“At some point, I didn’t want to close my eyes because I felt that would be my end”.
Inside a well ventilated COVID-19 isolation tent at the El-Wak Stadium in Accra, a patient on a hospital bed gasps for breath.
He grabbed a walkie-talkie to call nurses to quickly replace his oxygen. It had run out and the natural air that kept him alive for years was nowhere close to being enough. The more he gasped, the more he recalled images of asthmatic patients struggling to breath.
It took four hours for a nurse to arrive.
One man who survived the harrowing experience narrates the near-death experience after spending two days at the ICU.
Russell Banful, who runs Brandflow Limited, an advertising agency in Ghana, described his episode as “very scary.”
At the time, he was so weak and fragile, unable to stand on his feet and couldn’t even breath to the point he “thought I would die”.
He shares his experience at a virtual seminar hosted by Israel Laryea on COVID-19 at workplaces.
Mr Banful said he was not sure how he contracted the virus.
Other COVID-19 patients at the health facility also expressed similar sentiments.
He was out of the country but returned to Ghana on March 16.
That was four days after the first cases had been recorded on March 12 and less than a week before the country’s borders were shut.
Three weeks after his arrival, he took a test for COVD-19, which was negative.
Restrictions and a partial lockdown in some parts of the country affected his business. Hence a temporary halt and he remained at home.
“Occasionally, I would probably step out for a one-on-one meeting with a client or so but rarely would I go out. I think on one or two occasions, I met a group of friends who were not more than 10 or even 15”.
In May he went on an errand to East Legon and felt feverish with an extremely high temperature. When he got home, he informed his wife.
His son checked his temperature, which was 37 degrees celsius.
He took some painkillers and went to bed. At dawn, he realised his temperature had gone higher and called his doctor in the morning.
The doctor advised him to take some paracetamol for two days, during which his temperature kept fluctuating.
A friend who is a doctor, later came to his house to test for malaria, but the result was negative.
He decided to visit the hospital the following Monday, and the health officials conducted malaria tests again in addition to typhoid and others, but they were all negative.
Again, he was given antibiotics and additional medication and returned home. However, the symptoms persisted.
At this point, he was advised by a doctor to take a COVID-19 test which he conducted on Thursday. His samples were taken to the laboratory as they waited for the results.
By Friday, he began feeling weak.
“On Monday, I was feeling terrible,” he said.
He, therefore, decided to go to the hospital. By the time he arrived at the 37 Military Hospital, “I was literally losing my breath and was put on oxygen immediately”.
At that point “I could barely take about 10 steps, and that was how terrible it was”.
“I walk about eight kilometres daily, so not being able to take 10 steps was scary.”
He was admitted and asked to conduct a scan which showed pneumonia, an infection in his lungs.
On Tuesday morning, the results for the COVID-19 was received, which showed positive for SARS-CoV-2.
The closest isolation centre was the temporal health structures installed at the El-Wak Stadium in Accra, where he was transported in an ambulance.
His wife, who was at the hospital, was not permitted to see him, and she was not allowed close to the ambulance.
That was the beginning of his terrible experience.
A few hours after arriving at the isolation centre, he ran out of oxygen.
“The nurses are not there regularly. You need to call on a Motorola walkie-talkie for them to give you oxygen. It might have taken about 4-5 hours before they gave you oxygen. I had to be calling friends to follow-up on the hospital and all sorts of things,” he bemoaned.
He was transferred to another bed after the arrival of a nurse.
However, a few hours later, at about 2 am, he ran out of oxygen again.
This time, he had to wait till morning before he got any help with another oxygen.
“Mr first scary experience was when I got out of the bed to pass urine, and I got back on to the bed. I thought I would not survive by morning. It was so scary. I cannot explain,” he paused for a moment as he recounted emotionally.
At that moment, he was not in pain but felt extremely weak.
He could barely take up to five steps, and the way he was panting after getting back to his bed after visiting the washroom made him feel like he “was just going” with death staring at him.
“There was nobody (health official) around, and the next person was someone also on oxygen and another elderly woman who was also struggling. I called a landline on which a doctor called me earlier, but nobody would pick. It was around 3 am, and at that point, it was my God and me. At some point, I didn’t want to close my eyes because I felt I would go (die).”
Fortunately, a nurse came to attend to him at about 6 am.
Mr Banful was worried that the washroom had been built about 100 metres away from his isolation room. It meant a journey as he struggled to pick himself up and drag his body to visit the washroom.
He encouraged himself to be mentally strong but felt his situation was very critical and needed to be moved from El-Wak.
On Wednesday, through the intervention of friends, an ambulance transported him to the ICU of the University of Ghana Medical Center (UGMC).
“The doctors and nurses are doing extremely well” over there. He narrated with his face lit up.
“They are so professional. They go all the length to make you safe. When it comes to them, I am lost for words”.
He said the service at UGMC as compared to El-Wak gave him some assurance of survival.
“It came across as a well set up place for someone with my condition,” said.
He got a different treatment as doctors were at his bedside almost every 30 minutes to check his vitals.
He was encouraged by the nurses that his condition was not the worst, which gave him hope.
At the same facility, there was a patient who had been at the ICU for 13 days in a coma.
“When he opened his eyes, he thought he was in some hospital abroad. He did not know how he got there”.
Mr Banful, who spent two days at the UGMC ICU, credits God for his life.
“It is not something I wish for my enemy,” he stressed.
He admonished the public to adhere to all safety protocols to keep one another safe.
“Sometimes you could go off guard despite the protocols. It is tricky and just by the grace of God that some people do not get infected,” he cautioned.
“I was very particular about the protocols,” yet he got infected.
Deaths in Ghana
Over 145 people have died in Ghana as the COVID-19 bites hard with no light at the end of the tunnel.
Across the globe, the pathogen has snapped the lives of more than 606,653 people with no proven cure or vaccine.
Many of the deceased who succumbed to the infection ended up at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of hospitals.
Admission to health facilities for remedies instead marked a transition to the underworld.
Their last sight was breathing masks attached to ventilators being placed over their faces as they lay weak in hospital beds.