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Updated: 3 days ago

On March 13 2020, Noni walked into the waiting room of a renowned pulmonologist. For those in the tent, this is a physician who specializes in the respiratory system. She was there with her five year old, asthmatic son. After registration, she scanned the room for a place to sit and was met with sounds of running noses and congested chests. ‘Must be the flu season,’ she thought as she jostled into a corner to wait her turn. Later, while she paid her final bill, the first case of covid 19 was announced in Kenya.

Noni first saw the word ‘coronavirus’ on Twitter. At that time, it was a strange disease wiping out the Chinese. The concept of this illness was far removed from her mind. Besides, China is approximately 8000 km away from Kenya. That disease would have to be resilient to come all this way. So, she shrugged it off as a ‘them not us’ kind of problem.

When the first case was announced however, she began to pay attention. “I routinely take vitamins so I went on google to find out what more I should take.” She also drank Kenya’s popular ‘dawa’ cocktail by the hour. Because the spotlight at that time was on the elderly and those with comorbidities, she became a parent to her parents and frequently monitored their movements. It wasn’t unusual to find her blaring at her dad anytime she heard he had gone to his local.

“Dad are you kidding? This is not funny!”

And it wasn’t. She taught her son to clean his hands using the 7 steps of handwashing and would watch him each time to make sure he got it right. Her house smelled of chlorine from the constant sanitization from floor to ceiling.

This became the new normal when it dawned that covid was not on transit. It had gotten a one way visa from wherever it came and no one knew when it would leave — if ever. Still, at the foot of her mind it remained a ‘them not me problem’ until October of that year.

While at work, she started to sneeze. It started politely but then her body began to jerk violently every few minutes. Being prone to allergies, she dismissed it as such and popped an antihistamine. When she got home that evening, she felt like a worn out shoe and went straight to bed. The next morning when she woke up, it was as if she hadn’t slept at all. And now she had developed a sore throat. “I figured I was coming down with a flu so I took some lozenges and went to work hoping to trounce it.” But the symptoms were way ahead of her. At the office, she continued to sneeze and shiver like a wet cat pulled out of a swimming pool. Any attempt to get anything done, felt like she was being dragged along the ocean floor.

That evening she went to bed early again but sleep was just a gap in time.

She woke up the following day with a hacking cough that sounded throughout the house.

“That’s it Noni. I am taking you to hospital.” Her partner Kimani said and drove her to the nearest satellite clinic. When they arrived and she explained her symptoms, she was whisked to a different area of the clinic and the fog in her head cleared for a second, ‘this might be covid.’ The doctor who saw her said,

“We highly recommend that you get tested for covid Noni. There are no test kits here so you could go to one of the main hospitals to get it done.”

They went right away.

“At the main hospital, we were directed to a tent for testing. When it was my turn, I came face to face with a ghost in a space suit and a transparent screen between us.”

“Take a seat and tilt your head back.” Despite his use of a microphone, his voice was still muffled.

“The next thing I saw was a heavily gloved hand approaching my nose with a long, thin, wooden stick. That experience petrified me.” She did not know it was a preamble of things to come.

24 hours later, she got the call. The conversation took time so Kimani — who had sat by her — figured it was not good.

“What have they said?” he asked as soon as she hung up.

“I have covid.” Naturally, she would have broken down but the gentleman on the phone broke the news in such a calm and reassuring way, she was not alarmed.

“For real Noni? For real, for real?” The look in his eyes caused her heart rate to rise.

“Yeah for real. He has given instructions on what to do next and if I get worse, I should call this number or go to hospital.” After she took him through, he left to go get tested. His results and those of her son were negative. So she remained isolated in the house.

As the hands of the clock moved, her symptoms started to worsen. She developed left sided chest pains and felt as if her body had become a burden that she had to carry around. Then came the headaches. “It’s as if there was a heartbeat in my head. It would pound against my skull until I would become delirious.” Then she started to have difficulty in breathing. They went back to hospital.

While there, several tests were done which turned out normal. Her oxygen levels were also within normal range so after a few injections, she was released back home.

“I remember feeling so frustrated. I didn’t understand why they had sent me back home in that state. But what choice did I have?”

For the next three days, her condition deteriorated further. Her body would be baking for hours and then at night, it was as if she was sleeping under open skies. She would tremble and sweat until they had to wake up and change their sheets. By Sunday that week, she couldn’t speak in complete sentences. She had to pause after each word to allow air to get into her lungs. By now she was unable to eat and anything she tried to take in, spewed out as if her body was uninhabitable. “I started to float in between conscious states and then I realised — this is not a ‘they thing’ anymore. It’s at my doorstep and I might die.”

Her partner rushed her back to hospital where they discovered her oxygen levels were low. The A and E was a buzz of activity yet things seemed to be moving in slow motion. On a normal day, people would be screaming at how long they had to wait but it was clear to see — the staff were swamped. Most people had a grim look on their face. Some wanted to leave.

Noni was dazed. She floated like a leaf on a river; going wherever the current took her. One of the nurses assigned to her came and said, “Noni please don’t leave. The place is full but you cannot leave. You need that oxygen. Your body is trying to fight this disease but you need to fight with your mind as well.”

“Her words didn’t land then. They only made sense later when I was taken for an x — ray and asked to take off my clothes. My hands clung to my side in defiance. I was unable to undress myself.” The orderly had to help her and she understood then what the nurse meant. Her mind needed to be in this game too.

Several hours later, she got a bed in a private room. She was happy to leave the chaos behind but later took it back. Kimani was only allowed to escort her up to a certain point at which he was told, “That is as far as you can go. Please say goodbye and don’t touch her.” And she caught herself wondering whether she would ever see him again. The silent private room magnified these feelings of dread. The walls watched her in silence, closing in on her. “I started to think about one of my best friends who had died in that hospital and left a son my sons age and the walls would close in on me even more.”

At some point she took her phone and amidst gasping for air, recorded videos for her son. “I told him about who I wanted him to be, my dreams for him.” She later watched the videos and saw how traumatic she looked talking in spurts with an oxygen mask near her mouth. “I was bone tired and wanted to sleep but I was so afraid I would not wake up.” When she eventually slept, it was a restless and agitated sleep. “In my dreams, I replayed several bad scenes that startled me awake from time to time.” Her bed was drenched in sweat and when she looked at the time and saw it was 4am she said, “Thank you God for letting me see another day.”

She was later moved to the general isolation ward and for the next three nights she went through different textures of this illness. Her thermostat was broken and she still oscillated between fevers and chills. Around her there was a blend of patients: some on oxygen like her, others were there because of uncontrollable sugars and seemed eager to leave, others were in a poorly state. “It was dreadful because you didn’t know which door you would leave through. There was a gentleman who got so sick and was transferred to the ICU and I still wonder whether he made it. Then there was this guy who I befriended who was always on his laptop working — while on oxygen. It was like covid was an inconvenience to him.”

The healthcare workers also seemed to be swamped by all the work. “I was in Bed 1 and I would overhear them grappling with who to discharge, where to get an extra bed, the discomfort of the PPE’s which they had to keep on for an entire shift.” They would instruct each other — Bed 2 needs a bed pan, bed 6 needs a glass of warm water, Bed 10 needs their food re-heated, bed 15 needs their iv line re-inserted — on and on it went. But there is a voice that kept me sane as the days passed. The voice of Dr Gaitho.

He would come every morning and his first question would be, “Noni how did you sleep last night?” And he would explain the disease process to her. “I asked him why I would drench my sheets every night, why my chest still hurt so much, why I was getting so many injections, what drugs I was on.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Dr Gaitho told her as he explained the night sweats. “I am more worried about your sugars Noni. They have been quite high and we need to put you on insulin to control them.” She agonized over this information but he instilled so much confidence in her; discussing each of her symptoms one by one and reassuring her that even if she had lost her sense of smell she would be ok. “Just keep fighting Noni. Stay positive.”

And to help her in the fight, Kimani sent her a lifeline. “I have this adult colouring book that has bible verses on each page.” He tore off one page, stuck a post it note and dropped it off for one of the nurses to give to her. “Something in me came alive when I saw that page. I texted him and asked him to bring the whole book plus my colours.”

She spent time colouring and it helped her lie on her belly which was mandatory yet uncomfortable for all of them. “Imagine having an oxygen mask, an IV line and the nurses keep telling you to lie on your belly.” The colouring fascinated the nurses so much they would watch her do it sometimes. “The mix of colours calmed me and would keep negative thoughts at bay. There was a very ill lady across from me, so I coloured a sheet for her and gave it to her.”

Two days later they started to wean her off oxygen and with time she was able to do without it. “I was in hospital for a week. When I was discharged home, I was jubilated. I remember seeing Kimani and squeezing him hard. It felt so great to touch another human being.”

Noni’s sense of smell is not fully back. She knows the smell of things in her mind but the sense of it is not as it used to be. Her sugars still remain high and have to be controlled by insulin. “I sometimes forget to inject myself and I keep telling God, I am not a good candidate for this disease.” Still she has adopted a diet and exercise regime to keep them low and prays that they eventually normalise.

We are now back in the era of BC and AC — Before covid; After Covid. “BC, I was a worrier. I would worry about the future and dwell on things past. Now, AC I am a ‘here and now’ person. I remember how helpless and in agony I was those first few days and I know I only have the here and now to do what God has called me to do. I also travel light and have adopted an attitude of gratitude.”

“Covid changed me.”

Narrated to me by Muthoni Muigai


Dedicated to the healthworkers who are still at the frontline. To her aunties who met everyday to pray for her To her family and friends for their support. To those still in hospital fighting…May you make it through.

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Wow.this is very so happy for Noni,for the good outcome.we pray for full restoration.

Well written piece as usual. Keep it up Suzy👏👏👏👏


Jan 29, 2021

Thank you for this. The Lord will fully restore your health Noni.

From the "tent" have learnt.


Jan 29, 2021

Thankyou Noni for sharing.. may you rise above it.


dela crucifix
dela crucifix
Jan 29, 2021

The fight of the century. Thank God it ended well. And God bless the frontline workers......I can't imagine.


Thanks to Noni for sharing her experience. Thanks be to God for the healing. May He complete her healing and grant her good health and restore her sense of smell.

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