Dr. Ada Igonoh: How Patrick Sawyer gave me Ebola… and how I survived
I kept encouraging myself. This could not be the end for me. Five days after I was admitted, the vomiting stopped. A day after that, the diarrhoea ceased. I was overwhelmed with joy. It happened at a time I thought I could no longer stand the ORS. Drinking that fluid had stretched my endurance greatly.
I knew countless numbers of people were praying for me. Prayer meetings were being held on my behalf. My family was praying day and night. Text messages of prayers flooded my phones from family members and friends. I was encouraged to press on. With the encouragement I was receiving, I began to encourage the others in the ward. We decided to speak life and focus on the positive. I then graduated from drinking only the ORS fluid to eating only bananas, to drinking pap and then bland foods. Just when I thought I had the victory, I suddenly developed a severe fever. The initial fever had subsided four days after I was admitted, and then suddenly it showed up again. I thought it was the Ebola. I enquired from Dr. David who said fever was sometimes the last thing to go, but he expressed surprise that it had stopped only to come back on again. I was perplexed.
I discussed it with my pastor who said it could be a separate pathology and possibly a symptom of malaria. He promised he would research if indeed this was Ebola or something else. That night as I stared at the dirty ceiling, I felt a strong impression that the new fever I had developed was not as a result of Ebola but malaria. I was relieved. The following morning, Dr. Ohiaeri sent me anti-malarial medication which I took for three days. Before the end of the treatment, the fever had disappeared.
I began to think about my mother. She was under surveillance along with my other family members. I was worried. She had touched my sweat. I couldn't get the thought off my mind. I prayed for her. Hours later on Twitter, I came across a tweet by W.H.O saying that the sweat of an Ebola patient could not transmit the virus at the early stage of the infection. The sweat could only transmit it at the late stage.
That settled it for me. It calmed the storms that were raging within me concerning my parents. I knew right away it was divine guidance that caused me to see that tweet. I could cope with having Ebola, but I was not prepared to deal with a member of my family contracting it from me.
Soon, volunteer doctors started coming to help Dr. David take care of us. They had learned how to protect themselves. Among the volunteer doctors was Dr. Badmus, my consultant in LUTH during my housemanship days. It was good to see a familiar face among the care-givers. I soon understood the important role these brave volunteers were playing. As they increased in number, so did the number of shifts increase and subsequently the number of times the patients could access a doctor in one day. This allowed for more frequent patient monitoring and treatment. It also reduced care-giver fatigue. It was clear that Lagos state was working hard to contain the crisis.
Sadly, Justina succumbed to the disease on August 12. It was a great blow and my faith was greatly shaken as a result. I commenced daily Bible study with the other two female patients and we would encourage one another to stay positive in our outlook though in the natural it was grim and very depressing. My communion sessions with the other women were very special moments for us all.
On my 10th day in the ward, the doctors, having noted that I had stopped vomiting and stooling and was no longer running a fever, decided it was time to take my blood sample to test if the virus had cleared from my system. They took the sample and told me that I shouldn't be worried if it came out positive, as the virus takes a while before it is cleared completely. I prayed that I didn't want any more samples collected from me. I wanted that to be the first and last sample to be tested for the absence of the virus in my system. I called my pastor. He encouraged me and we prayed again about the test.
On the evening of the day Justina passed on, we were moved to the new isolation centre. We felt like we were leaving hell and going to heaven. We were conveyed to the new place in an ambulance. It was just behind the old building. Time would not permit me to recount the drama involved with the dynamics of our relocation. It was like a script from a science fiction movie. The new building was cleaner and much better than the old building. Towels and nightwear were provided on each bed. The environment was serene.
The following night, Dr. Adadevoh was moved to our isolation ward from her private room where she had previously been receiving treatment. She had also tested positive for Ebola and was now in a coma. She was receiving I.V. fluids and oxygen support and was being monitored closely by the W.H.O doctors. We all hoped and prayed that she would come out of it. It was so difficult seeing her in that state. I could not bear it. She was my consultant, my boss, my teacher and my mentor. She was the imperial lady of First Consultants, full of passion, energy and competence. I imagined she would wake up soon and see that she was surrounded by her First Consultants family but sadly it was not to be.
I continued listening to my healing messages. They gave me life. I literarily played them hours on end. Two days later, on Saturday August 16, the W.H.O doctors came with some papers. I was informed that the result of my blood test was negative for Ebola virus. If I could somersault, I would have but my joints were still slightly painful. I was free to go home after being in isolation for exactly 14 days. I was so full of thanks and praise to God. I called my mother to get fresh clothes and slippers and come pick me. My husband couldn't stop shouting when I called him. He was completely overwhelmed with joy.
I was told, however, that I could not leave the ward with anything I came in with. I glanced one last time at my cd player, my valuable messages, my research assistant (a.k.a my iPad), my phones and other items. I remember saying to myself, “I have life; I can always replace these items.”
I went for a chlorine bath, which was necessary to disinfect my skin from my head to my toes. It felt like I was being baptised into a new life as Dr. Carolina, a W.H.O doctor from Argentina, poured the bucket of chlorinated water all over me. I wore a new set of clothes, following the strict instructions that no part of the clothes must touch the floor and the walls. Dr. Carolina looked on, making sure I did as instructed.
I was led out of the bathroom and straight to the lawn to be united with my family, but first I had to cut the red ribbon that served as a barrier. It was a symbolic expression of my freedom. Everyone cheered and clapped. It was a little but very important ceremony for me. I was free from Ebola! I hugged my family as one who had been liberated after many years of incarceration. I was like someone who had fought death face to face and come back to the land of the living.
We had to pass through several stations of disinfection before we reached the car. Bleach and chlorinated water were sprayed on everyone's legs at each station. As we made our way to the car, we walked past the old isolation building. I could hardly recognise it. I could not believe I slept in that building for 10 days. I was free! Free of Ebola. Free to live again. Free to interact with humanity again. Free from the sentence of death.
My parents and two brothers were under surveillance for 21 days and they completed the surveillance successfully. None of them came down with a fever. The house had been disinfected by the Lagos state ministry of health soon after I was taken to the isolation centre. I thank God for shielding them from the plague.
My recovery after discharge has been gradual but progressive. I thank God for the support of family and friends. I remember my colleagues who we lost in this battle. Dr. Adadevoh my boss, Nurse Justina Ejelonu, and the ward maid, Mrs. Ukoh were heroines who lost their lives in the cause to protect Nigeria. They will never be forgotten.
I commend the dedication of the W.H.O doctors, Dr. David from Virginia, USA, who tried several times to convince me to specialise in infectious diseases, Dr. Carolina from Argentina who spoke so calmly and encouragingly, Mr. Mauricio from Italy who always offered me apples and gave us novels to read. I especially thank the volunteer Nigerian doctors, matrons and cleaners who risked their lives to take care of us. I must also commend the Lagos state government, and the state and federal ministries of health for their swift efforts to contain the virus. To all those prayed for me, I cannot thank you enough. And to my First Consultants family, I say a heartfelt thank you for your dedication and for your support throughout this very difficult period.
I still believe in miracles. None of us in the isolation ward was given any experimental drugs or so-called immune boosters. I was full of faith yet pragmatic enough to consume as much ORS as I could even when I wanted to give up and throw the bottles away. I researched on the disease extensively and read accounts of the survivors. I believed that even if the mortality rate was 99 per cent, I would be part of the 1 per cent who survive.
Early detection and reporting to hospital is key to patient survival. Please do not hide yourself if you have been in contact with an Ebola patient and have developed the symptoms. Regardless of any grim stories one may have heard about the treatment of patients in the isolation centre, it is still better to be in the isolation ward with specialist care, than at home where you and others will be at risk.
I read that Dr. Kent Brantly, the American doctor who contracted Ebola in Liberia and was flown out to the United States for treatment was being criticised for attributing his healing to God when he was given the experimental drug, Zmapp. I don't claim to have all the answers to the nagging questions of life. Why do some die and some survive? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where is God in the midst of pain and suffering? Where does science end and God begin? These are issues we may never fully comprehend on this side of eternity. All I know is that I walked through the valley of the shadow of death and came out unscathed.