It was a usual wednesday evening. Dr. Ntor had returned from work at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) before I returned from the neighbor’s where we had Bible studies. She had stopped by the mall to get food condiments for the next day’s meal before getting home. When I got home, she’d had her bath and was ready to retire to bed for the day. She was going to be on call the next day and needed all the sleep she could get. I had dinner and settled down on my computer to work, as had become my routine since the lockdown began in March 2020. I worked from home now. Home was a self-contained apartment I shared with my Sister, Ntor.
Early the following morning, I got a distress call from Ntor. I could tell by the sound of her voice all wasn’t well. I first thought she was calling concerning the food she wanted to prepare herself. Maybe she’d changed her mind and wanted me to prepare it. That wasn’t the case. She asked me to buy a lot more Vitamin C and begin taking it. A patient she attended to yesterday had died under circumstances suspected to be Corona virus. Yes, the medical history was meticulously taken. The patient did not have any travel history beyond Cross River State in the preceding months, and Cross River State maintains the record of the only State in Nigeria without a single case of corona virus till date. Nevertheless, the circumstances of the patient’s death caused the Hospital Management to send a memo asking everyone who attended to that patient to self-isolate until the corona virus status of the late patient was ascertained. The corona virus test was going to be done in the neighboring State, Ebonyi State, and blood samples of the late patient had been sent. Ntor was afraid to return home for fear of putting me at risk, particularly because of my underlying medical condition, sickle cell anemia.
A lot of thoughts and questions ran through my mind while on that call. “Ntor attended to that patient yesterday and she spent yesterday night at home, what if we already have the virus?” “Shouldn’t the hospital management provide self-isolation centres for their Staff for such circumstances, considering that these health workers have families they return to, and should not put their families at risk as a result of their work?” “Why don’t we have any testing centres in Cross River State? That would have helped to immediately determine the status of the late patient and everyone suspected of having the virus”. “How do we know for sure there is no case of corona virus in Cross River if there are no testing centres?” “Where is Ntor going to stay while we wait for the test result? Our family home was at Ikom, approximately a four (4) hour drive from Calabar, and going home will be putting more persons at risk; from the passengers who will travel the same vehicle, to our parents and siblings at home.” “Would I react differently to the virus if I had it?” “What measures were in place to give the necessary attention to vulnerable populations like the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, should they get the virus?”
There were no answers to my questions. I asked Ntor to return home. She did. We prayed that the late patient’s results returns negative. Two (2) days later, the result returned negative. It’s been over a month now. Ntor now has an apartment of her own. There are no answers to my questions till date.
Media publicity of correct information, staying home, social distancing, use of facemasks, hand washing and use of hand sanitizers are great and have proven very useful in keeping us safe. But what happens when these preventive measures fail and one is faced with the realities we’ve been preventing? Corona virus and its effects took us all by surprise, and I appreciate the responsiveness of everyone, especially our frontline health workers and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Nigeria, to the crisis. Nevertheless, we need our government and medical institutions to be proactive in their response to the situation with particular regard to vulnerable populations.
3rd July 2020, there is breaking news. Cross River State records five (5) positive cases of Corona virus with two(2) of them as health Practitioners from UCTH. We can’t afford to continue living in denial.