A life experience of Covid-19

My name is Francis Munthali, an Accountant by profession. I work for Northern Region Water Board as the Director of Finance. I want to share my Covid-19 story to you fellow professionals, particularly Malawian professionals and motivate you to do something towards the fight against the pandemic.

This is personal from me to you, pleading for action in your personal right.

My body started getting funny around June 2020. Twice, I visited a private hospital for checkups and only got tests for ordinary ailments. I was mostly given antibiotics to fight the suspected ordinary infections not Covid-19.

By the 15th of July 2020, my condition had started deteriorating. I was now getting more fevers, body pains and my cough was relentless. On 16th July 2020, I decided to visit Mzuzu Central Hospital for Covid-19 screening and luckily I was assisted with the test. Of course, at Mzuzu Central Hospital, just like all hospitals in our country, the principle on Covid-19 test is the same; they only test people that have shown symptoms due inadequate capacity to test all those who are asymptomatic. So, I got tested on that basis.

The results were out the next day. I tested positive. My reaction was a mixed bag. On one hand, I was happy, I confirmed about what had been bothering me in the pre-ceding weeks. Partly though, I was worried because I had no clue how this would entail in my life. I was counselled on what I needed to do. The Hospital advised that there was no need for admission. I was asked to self-isolate at home whilst observing the Covid-19 precautions. I was also given a prescription and was managed as an outpatient.

Things worked well the first three days as I proceeded to receive treatment as pre-scribed. Past day three, Mzuzu weather had changed drastically. There was a spell of some persistent showers and it became extremely cold. With these weather conditions, my health just deteriorated. I started coughing persistently. It felt as if I was not taking any medication at all.

The social medical concoctions like lemons, ginger, steaming and many others that I was also using could not work. My life was crumbling. By the next morning, I could hardly walk five meters, coughing could not stop and my entire respiratory system had clogged. On one occasion, I collapsed as I went to have a shower.

My family decided to take me to the hospital the next day. The Doctor advised us to report back to the screening center for a review. The review revealed I had developed high fever, my lungs were affected and oxygen concentration had drastically dropped to below 80%. The normal range is around 95% and as such, I needed oxygen therapy, immediately. The protocol required that I should be admitted at the dedicated Government Covid-19 Treatment center at Wezi Clinic within Mzuzu City.

However, there was no space at the clinic so they could not take me in. A decision was made to temporarily put me at a holding center within Mzuzu Central Hospital at “the Ebola Treatment Unit”. I was rushed there and put on oxygen. This immediately helped as my cough came down a bit. I spent the night on oxygen and the second day as well. My oxygen level had improved a bit to around 80% and I was encouraged to take heart because things were getting in the right direction.

Later that evening, we got a report that there was now space at the Covid-19 Treatment unit and I would be moved to that center.

When time came to move, I was taken off the oxygen. And tragedy struck on the short distance to the ambulance, I almost collapsed. My respiratory system could not handle it again. Unfortunately, the accompanying team in the ambulance did not bring along any oxygen facility. The 5 km or so journey between Mzuzu Central Hospital and Wezi Clinic was unbearable.

Luckily, by God’s grace, we reached Wezi clinic and I was welcomed and put in a room which accommodated two of us. I shared the room with Mwiza Munthali, an Agricultural professional working with Government here in Mzuzu. Apparently, he was scheduled to start off for his doctorate studies in China on 2nd August 2020 if it were not for his contracting the Covid-19. God should help him.

I stabilized within the first 2 hours with oxygen therapy using oxygen cylinder. Later in the night at around 10pm, I fell asleep whilst still on oxygen support as I was listening to some gospel preaching by Father Eustace Siame of the SDB in Rome through an audio clip on my phone. In his message, he was preaching about the character of Mary Magdalene who on the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, went, in the early hours, to the tomb only to find the Jesus’ tomb empty. When the other disciples found her wandering, she quickly started accusing the soldiers that “they have taken the body away! I don’t know where they have taken our Lord Jesus Christ to”.

In his preaching, Father Eustace Siame was advising that many Christians, even today, fall victim of quickly rushing to accuse and make judgements about issues without facts “fake news”. Mary had no facts about the whereabouts of the body of Jesus but she already had a storyline about what had happened. And so, I dozed off to sleep whilst reflecting on the Magdalene story and its lessons. At around midnight, Mwiza my colleague in the room woke me up.

“Francis are you still getting oxygen support on your side?” He asked. I checked and found out that I was not getting any oxygen support.

“It looks like there is no oxygen in the cylinder head,” he added. I was new to this place and so I was clueless. I asked “what do we do?”. He said “let me call the Nurse.” He shouted and called out for the Nurse, so she could help solve our problem. Meanwhile, I had already started stressing, the coughing was back and I was experiencing difficulties with my breathing yet again. I wondered if this could be the only oxygen cylinder available.

The Nurse took longer to come and understand what was happening. Apparently, the protocol requires that they dress up in proper personal protective equipment (PPE) each time they visit patients’ room and the PPE is changed each time they go through this process. Finally, she came after around 10 minutes. First she needed to check whether there was still oxygen in the cylinder or not. The Nurse confirmed that the oxygen in the cylinder had run out. Next they wanted to unscrew the oxygen regulator from the cylinder so it can be used on the new cylinder. Unfortunately, she failed. She brought in a colleague and together they succeeded to unscrew the regulator.

The two worked hard… and with love to get us another cylinder and fix our oxygen support. It was not easy for them to fix the new one. First, they struggled to plug in the oxygen regulator, and when they finally succeeded, the regulator was losing oxygen and we could hear them discussing on whether to go and look for a clip that should help solve this problem. I was very confused. I was barely five hours at this center and I was seeing my life ending. My stress levels were up, my coughing and respiratory pressure was slowly getting out of hand.

Quickly, negative thoughts started coming through my mind. First, I blamed the Government, the questions were- are these centers well equipped by Government?

Next, was, do Nurses know what to do in circumstances like these? Have they been trained? The list of negative thoughts kept on and on as my frustration was reaching unbearable levels. My last lingering question was- so what will happen if they fail to solve this? Will I survive the next 5 or 8 hours before the day break? Before I answered that question, something happened in that instance that motivated me to share this story. I heard an inner voice.

First it was a question. “Francis why are you focusing on what has happened to the oxygen cylinder? The Nurses are trying hard to do what they can to help you. You are looking for oxygen and there is oxygen in the room. Relax and sleep and focus on God and not this cylinder. Remember the message you were listening to about Mary Magdalene who was weeping and accusing others of the stolen body of Jesus instead of celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.

Immediately after this voice, I fell asleep again as the Nurses finished their work and went away. I did not go back to the oxygen support till I was woken up in the morning. It felt strange that I had no coughing difficulties that night. In the morning, the Nurses found me without oxygen support and wondered what happened and I said, “I slept just as well without the oxygen”. My oxygen level was checked and it had moved up to around 87%.

I stayed on without the oxygen support till the Doctor came round some hours later. Again, my level had improved to around 90%. By this time, I had started to gain some energy to walk around the room and stood by the window for almost two hours seeing that my breath and cough was improving. By evening, my oxygen level was at 92%. The Nurses jokingly said “we will be sending you home tomorrow if you continue at this pace”.

I had another good night without oxygen support and by next morning my level was at 96% which was above normal. This was my miraculous turnaround. I was discharged later that day to continue recovering from home.

As I reflected on my Covid-19 Treatment center experience, I had this question to myself. Why did God send me to the Covid-19 Treatment center where oxygen support is their main treatment and I got very little of it and yet I am healed of my respiratory challenges?

In the end, this is the answer I am getting. ‘Francis, God sent you to the Covid-19 center to learn. “Covid 19 is deadly and you saw how close you were to death before you came here.” You also saw how difficult it was for the Health Workers to serve you given the limited capacity of the infrastructure”.

Dear loved ones and friends are dying of the Covid-19 on a daily basis. In fact, the most devastating news I got as I was being admitted and being put on oxygen sup- port at the Ebola center, was the social media message I read that one of my colleagues Eng. Edward Mbesa (May His Soul Rest in Peace), a Director at Southern Region Water Board had just died at the Covid center in Zomba that same morning.

My fellow professionals, Covid-19 is here with us and it can kill in a very short space of time. Yet, we as a nation are not ready to handle critical situations like the one that befell me particularly considering the rising numbers. I also observed that Mzuzu Central Hospital has no Oxygen Plant which could constantly supply high flow oxygen to COVID 19 patients and other patients as well.

I am still imagining, that assuming Mzuzu Central Hospital receives 100 patients at the level they received me, would they handle it? Certainly not, considering that the Covid Centre in Mzuzu can only accommodate 6 (six) people.

The entire hospital only has 50 unfilled oxygen cylinders. In addition, one patient uses between one and two oxygen cylinders per day and the hospital is spending Mk73,000.00 (USD100) to fill up an oxygen cylinder.

Before we see a number of us losing our dear lives or our fellow Malawians losing lives, let us come together, pull our resources and manage this. We cannot leave this to the Government alone.

I am urging each one of you to support my call to save lives by directly supporting Mzuzu Central Hospital acquire oxygen as a matter of urgency and that ultimately we should have an oxygen plant at the Hospital which is estimated at USD1.5 million.

Let Covid Patients Breathe!!

I have just donated MK150,000.00 (USD200.00) to kick start the campaign that will see us have an oxygen plant at Mzuzu Central Hospital. Please join me in this campaign by donating your contributions to the Hospitals Bank Account that has been listed below. Your effort and contribution will help the hospital save lives for generations to come. I urge you to further encourage your own organizations to please join the campaign.

Bank Name: Mzuzu Central Hospital Research & Partnership

Bank Name: National Bank

MWK Account No: 1004797902

Branch: Mzuzu

FCDA (USD): 1004798097

Correspondent Bank: Citi Bank New York

Swift Code: CITIUS33

NMB Swift Code: NBMAMWMW

I should end my story by thanking all Health Workers at Mzuzu Central Hospital and all other Hospitals in Malawi and the whole world for the bravery and love that you have shown in the fight against Covid 19. Special thanks to Dr. Frank Sinyiza of Mzuzu Central Hospital and your entire team, you will always remain special in my life. Without your efforts, I could not have shared this story. I thank God I am now recovering from home. I further thank Pastors, friends and relatives that kept praying for me during this time. Your prayers were not in vain.

Despite the victories, I pay tribute to dear friends that did not make it in this fight. May Their Souls Rest in Peace.

Finally, I am giving the first challenge for contributions to the below listed professionals whom I personally know that they will be the first shining responders to the

“Let Covid 19 Patients Breathe” campaign. Please donate at least MK75,000.00 (USD100) towards this cause. God Bless You All as you humble yourselves to join this campaign.

 

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