Dennis Akagha tells of how Ebola has left him unemployed and without the love of his life
For the fiancé of late Ebola-infected nurse, Justina Ejelonu, being cured of the disease has given him a new lease of life, but not without consequences.
Dennis Akagha was infected by Justina but was given a clean bill of health after being quarantined.
However, he lost his job, his fiancée and their unborn child to the dreaded disease.
The survivor spoke to Punch during an interview on life after Ebola. Excerpts below:
You’ve been certified to be Ebola Virus negative, for how long has that been?
It’s going to two weeks now. Saturday (today) will make it two weeks exactly that I’ve been certified negative. I’ve not had any of the symptoms since then. But I’m granting this interview basically for one reason; before I was quarantined, I saw it in the Bible that I would not die but live to testify the goodness of God upon my life. When God saved me, it is my responsibility to tell the whole world and Nigerians that God is still in the business of doing miracles. So I’m a living testimony of the goodness of God.
So what do you really think saved you? Did the doctors give you any drugs?
I will always tell the whole world that it’s a miracle because I met people who were at the isolation centre before me and I left the place before them. I stayed there for five days. It was a miracle. What worked for me was my faith and my belief because right from the day I saw the symptoms, I had been talking to myself.
You were there for five days, what was your experience like within that period?
I was taken in on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 and left there on Saturday night, August 23, 2014. The experience wasn’t funny, anyway. I really want to appreciate Lagos State. The state has done the best out of all the places where Ebola has been ravaging lives. Initially, there were no volunteers and the facilities were not there but it was because the virus came unexpectedly. Nobody expected it. But within a short time, the facilities improved, so the state tried.
When I was confirmed to have it, they took me to the ‘confirmed’ ward. I went in with them and I met others there. Immediately I lay down on my bed, I cried but nobody knew I was shedding tears. I just lay there and cried. I was crying to God because I already told him that I would not die but live.
One of the doctors came in to tell me that my results were not clear to them. In other words, I wasn’t meant to be there. So they took me back to the ‘suspects’ ward and said they would rerun the tests. That was on Wednesday.
They reran the tests and the results came out on Thursday afternoon. It was positive. So they asked me to go back to the ‘confirmed’ ward. I told them I was not sick.
They said that I was positive but I insisted that I didn’t have Ebola. We quarreled for some time so it took me time to go back to the ‘confirmed’ ward.
It was after much pleading and also because they said I was a risk to others in the ‘suspects’ ward. So I went back to the ‘confirmed’ ward but I was still saying I was not sick.
Then on Saturday night, they called me that I had been discharged. I had even forgotten that my blood samples were taken for a test. They said my results came out negative. In that case, I didn’t have any business there anymore.
How have your friends, relatives and neighbours been relating with you since you returned from the isolation centre?
The stigma will always be there and it will take some time for it to phase out. It happened when HIV and Lassa fever came out. So this is not the first and it won’t be the last. But I know that with time, it will phase out. I faced a lot of stigmatisation on my street.
Can you recall specific instances?
Yes. When I was symptomatic, because I had bushy hair, I went to a salon to have a haircut. Somebody who knew what happened to my fiancée ran away from the salon. Also, I went somewhere to buy toothpaste and the mallam (Hausa man) refused to sell to me. He said he was not selling. I said but you have toothpaste, he said yes, but that he was not selling. And where I worked as a marketing officer, it happened. I got a job this same month Justina got a job at the hospital (where Patrick Sawyer visited). Mine was an oil and gas company. Indirectly, I experienced it there. I no longer work there.
Were you told to stop coming?
They did it indirectly. It will be shameful for me to go back there. After I left the isolation centre, I said no, I won’t go back there. God has a reason for everything. A lot of people have told me to protest but I said no. For God to bring me out of this, He has very big plans for my life.
The communication was no longer there; I was calling (the office) and they stopped picking my calls. So I didn’t bother to go to the office. It got to an extent that even after I came out, my mum travelled to the east (my hometown) for an August meeting and as soon as she got to the venue, everyone ran away. They were like, since your son had Ebola, then you will definitely have Ebola. That was the extent of the stigmatization.
What was the quarantine centre where Justina was kept like when you got there?
As I said, Lagos State government didn’t expect it. So the environment wasn’t that conducive. The place she was, was a different facility from where I was. It was the same hospital environment but not the same facility. Justina and others were put there while government was preparing a better place for them.
She was already there before some others were moved to the other facility. There was no water or oxygen where she was, and the environment wasn’t okay. Lagos State government tried and did its best to make sure that they improve the facilities later and I can testify to that.
Do you think that the government could have saved her life if the facilities were better?
Well, I really don’t know. God knows best. I was discussing with someone recently and I said she shouldn’t have died.
So what are your plans now that you’re fine, but out of job?
I intend to look for another job. If it’s the will of God for me to work, I will get another job. Aside from that, I made Justina a promise. I spoke with her the night she passed on but I had to go there to confirm the next morning. I had to go inside there after wearing the kits.
I was led in and I held her hands, I just wanted to know if she was truly dead. At that time, she was already dead. I told her that I would make sure I pursued those things she could not achieve that I knew about, in my own little way and with the help of individuals. I would make sure she fulfills the dreams.
Before her death, she had a vision of a project that I don’t want to share here. If that is what will keep me busy for the rest of my life, I don’t mind to keep her memory alive. I wrote the plan and we were just waiting to complete our marriage plans before proceeding with the project.
You said you held her hand after she had died. But can you recall the last time you saw her alive and what she said to you?
The last day I saw her alive was three weeks today because she died on a Thursday morning. She requested to see me and I went inside to see her, cleaned her and made sure her surroundings were clean and okay.
She was on drips and I spoke with her. She requested for tea, hot or cold. There was no way I could get hot water around so I went to get beverage and two bottles of table water to prepare the tea (beverage) for her.
I also bought bread for her. That was the last thing I bought for her. I remember she said she loved me; that was the last thing she told me. After cleaning her up, she called on one of the doctors, a WHO doctor, Dr. David.
She said softly to the doctor, did I not tell you? The doctor asked what. She said did I not tell you that if my husband comes here, a miracle would happen. I laughed and the doctor said yes. I had to clean her up that day.
You took some risks taking Justina to the hospital and cleaning her up, didn’t you know the risks involved?
You see, if you love someone, you will do those things, except you don’t genuinely love the person. If you genuinely love someone, you can do anything for the person. I genuinely loved her; she was supposed to be my wife.
And at that point in time, I saw no reason why I should abandon her. I know most men would do that but my conscience would judge me for the rest of my life if I had run away. So I had to stand by her. I took the risks because I loved her and at a point, I started being careful at the same time.
Not that I didn’t think of the risks, but love is a very powerful thing. I know she would have done the same thing for me. So why would I want to run away?
How did you receive news of her death?
Normally, I call her every morning but that morning , I called and called and she didn’t pick up. So I went to the hospital and I was supposed to get some things for her anyway. So I got the news when I got there. It was painful for me. Have you lost a loved one before? At that moment, I felt like going with her. I felt that I couldn’t stay behind (on earth). I felt like dying so that it would be like we both died, although it was not possible (for me to kill myself). But that was how I felt.