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Ishta Atukunda: My Harrowing COVID-19 Experience 

By Ishta Atukunda 

Dedication: Were it not for God, the master healer and physician, this story might have turned out different. And were it not for Florence Tamale, the courageous, it is highly unlikely most of you would hear it. 

Friday 16 October, 2020

My sister told me she had been feeling feverish and body weakness during the week, but that it only lasted a few days and she was now more or less fine.

We didn’t think too much of it, thinking maybe it was some sort of infection, and proceeded to share a plate of food at a gathering that evening.

Big mistake! Had we been thinking that we are in the middle of a pandemic, we would not have taken her symptoms so lightly and I definitely would not have shared food with her. I believe this is the day I got infected – or infection day (ID).

Sunday 18 October, 2020 (ID +1)

I woke up with congestion in my nose, but no mucus, just stuffy like the cells in there were inflamed. Since I was breathing normally though the nose, I figured the congestion could be because I had been sleeping on the floor. My sister casually mentions that she can’t smell anything.

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We briefly wonder whether that isn’t a sign of Covid19, but brush it off because she’s not coughing nor sneezing and her temperature is normal. In this error of remote working though, we were upcountry so the isolating from people happened naturally since there’s really nowhere to go in our village.

Monday 19 October, 2020 (ID +2)

My entire body is aching, all through the veins – not the bones and/or joints the way fever normally feels. I don’t have a high temperature. I take two ibuprofen, extra strength, and feel normal enough to have a normal day. My body is slow and weak though. I can hardly walk up an incline without getting winded/ stopping to catch my breath. My nose still feels stuffy, but I don’t have flue (mucus) nor cough, neither have I sneezed even once. At night I take some propolis in hot water since it’s supposed to be good for infections, both viral and bacterial.

​Tuesday 20 October, 2020 (ID +3)

Body aches and general weakness persist, I take more ibuprofen and the pain subsides so I don’t think much about it. The weakness has slowed me down though. I can feel myself walking and moving slower.

I develop a cough, which sounds dry and is the itchy kind (not wet cough or “rockets”). I still think this must be some sort of infection.

My sister (Patient 0) tells me her symptoms developed exactly the same way – body aches and weakness for a few days, then a dry itchy cough which is not too persistent, then finally loss of smell. We agree I must have contracted whatever “infection” she had.

At this point we still think covid19 is supposed to feel like flu (mucus dripping out the nose, sneezing, wet cough or that cough you feel in the lungs and not so much in the throat) so we doubt it’s covid. I’m now taking propolis twice daily.

 Wednesday 21 October, 2020 (ID +4)

No body aches, I don’t need painkillers for the first time all week. General body weakness persists though. I’m still walking and moving slower. I end up taking a nap in the middle of the day, which is rare for me. I can feel my blood flowing slowly through my veins.

I mention to someone that I know what the elderly mean when they say their blood moves slowly. Even when I get pins and needles from sitting in one place for too long, it takes much longer than usual for the sensation to clear so I’m convinced my blood flow is slower.

I’m still coughing a bit, but sporadically and not enough to even make me think I need a cough syrup. I still think this must be a bacterial/ viral infection which my body is fighting because none of these symptoms are normally associated with what we consider to be flu. I continue with the propolis tincture.

22-23 October, 2020

Cough disappeared after only two days. I still feel weak and feel the need to sleep during the day. I figure my body must have fought “the infection” and is now in recovery. My nose still feels congested and even tickly inside, but there is still no mucus. My sister is all better, so I figure I will be too in a few days. I’m taking vitamin C, and propolis on a daily basis.

Saturday 24 October, 2020 (ID+5)

I lose my sense of smell. I have never had a flu or cold which caused this. I start thinking how since smelling is something the brain does, even if the sinus cavity is inflamed and I sound like I have flu, it is strange to not be able to smell. I decide to go to the Bank clinic on Monday and find out if maybe this is the Covid19 everybody has been talking about. We drive back to Kampala.

Sunday 25 October, 2020 (ID +6)

I can’t taste anything, on top of losing my sense of smell. All I have left is the texture of food. My mother calls me, she has an itchy cough and feels body aches all over, like I had while upcountry.

As much I was able to isolate from non-family members during that time, I had come in close contact with her quite often. Again, it’s because I thought it was an infection, moreover one I had picked by practically sharing saliva with someone. I advise her to get tested for Covid19 immediately and to isolate from other people in the house until she’s sure of her status.

Monday 26 October, 2020 (ID+7)

I visit the Bank clinic, where I am promptly isolated once I describe my symptoms to Dr. Makanga. They give me a note to get tested, and the test is positive. I’m prescribed antibiotics, cough syrup and vitamin C. The antibiotic is quite strong, and makes me feel nausea.

I explained to the doctor that the medicine is the one making me feel sick, and I’d rather not take it. He gives me his permission.

I give it to my mother because I’m now more worried about her given the age factor. The rest of my household and all the family members we were with upcountry test negative though, thank God.

Treatment after Testing Positive

– Continued taking vitamin C and zinc daily

– Continued drinking 12-15 drops of propolis tincture in 1/4 cup of hot water twice daily

– Stayed hydrated by drinking normal room temperature water (like 3litres daily)​

– Made an effort to remain positive and grateful to God, because I had guilt and anxiety about having exposed my mother to this disease (side note: I have since confirmed from medical literature that feelings of confusion, depression and anxiety are actually symptoms of covid19)

4 November, 2020 (ID +8)

​My follow-up test is negative. I thank God, and continue to check on my mother who also tested positive shortly after I did. She is taking vitamins C, D and zinc, as well as all the herbal concoctions both traditionally known for treating colds and fevers (like mango tree bark and other herbs) plus those found online. She is also steaming some of these herbs twice daily, and self-isolating.

Conclusion

My mother eventually tested negative. And no one else in my family has tested positive since. We take nothing for granted, but just thank God because many have had it much worse.

Lessons Learned

​- We are actually still in a pandemic, and that means we can’t live life as normal. When the things we consider part of normal life became accessible again, like restaurants, salons, large gatherings (weddings, church services), there’s a way some of us assumed the risk had somehow lessened.

But if anything it has heightened. And of course no one is used to sitting in a public gathering with a mask on, so it definitely takes effort on everyone’s part to be careful and remember to avoid close personal contact with others.

In general though, my family and I have opted out of large gatherings since our experience. Better safe, as the saying goes…

– The symptoms we have mostly heard about being associated with covid19 are flu-like; coughing, sneezing, runny nose, headache.

But I guess everyone’s experience will differ so you might not get a runny nose or a sneeze. Even if you think you have some sort of infection, isolating from others and contacting a Doctor is a good idea.

Frankly, the illness I experienced was not isolated to the upper respiratory system (lungs, chest, nose, and throat) and was nothing like flu. I had symptoms all over the body. And the medical literature supports this – covid19 affects every organ.

– One important organ that covid19 affects which we don’t hear much about is the brain. From the patients I have had a chance to talk to about their experience, 100% of them experienced a heightened level of depression and/or anxiety.

This is normal. It’s important not to let this disease pull us all into despair though. Among us there are those that are bereaved, nursing loved ones or infected themselves. There is a degree of fear, sadness or panic that everyone is dealing with. Staying positive, prayerful and hopeful is therefore extremely important for everyone.

The attached pamphlet has some guidelines on how to manage mild illness at home, including how to do the breathing exercises. I hope the information in there, and in this story, helps.

Last but certainly not least, thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone that checked on me and reached out when you heard I was ill.

It meant a lot to me, and I was touched by your care. God bless and may He continue to heal and keep us all safe!

The author is a staff of Bank of Uganda

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