone who had any contact with me will be compelled to come out for testing and isolation. So for me there is no big deal about it, it was done to save the lives of our friends and loved ones who I had contact with earlier.
In fact it’s because he announced my name that I was receiving calls from across the globe and people went into prayer everywhere to get me out of the challenge. The day i got to the isolation centre I was not picking calls but much later I said no I must talk to the people who were calling to show care because if I did not they could conclude that I was in a critical condition. So I started picking my calls and returned all missed calls. People heard my voice and were praying endlessly for me. It all helped me to overcome.
So would you advocate that names of victims of the virus be made public?
You see some people take things very special, I don’t know how to put it. If by not announcing my name it will endanger lives, I would rather have my name announced and save lives. But if it were anything else I would say no please. If it’s something between me and me I would say do not publicize. But this thing has to do with other people’s lives, if you keep hiding how would people know and come out for testing. Some of the contacts I gave their names were not called but by hearing that I was infected they came up for isolation and testing.
Now they are rest assured, if they didn’t test they would have been worried. So to me it means nothing. At first I was worried because I told you that I was worried for my children if they heard but they where told and most of them did not believe it. But when they realized that it was true they were all praying and encouraging me.