A work trip to New York City for a United Nations conference turned into an unpleasant experience for a fintech professional who works in Lagos. She left Lagos for New York on Saturday, March 7, 2020 and arrived in the city that had just seen an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
After the conference, which was initially scheduled for March 8-18, got cancelled, a scramble for a ticket back to Nigeria and a healthcare scare that made her cross paths with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), turned the month of March into a whirl for her.
To educate Nigerians about the MO of NCDC, the agency tasked with curbing the spread of the virus in Nigeria, Pulse spoke to this lady who didn't want her name mentioned, about her experience.
Trip to New York
It was immediately she arrived in New York that her trip went left. First, the conference was cancelled due to the spread of the coronavirus and with border closure looming, she had to scramble for a ticket to return to Nigeria.
After several unsuccessful attempts to reach the airline to bring back the date of her return flight, she quickly got another ticket.
“Because of COVID, I couldn't wait because it was getting really bad, I didn’t want to be trapped. Without insurance, getting treatment would be difficult and expensive,” she told Pulse.
On Monday, March 16, she arrived back in Lagos.
“When I came back my family immediately told me to self-isolate, I was like 'okay', I didn’t know what to do,” she explained.
“Should I stay at home or go to a hotel? I was confused. Then I decided to go to a hotel. I have two boys, seven and five and there is no way I was going to self isolate without my boys coming around me.”
It got scarier for her as she developed a cough and sore throat. Symptoms she associated with COVID-19 and on Wednesday, March 18, she drove to the Mainland Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba to get a test.
“I got there. I thought telling them I had a cough would scare them. I was thinking about my family, neighbours, and friends. I was really worried,” she told Pulse.
“I told them I had gone to New York and I was having symptoms but they told me to go back home. I was worried.
“I was there with a celebrity who had just returned from the United Kingdom. They gave us numbers to call, Those numbers were NCDC. I was livid, upset, I didn’t know whether to cause a scene.”
Contact with NCDC
With no option left, she said she called the number and on the second attempt, a guy collected her details including her name, flight details and symptoms she was experiencing.
For days, Alley waited for an update from the NCDC and while she sat tight, her cough got really bad. She called a doctor friend who put her on antibiotics and cough syrup.
“They got in touch on the 23rd and collected my details and on the 24th they called me and said they were at my house,” she continued.
“But I told them I wasn’t at home, that I was self-isolating outside my house.”
So not to cause a scene and make people panic, she decided to take the NCDC officials to her house to conduct the test.
Describing how she was tested, she said; “It looked like a cotton bud but it's longer than what we are used to. They had to put it down my nostril, I don’t know how I felt, I don't know if it was pain, but I had tears.
“It didn’t take more than 45 seconds. They gave me a bottle to cough in. So I had to go somewhere and cough and gave it to them.”
She was impressed with how the NCDC officials carried themselves while she got tested. According to her, they used brand new protective gears, had bags around their feet and every part of their bodies covered
“After taking my sample, they disinfected one another. They had this spray bottle and I smelt bleach. They disinfected before taking off their gears,” she said.
“They looked very trained and kept themselves safe.”
It got tougher for her as she had to wait several days for her test result. Although her cough started going away, she got nervous with the wait.
“I started following up with the guy who was in contact with me but he stopped picking my calls. The excuse was that he was overwhelmed,” she said.
“I sent him messages on Whatsapp, the guy responded 'not ready’. I gave up on Friday morning then someone told me to follow up on Twitter.
“The Twitter handler is super fast despite the fact that they have lots of people they are attending to.
“The first response took less than 10 minutes. He asked for my details, the day I was tested and so on.
“He came back after a few hours to tell them that he had called the lab and that the result wasn’t ready.
“He told me to be calm and to call him if I feel sick again and that he would come to pick me up. So that calmed me.”
When her result was ready, the NCDC couldn't reach her so they had to reach out to her husband to inform him of her result.
“So he couldn't reach me and I don't know how they found my next of kin details,” she said.
The result turned out negative although she was advised to remain in self-isolation.
“I got a huge relief and I forgot all the sad experiences," she said.
All through this ordeal, she also said her mind often wandered, trying to pick the moment she would have contracted the virus. Although she was confident that she was cautious enough during her stay in New York, she wasn't sure of what happened when she spent several hours at the airport while trying to return to Lagos.
"The thing is, I know I wasn't exposed, I felt that I wasn't exposed," she said.
"I didn't go out in New York. Normally, when you travel you want to explore and move around, I couldn't do that because I was very very scared.
"I was very careful because I was listening to the news, watching the news every day and the cases were rising every day.
“I was really scared which was what took me to get another ticket.
"However I started thinking maybe I got exposed at the airport. We had boarded, we were inside the aircraft for two hours but we couldn't take off, after two hours, they told us to leave the aircraft and that they had problems with it.
“I spent almost eight hours at the airport so I was thinking I got exposed there. I was so paranoid, The only thing I couldn't do was drink sanitizer."
This lady is now back home with her family after completing self-isolation.