It was down to Dr. Amarachukwu Karen Allison’s quick thinking and professionalism that Nigeria’s index coronavirus case, the 44-year-old Italian man, was isolated and driven to Lagos for treatment.

Allison, who works with Ogun state based cement manufacturing company, Lafarge, was immediately commended by the Ogun state government afterwards.

“The Ogun state government appreciates the young female doctor who suspected the index case in Nigeria in our state, Dr. Amarachukwu Karen Allison of Lafarge Nigeria. Her singular brilliance led to the early diagnosis and rapid containment of the first Covid-19 infection in our state,” the state government shared in a tweet in March.

The Italian turned up with flu-like symptoms at a medical centre in Ogun state. Allison, who was on duty, examined the patient and ordered that he be isolated immediately.

Allison was then separately quarantined for 14 days, alongside four health workers and 35 other people who had been in contact with the Italian.

In denial

Life in isolation wasn’t an easy one for Allison. “On the first day, I didn’t quite understand the gravity of it. I guess I was unconsciously in a lot of denial, thinking ‘no, not me’ which in retrospect wasn’t such a bad thing. This feeling lasted the first 48 hours,” Allison tells the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Her days in isolation made her appreciate the importance of family and the support system family offers, she says. “I was cheerful and able to reassure my family. They were the only ones with whom I could share that I had been potentially exposed to the virus but could not share with them more details on how it happened in virtue of medical confidentiality.

“By my third day, it was like a flood gate opened and a dam of emotions hit me smack in my face and gut. I woke up on day three, and I just couldn’t get out of bed. That was the day the protective shock wore off. I was now unavoidably afraid.

ALSO READ: 24hrs in the life of a doctor at the Lagos coronavirus isolation center

“This point was where I realized the importance of a support system. Luckily my family didn’t fall short. They called to reassure me and in some way themselves. It was mostly welcome. I say mostly because I had highs and lows, periods when I absolutely didn’t want to talk or feel like talking to anyone, even though I wanted them to call as it reassured me.”

Allison also recalls how phone calls made her pull through that period. “The psychological trauma was my greatest challenge, just being with my thoughts alone for 14 days, good, bad, ugly. I also had to deal with the accompanying boredom and missing real human contact.

Allison says life in quarantine was tough (WHO)
Allison says life in quarantine was tough (WHO)

“It hit me really badly because aside from all that was going on, I’m a very physically active person and I couldn’t be that during this period.

“However, it wasn’t all fear if I’m being honest. The quarantine period also gave me time to self-develop as much as possible (through online courses) which was also a very welcome form of distraction.

“To make the 14 days of quarantine liveable my organization had a psychologist call in to check on us twice daily (morning and night), so that gave me a lot of reassurance. They also had someone call in everyday specially for our physical needs.

“The World Health Organization’s (WHO) team in Nigeria also provided their support. The WHO doctors were calling me regularly to provide words of encouragement and advice on the principles of quarantine. I was also able to stay abreast of the latest developments on the virus through the WHO online platforms.

“By my fifth day in, I learned to dispel my boredom and persistent anxiety with movies and books. I’m a fitness enthusiast and as difficult as it was for me to muster the mental energy to workout, whenever I did eventually workout, it lifted my mood significantly and left me feeling healthier.

“We were comfortable in quarantine: steady power supply, spacious rooms, healthy frequent meals surely made it liveable. It’s also important to anticipate boredom, low moods, maybe even depression. Having several means of entertainment would remedy these to an extent.

Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, NCDC boss, leads Nigeria's charge against the infectious coronavirus (LinkedIn)
Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, NCDC boss, leads Nigeria's charge against the infectious coronavirus (LinkedIn)

“The power of a good support system cannot be over emphasized, but overall, maintaining a positive outlook as much as possible is imperative to getting through any quarantine period.”

Nigeria has diagnosed 343 Covid-19 cases in 19 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Abuja as of April 13, 2020 and three cities have been shut down by the federal government and restrictions enforced in a handful of others, in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

91 people have recovered from the virus and have been discharged. 61 of them were discharged in Lagos, the epicenter of the nation’s coronavirus outbreak.