Series I

Idris Ola (Nigeria)

Riding Against The Pandemic Tide; A Short glimpse through the eyes of a Lagos doctor

Throughout my medical training, we were constantly reminded that our training was next to the soldiers in terms of rigor. More than ever before, I had the real feel of what it means to be a soldier at the battlefront, only this time, we had stethoscopes, not AK47.

News filtered in early January 2020 of the new coronavirus disease that was spreading fast. The only certain thing about the disease was its behavioral uncertainty.

Given the high traffic between the UK and Nigeria, we knew it was only a matter of time before we joined the global list of affected countries. On February 22nd, the dreaded announcement was made, coronavirus was here. It felt like we were being deployed to the battlefront. Despite the dangers lurking ahead, forward-march was the only order. While we mentally brace for the challenge, revised all our protocols and came up with new ones to ensure infectious control and staff safety, we realized that the most needed tools were either hitherto lacking or in short supply. Our hospital in Lagos is notorious for high daily patient traffic, and within 3 days, the hospital’s facemask stock was depleted. Face masks and gloves had become scarce and expensive, thus the hospital management offered to make cloth masks which was roundly rejected by staffs. There were no standard personal protective equipment (PPE). At a time, I had my own improvised PPE made from a cocktail of head cover, googles, long and thick clinical coat, and facemask (which I procured on my own). I looked like a masquerade or perhaps a tall man heavily-clad in halloween costume.

During other medical emergencies, it becomes especially problematic. The doctor spirit in us usually will not allow us to take extreme precautions when a life is on the line. On such audacious evenings at the peak of the coronavirus pandemonium, a pregnant woman was rushed in at 36 weeks gestation, with imminent eclampsia; an immediate life-threatening condition. It was after the danger was averted that I became conscious of the possibility of the woman carrying the virus. But saving her life gave me more fulfillment than the anxiety of coronavirus.

Driving through the city during lockdown was not without its risks. Both the children of the street and children on the street who depended on daily earnings were deprived and frustrated. Sometimes I pay to drive through their roadblocks, other times, they show lots of respect, being a doctor working in that extreme situation.

By middle of May, 7 doctors and 6 Nurses in my center had tested positive for COVID-19. The rest of us were hoping on luck and doing all we could to keep safe. Luckily, no mortality was recorded.

In late May, I volunteered for Lagos State COVID-19 Response Team to work full-time in isolation centers, although unavailability of accommodation at the time stalled my deployment.

The risk remains high, but with our doggedness, we will see the end of this. The onset of the new wave and strain of the virus in Nigeria has reminded us to not let our guards down yet, but with development of the coronavirus vaccine, a new light is shining at the end of the long, dark tunnel.

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