Lavender Ochar walked into a testing centre in Oslo, Norway, on March 31 to check on her Covid-19 status after she developed a sore throat and blocked nose. She had also lost her sense of taste and smell. It turned out positive.
The 38-year-old civil servant from Uyoma Katwengá in Siaya County narrates how she and her son battled the viral disease that is causing global panic, and why the world needs to join hands to fight the growing stigma associated with contracting it.
How are you feeling now, and have you been given the all-clear to resume normal life?
I am feeling better. After not showing Covid-19 symptoms for seven days, I have been given the green light to resume normal life, and since I work in the health sector, my boss also assured me that there was no need for a retest.
When did you know that you needed a medical check-up?
I developed a sore throat and also had a blocked nose, but no fever. Earlier, I had lost my sense of taste. I was just eating to get by and get energy to take care of my toddler son. I also felt very tired, but since I was moving houses at the end of March, I attributed this to fatigue.
I also lost my sense of smell, which I linked to the blocked nose. At one point I could not even smell my son’s soiled diapers. Maybe I had a fever which I did not notice since I was constantly on painkillers to cure a toothache I had developed at just about the same time.
Occasionally, I woke up all sweaty at night, but I associated this with using heavy bedding. None of these early symptoms rang a bell until I got a sore throat.
How comfortable or otherwise is a Covid-19 test, and how long does it take in Norway?
The testing is gruesome, in my opinion. I was swabbed deep down my throat near the tonsils and furthest into my nasal passage. I also got tested for several other ailments besides Covid-19.
The samples were taken to a certified lab and I received my results 24 hours later.
Do you know when or where you contracted the virus?
I don’t know. I followed all the rules: I washed my hands, kept social distance and did not touch my face. But even when we take extra precautions, loopholes exist everywhere, such as when you walk into a supermarket and touch the door oblivious of who else has touched it and whether they were sick. I have no idea where I picked the virus from.
Were all your close contacts traced?
Yes, and they were all put in quarantine.
What happens in Norway during the home quarantine period?
Home quarantine takes 14 days and is intended for people who do not show symptoms of Covid-19, even after coming into contact with a patient. When you are put under home isolation, public health officials make daily calls to check on your progress. The whole idea is to monitor progress and manage any complications or new symptoms.
You have a baby; was he also put under quarantine?
My baby and I were actually put on home isolation. There is a slight difference. In Norway, those who test positive for Covid-19 must stay in isolation at home, which means they cannot leave the house for any reason whatsoever.
Those who are put under quarantine enjoy some freedom, such as taking walks and going to the shop while observing social distancing. They, however, cannot go to work or school or use public transport.
Sick, put under home isolation and being a mother to a toddler, how did you manage?
Maintaining a two-metre social distance with a toddler who likes to cuddle was extremely difficult. Moreover, my son could not understand why I was avoiding him.
Luckily for him, there were no major symptoms except for a mild runny nose. He was not tested either. He survived by the grace of God.
After receiving the test results, did you inform family or friends, and how did they take the news that you had Covid-19?
After receiving the results, I gave out names of my close contacts including my two friends.
I remember breaking the news to my closest friend. Her reaction made me vow to fight it out alone. Besides, I did not want to throw a pity party.
While Covid-19 is a serious health issue, the world has also seen the worst of scaremongers and peddlers of fake news. Were you ever scared for your life?
I was a little scared, but I was prepared to fight for the sake of my son. On the flip side, I felt alone and really wished to be home where I would be well taken care of.
Describe your road to recovery.
From the day of testing, my symptoms dragged on for about seven days. There is no treatment for Covid-19. In Norway, patients put in isolation are advised to manage their symptoms with paracetamol. Nasal drops worked for my blocked nose.
I was not on any special nutrition, but I stocked up on ginger, honey and lemon to relieve the symptoms. When you are put under home isolation, public health officials make daily calls to check on progress. Based on how I was progressing, I stopped the calls on the third day and told the health officials I would call them instead if need be.
Following the Norwegian Covid-19 health regulations, they checked on me again on the seventh day.
Covid-19 has no doubt hit the world hard and lives have been lost. As someone who has fought the virus, what lessons have you picked from this experience?
Covid-19 takes all forms and shapes. Some patients show mild symptoms while others may need intensive care. Be extra cautious with the ones you interact with because they may not show any symptoms.
Also, check on your friends and family. Don’t forget to take care of the vulnerable, especially those with pre-existing medical conditions and the elderly.
Kenya’s health cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe has been pleading with Kenyans to take extra caution in the fight against Covid-19, what message do you have for Kenyans?
Covid-19 is real! I got it. Kenyans need to wake up; our facilities cannot accommodate large numbers of the critically ill. We need to flatten the Covid-19 curve so that we do not have to worry about our loved ones.
We can prove statistics wrong. We are Kenyans and together we must fight the virus by flattening the curve.
There are reports that Africans are facing attacks and stigma in China over Covid-19, what would you tell the world?
That this infection is beyond our control; anyone can get Covid-19 from anywhere. Let us not stigmatise people who have tested positive.
Finally, please stay at home.
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