SLOW AND PAINFUL DEATH

Covid-19 dehumanises then kills: Tales from the frontline

A stand-in nurse recounts one night of emergency at an isolation ward

In Summary

• A university student hustling as a guard was drafted to assist in nursing patients

• What he experienced shook him to the core and made him extra-cautious on corona

A member of the medical staff treats a coronavirus disease patient inside the Covid-19 ICU of Machakos Level 5 Hospital, Machakos, on October 28, 2020
A member of the medical staff treats a coronavirus disease patient inside the Covid-19 ICU of Machakos Level 5 Hospital, Machakos, on October 28, 2020
Image: REUTERS

Imagine you are a nightguard in charge of a hospital’s Covid-19 isolation wing. It’s at night and the novel coronavirus is dealing the country its third and worst blow yet, when a nurse taking care of the patients in isolation wards asks for your help. Will you go in or shy away?

Well, that was the situation which Josephat Aruya* (name changed to protect his job) found himself in, about a month ago. Then, he was with one of his colleague guards, when the mayday call came, and the two guards had an eyes-only meeting.

None of them was willing to risk it, but due to the emergency of the matter, Aruya moved in, although he well knew that whatever he was doing was not part of his job description. What he experienced would shake up his behaviour afterwards with regards to observing Covid-19 health protocols.

“I had been hearing about corona. I had seen stories on TV and read papers. But still, I was not fully convinced that it could be that bad. I saw a patient writhing in anguish and pain, totally deprived of energy to even murmur a word. I saw death in that room,” he says.

Until mid-last year, Aruya was just like any other university student, concentrating on his studies and aiming at graduating, possibly with the best of grades, and in time. Then the pandemic hit and shattered his tightly laid-out budget of sustenance while on campus.

“Usually, during long holidays, I could go home and do a project of making bricks, which I could sell to pay my school fees and meet my other needs. However, this time I was in Machakos, locked down, and with little money to spend," says the IT student.

"Thus I applied for a job of a guard in one of the private security companies and I got the job. I have been studying by day and guarding by night. Initially, I was at a supermarket in Machakos town before I got transferred here.”

I saw a patient writhing in anguish and pain, totally deprived of energy to even murmur a word. I saw death in that room

TRAUMATISING MOMENT

Back to the isolation ward.

“The lady nurse spoke like someone in urgent help. I was moved by compassion and a need to help save a life. So she gave me the coverall and I slipped in, with two masks on my mouth and nose, then went in,” he recalls.

“The patient was an elderly woman, who looked very weak. I helped the nurse to change the patient’s clothing. That was the most horrifying part I can say. The smell hit me hard. It penetrated the coverall and the two masks I was wearing, and I almost smelled corona.”

He says he almost regretted offering to venture into hitherto uncharted waters, so stormy and shores unclear.

“While helping the nurse, my mind was racing with thoughts and so many questions without answers. I remembered that I am the only son in our family, and I literally carried the very family’s hopes for a better tomorrow and family perpetuation," he says.

"I almost imagined contracting the disease from that ward, and my mind went blank. Then I prayed, silently, amid the sounds of hospital machines spreading fear, fear of death."

When they were done with changing her clothing, they put her on oxygen.

"By then, her body had become frail, and she couldn’t even coordinate her body. It was so scary. Then the nurse ordered me to go and call a clinical officer,” he says.

Image: PEXELS

DESENSITISED TO DEATH

Immediately he got out of the room, Aruya spent about five minutes washing his hands and head to “get rid of the virus”.

“I washed myself with the sanitiser and it ended up harming me because I used it on my eyes and nose. The eyes and nose really itched and caused me another stress,” he says.

He would later learn that the patient whom he had attended to with the nurse had died shortly after he left the ward.

“It was so touching and sad because I had seen her struggle in the last minutes of her life," he says.

"Since I work in this wing, I have since seen many people die here and it no longer scares me the way that mother’s death did,” he says.

However, working in the isolation wing, and having witnessed the severity of coronavirus almost firsthand, has taught him several lessons.

“People should not joke with this disease. It dehumanises then kills. I always wear two masks whenever I am at the hospital’s premises. When I am away, I wear one, and I don’t repeat it. I dispose of it," he says.

"I try to avoid crowds, but if by any chance I happen to be in a crowd, I walk hands pocketed and very fast. I don’t want to be in that situation I witnessed.”