By Babafemi Ojudu
It took a lot of self-persuasion to decide on a trip to Ado Ekiti on December 18 to attend the funeral of my friend’s dad. Kay as we call Kayode Afolabi has been my pal since primary school. I therefore considered it an obligation to join in the traditional obsequies for his dad. His parents are like mine.
It took a friend like Kay to take me out of my home to office routine since the outbreak of the pandemic almost a year ago. I am finicky about my health. Sometimes my insistent on being healthy borders on hypochondria. I took COVID-19 seriously from the outbreak. I read up every literature I could lay my hand about the virus and other pandemics in history. In fact, one of the books, I read before I took ill was The Great Influenza by George M. Barry.
I took the test monthly. Each time I waited anxiously to be told via a text message from Dr Audiferen that simply read, “Distinguished, you are negative”. On Wednesday December 23, the text message was different. ‘Distinguished, where are you?’, the message read. ‘Home’ , I replied.
“Stay there and await further instructions. You have tested positive to COVID’.
It was like a sledgehammer struck my head. I felt numb. Further instructions later tumbled out of his mouth like a military instructor on a drill. “Don’t come to work from now. Make sure you have no contact with anyone. Will send you your medications and keep me briefed of developments, “he added.
My journey to COVID-hell started on January 18. The day before, my driver and aide left for Ekiti so they can pick me up at the airport following day because I had a lot of work that needed urgent attention. The next morning, I took a cab to the airport to catch an 11.00 am Overland Airline flight to Akure where my driver will pick me up and drive up to Ado Ekiti.
But the flight didn’t leave until 5.45pm, keeping me in the airport for over seven hours. It was the holiday period and a weekend with Nigerians flying in from all over the world into Abuja airport from where they boarded local flights to their respective destinations. The airport was jammed. A super- duper spreader it promised to be. The day after, I left home with my nose mask securely strapped across my face and a bottle of sanitizer in my pocket. I went to the funeral to honor my friend. As a public official, I mingled – greeting people and sanitizing my hand right away. I was so busy socializing I didn’t even eat or drink.
Then, people started coming to take photographs and selfies with me. A public servant has no hiding place in Nigeria. You must oblige your constituents. I obliged the people by taking off my mask for some of the pictures. I was at the party for less than sixty minutes. But I was never at ease. This was a party that didn’t feel right. I had come to honor my friend, but I didn’t walk into a friendly air.
A few days before, I was warned, by a source, that some political opponents and foes were planning to harm me at the party. A relation called my wife from London to inform her of the intelligence she picked up from a close friend in Ekiti. As a compulsive political hornet nest stirrer, I get these kinds of warning often. I don’t want rumors to imprison me. So, I often dismiss them but take security precautions.
True to the information provided, by my informant, I witnessed a few strange things there. A story for another day. I returned to Abuja on Monday after another long delay at the airport by the Overland Airlines flight. Two days later, I started feeling uncomfortable. My body didn’t feel right. Dr Audiferren quickly arranged a test. Gbam! The jarring news came. Between the airports, the flights and the party, the virus found its way into my body.
And so, began my days and nights of nightmare. My wife and children had left for Lagos for the Christmas holiday. I was to join them on 23rd. Now, I was home alone with COVID! Ade Ipaye offered a special facility at National Hospital, I declined. Wracking headache, insomnia, loneliness, restlessness, hallucinations, lack of appetite, sore mouth and throat, difficulty breathing, aches and pains in my joints became my lot as I ingested the prescribed drugs. Late into the night on the third day of my diagnosis, I got a call out of the blues from Prof Adesuyi Leslie Ajayi, my cousin who is a USA-based professor of medicine.
“Hello, dear brother. It’s been a while. Hope you are fine. I managed to conclude my research on the COVID medication”, he announced. “Prof, I am not fine O”, I moaned. “ I am down with COVID.” He inquired about the medications I was taking. I told him. I also read out a litany of the traditional ‘remedies’ such as ginger, Tumeric, lemon etc. ‘
Drop those, he advised. Not long after he sent me a prescription. The moment I received my positive diagnosis I handed over my debit card to my aide and hoped I would see him at the end of this nightmare. I sent him a text message to get me the prescribed medications. Two hours after taking the medications, I felt some relief.
‘Covid you are defeated”, I said to myself. I decided to eat a slice of bread. After a bite, I was wracked by a bout of hiccup. I was shivering like I was in an earthquake. My breathing was labored. I could not sleep.
My doctors sent laboratory technologists to collect my samples. They reviewed my condition. Prof Ajayi sent prescriptions. Prof Ajayi insisted tests should be conducted on my liver, kidney and lungs. Audiferren and Ebuka examined the result of the samples and concluded there was no cause for alarm. There was no how the virus could have damaged some vital organs or even penetrate into my brain.
Their prescription for persistent hiccup tallied. It was a drug meant for a scary ailment. I was a bit jittery but held on to hope. Because I couldn’t sleep nor read or rest, I took solace in social media. When you’re alone, isolated and in a battle with an unseen enemy, hope is your best medication. I researched my symptoms, tried almost thirty home remedies for hiccup. The prescribed drug worked only for a few hours. Then came the heartburns, hot as hell fire. I said goodbye to food and beverages.
Prof Ajayi forwarded to me outcome of medical research on hiccups as a new symptom of COVID. “The virus is mutating, and new symptoms are emerging”, he said. Prof Ajayi is a Nigerian we should all be proud of. He is the son of my great uncle, Chief Alex Olu Ajayi, the Odoba of Ado Ekiti. I grew up hearing tales of his academic prowess at the University of Ife. In May 2020, Prof Ajayi got in touch with me about his research on the efficacy of a particular medicine in the treatment of COVID. Ajayi said he is collaborating with some Medical researchers at home on mass testing in Nigeria.
“They will need funding, could you help get them funds within the system?”, he requested. I will try”, I told him. I immediately reached out to the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. He was enthusiastic. I linked both parties. They exchanged communications and a budget was prepared. Several Zoom meetings later, the VP worked his phones and made contacts with everyone with access to funds.
Letters were written and appeals made. Then silence. Nothing happened. In the usual way of our officialdom and private sector/corporate do gooders, they’d rather award contracts for isolation centers, buy rice and spaghetti and pay for adverts on CNN. The researchers got frustrated, thanked the VP for his efforts, expressed their understanding for his limitations and moved on.
They looked for alternative means of funding, did peer review and published their findings. It was the outcome of their effort that saved my life. A big thank you to Profs Ajayi, Femi Babalola and their team. My appreciation to Drs Audiferen, Adelowo and Ebuka and their colleagues in the State House Clinic. Prof Barbara Iyen- Omafoman another friend and Professor of Medicine based in UK was fantastic. She monitored my condition all through, sometime prescribing sleeping mode which is known in medical circles as ‘prone positioning in adult critical care’. With this she said, the danger of death from lack of oxygen while sleeping is reduced. Family, true friends, at home and abroad kept vigil with me and made suggestions. My wife and children panic gripped returned from Lagos and took abode in an Abuja hotel, monitoring me via phone.
The few colleagues who got the hint were fantastic. Hajia Maryam Uwais, herself a survivor, sent crystals for steaming and exotic teas ‘to awaken your senses’. Lara Owoeye Wise, my colleague in The News one night sent a message to inform me of her COVID condition and frustrations with the symptoms. She didn’t know we were both in the same storm. She got well before me and has been very supportive. Many others got in touch. My anguish unknown to them. They could not buy COVID medications or pay for test. I kept sending messages to Ahmed Lawal to transfer from the little I had in my account.
My appreciation to my aides Ahmed and Clement Adewuya for their loyalty and care. Same goes for my younger friends Foluso Ojo, Olatunji David, Mike Oluwagbemi, my Los Angeles, Hollywood film maker friend Ose Oyamedan. My fellow guerrilla journalist Kunle Ajibade kept reassuring me. My most valued auntie Mrs Dupe Oladimeji and husband were very supportive.
Thank you Kabiyesi, the Ewi of Ado Ekiti. Your messages and prayers were tonic. And to Chief Sola Olarewaju and my numerous young supporters and friends who were worried stiff when they called, and my voice was stunted and barely audible I am eternally grateful. Ade Ipaye, the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President remain a wonderful brother. You kept my mood lightened with your infectious humor. E se pupo.
COVID got me but God and science brought me back. My friends and family made sure I may be isolated but I wasn’t alone. The doctors performed miracles.
Twice within three years I knocked at the gate of death. In 2009 it was helicopter crash I survived from. These are pointers that I still have more years in Mother Earth and appreciation to my creator. I am therefore rededicating myself to serving humanity. I was lucky, many others were not, as I was daily confronted with stories of the dead both known and unknown to me. My prayer for our people who still believe COVID does not exist is, may you never be admitted into COVIDOM.
If you don’t even care about your life, care about your neighbor’s and family. Stay away from large gatherings. Postpone that wedding or funeral. What, for God’s sake, is the value of all these parties we waste time and money on? What point are we trying to prove?
The great John Jerry Rawlings of Ghana died two weeks after the funeral party of his mum. A Nigerian army general died too shortly after his mother’s funeral. Several colleagues got infected who attended a conference with him shortly before his death. Such ceremonies are super spreaders. These were men whose talents and genius are still needed here.
I have just read about an accomplished Texas based surgeon who visited home for Christmas, hosted a party and returned to base to die. Brides, grooms and relatives have died shortly after parties. I learnt of four professors who attended a wedding in Lagos. Two are dead and the others are still in intensive care.
Be reasonable, don’t endanger your life and that of others. Wear your mask, wash and watch your hands, keep a reasonable distance, stay alive and healthy, submit yourself for vaccine when available. The road ahead is rough, let’s have truly happy New Year by taking the utmost care. COVID IS REAL!