Lockdown Diary: The Sickle-Cell Patient Who Had A COVID-19 Scare In Kano

May 24, 2020

Lockdown Diary is a limited Zikoko series that highlights the lives and experiences of Nigerians (and Africans) currently self-isolating due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The subject of this week’s Lockdown Diary is a sickle cell patient who is a student of Unilorin. He talks about having a Covid-19 scare — complete with all symptoms of the disease — after returning home to his family house in Kano and losing four people.

Monday, 23rd of March, 2020

My brother and I are at the bus park. We just left Unilorin where we are students and are waiting for a bus to take us back home to Kano. The park is surprisingly calm; with the way everyone has been talking about COVID-19, I would have thought there would be a larger crowd. Or maybe there are just not enough people going to Kano. The space for buses going to Lagos is a madhouse. Everyone seems to be going to Lagos. There are a lot of foodstuff though. More foodstuff than people, even. The fare to Kano is now N7,500. Usually, it is N5,000 or N6,000 depending on demand and fuel scarcity. Perhaps the pandemic is the cause for this increase.

The passengers in the bus stare at me and my brother strangely. There is something like mockery in the way they look at us. I know it is because of our face masks. They probably think we are ‘ajebutters’ or simply trying to form. Thankfully, we sit at the front with the driver who also wears a face mask to protect himself from the dust.

It is a long ride. We should have gone to Abuja instead, but the roads are closed. The week before we decide to travel, my Dad called us to come to Abuja where he lives, but I was still working on my project so I held back. He did not understand this, and so after the closure of schools was officially announced and we called him for money to come home, he refused. Perhaps he wanted to teach us a lesson. When he eventually agreed, the roads were closed so we knew Kano — where our mother lives — would be the destination.

During this trip, I think about all the things that are likely to change due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I am a Law student in my final year. I am currently working on my final year project. Five years is a long time to spend in the university; what are the prospects of additional time?

It is almost 12 AM when we arrive Kano. My mother and sister welcome us and offer us sanitizer and food. There is little to say; they are sleepy already. I stay up to watch TV.

Tuesday, 24th of March, 2020

Today, we catch up on the all the gist we couldn’t talk about yesterday. There are no cases of the virus in Kano yet, so everything looks good. After breakfast, my mother leaves for work. She is an administrator in the Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries (MFM) headquarters in Kano. My father is a pastor in the same church in Abuja. He used to live in Kano, but was transferred to Abuja in 2014.

After she leaves for work, I watch TV, write a little, check my class WhatsApp group for updates. There’s nothing out of the ordinary and I hope it remains like that.

Tuesday, 7th of April, 2020

Kano records its seventh case today. The first case was recorded on the 3rd of April. An ambassador or something. It didn’t really hit then. It’s only just hitting now at case number seven. I’m not alone in feeling this way. A lot of people do. Everyone begins to say, in Hausa, “Tor. Kano finally has it.” It is a tone full of realisation and resignation.

It is funny because a few days back, there was a video circulating of a guy washing his hands a basin and then drinking the water while saying there was no virus.

The government takes the lockdown seriously. Churches are declared closed, and videos of soldiers flogging people who break the lockdown start to circulate. We have no choice but to adhere strictly. Soon, the roads are empty. On our street, people talk over balconies and boys play football on the empty roads. People bring out game pads and HDMI cables and board games. There is a new sense of community.

Monday, 13th of April, 2020

The heat in Kano is a respecter of nobody. It burns through everything; you just have to find ways to protect yourself and cope with it. My coping mechanisms are simple: I drink a lot of cold water, take cold showers and sleep under the fan. All these are things I’d ordinarily not do. And soon, my body fights back.

It began yesterday with a mild pain in my chest. I am on my home from the fuel station when I notice it. I dismiss it as nothing. Soon, I start coughing and sneezing. Then come the headaches come with full force. It feels like my head is being split in two.

I have the sickle-cell disease. When these things start, I am a bit confused, because I take my medication religiously. My mother makes sure of that. When I’m ill, she’s usually all over me with Lucozade boost, food, blankets, etc.

This time, it is different. She does not come near me. Nobody in the family comes near. They all put on masks before coming into my room. Every hour, my mother wipes down the furniture of the bed. I know that they are scared. From where I lie, I hear them debate on whether I have the virus or not, and whether they should call NCDC for the test. My mother decides to hold it off for three days.

I understand and support their decision, but it does not stop me from feeling low. Nobody can give you the care a sick person needs. Everyone avoids you like a plague. It is depressing. I start to imagine what might happen if I am taken away, no family or friends. Or if I die. If my own family can do this while I’m sick, then nothing is impossible. I know then that it will be lonely, and this makes me feel even sadder than I was before.

Thursday, 16th of April, 2020

My miracle arrives today. My illness is gone, and my mother no longer has a reason to phone the NCDC. The relief is visible on everyone’s faces.

“You need to rest,” my mother says to me each time I attempt to do a chore. She asks frequently, too frequently even, if I have taken my drugs. I tell her that I have.

Later, my brother and sister tell me that they prayed it was something different, anything apart from the virus.

The recovery doesn’t take away my feeling of depression. It stays with me. I want some alone time, but the way things are wired in our house, such a thing does not seem possible. Everyone wants you to do this with them or do that for them. At night, generator sounds come on and noise fills the air. It doesn’t feel helpful at all.

Wednesday, 22nd of April, 2020

Today, I call my supervisor. He doesn’t even waste time. “We are on strike. Leave my phone, my friend.” I do as he commands. I am notified that an essay I wrote for a club in school came third and I got a prize. A win.

We are all dealing with the lockdown in our own little ways. My brother prays a lot more. My sister’s secondary school arranged for online classes, so she’s manning her own angle. My mother is the one who is hit the hardest. She watches movie after movie – so many movies I lose count. For the first time, I consider that she might have OCD. There’s no way to explain why she keeps folding and refolding one piece of clothing 8 times.

I worry about her. Three people she knows have died recently. Diabetes, stroke, and one sickness. I wonder if the movies are her way of coping.

The man who died of diabetes was a church member who was close to her. The call came about 4 days into the lockdown. After the news was broken to her, she was told that they could not take the body home to Anambra for burial. Eventually, they smuggled it in a goods truck.

The second person is a distant acquaintance of hers too. After she received the call, the only thing she said was, “People are dying o.”

The third was a man too. Another acquaintance. She just sat with us that day and said nothing, she simply watched us. It seemed to me like she was considering that she too was getting old and could soon join these people.

And I understand how she feels: In the second week of the lockdown, a neighbour’s dead body was carried out of the house. It was around 2AM in the midnight. He was a Muslim. We heard a call to prayer or something, and because no mosque has done a call to prayer in quite a while, we found it strange. A few minutes later, they brought someone wrapped in white sheet out. His wife was crying. His children looked stunned. Wide-eyed and sleepy. They put him in a car that drove him away. For days after, we thought it was the virus, and so everyone was extra careful.

The body bounces back after grief, I think. It is how we are wired. How much of that grief we are able to get out of our system is what I cannot quantify.

I take a walk today. I’ve started taking long walks and doing a lot of writing. I am learning Spanish on Duolingo and working on my project. All these activities give me a sense of fulfillment. Slowly, my depression eases.

Sunday, 26th of April, 2020

Today, I feel a lot of uncertainty. More uncertainty than fear. I hate being uncertain. We were supposed to be four weeks away from our final exams, we were supposed to be submitting our project, but now there is no feasible plan in place. Worse is that money is dwindling. My mother doesn’t want to say it, but I feel it.

For a lot of people here, life goes on no matter what we have passed through. The traders here are a proof of that. They have turned the front of our house to a market because they are not allowed to sell in the actual market. Adjustment without considering if it might be inconvenient for the other person. But what can one do?

In all, anything is better than the fear which was what I felt at first. I was deathly afraid. Right now though, nobody knows anything anymore, so we all turn to hope. And hope is such a powerful thing, so powerful for something that’s illogical. But I guess it’s all some people have.

Check back every Sunday by 1 pm for new stories in the Lockdown Diary column. If you have an experience to share and would like to appear on this series, kindly reach out to me: kunle@bigcabal.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Kunle Ologunro

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