The #NairaLife Of A Draining Sickness

September 28, 2020

Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.

Tell me about the day you knew something wasn’t right. 

I woke up in the middle of the night feeling funny. I’d slept like two hours earlier, but something woke me up. I decided to check my blood pressure  – I’m hypertensive. 

Wait, how old are you? 

27 soon. Anyway, I checked my BP, and it was high. I tried to relax for a bit, then I checked again. 

What happened? 

It just went higher and I started hallucinating and seeing numbers I wasn’t supposed to be seeing. I think it got to the 170 – 91 mm Hg range. 

Woah.

So, I went to the hospital. My heart was racing, but I think that’s because I was panicking – I’m a generally anxious person. At the hospital, it lowered to 160-89 mm Hg. But they admitted me for two days. In that time, I did blood tests and all, turned out I had malaria. 

Malaria spiked your BP? 

Yep. Based on my past with malaria and BP, I believe it was also the cause of the spike. I also had to do an ECG to check my heart. 

The ECG seemed okay, although it showed I’d been hypertensive for a while. I ran other tests, collected three injections. 

I can’t get past the part where you’re 27 and already worrying about your BP. 

I’ve been actively treating it for two years – it’s also hereditary. Anyway, I got discharged and went back home. 

I don’t imagine this was free, eh? 

My health insurance covered it, so you could say it was free. I’m sure it would have been costly if I paid myself. The first time I did ECG without an HMO, it cost me ₦25k. Also, the admission, since it was a private hospital, couldn’t have been less than ₦150k. 

Okay, what happened next? 

I went back home though I still had one more injection to take. My energy levels were down, but I assumed it was the drugs. I was just going about my day, trying to relax. I collected my last injection one day after I was discharged, but around 11 p.m. that day, it started. 

Tell me. 

I started feeling feverish, and I tried to brush it off. The fever kept getting worse. I was freezing with locked windows and no AC.

So, you had to go back to the hospital? 

Well, not immediately. I didn’t want to go back, abeg. I just wanted to sleep through it. It felt like my veins were frozen, but they were also hurting. The way your body hurts from cold. 

So, I called my babe, and we prayed together. She couldn’t come. 

Lockdown, eh?

Yes. She stayed on the phone with me all night as I drifted in and out of sleep. By morning, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to wake up my housemates. I suspected it was COVID. I’d read that people have COVID and think it’s malaria. I wondered where I got it from because I’d been very careful and mostly stayed indoors. 

Underlying conditions? 

Yep. People with underlying conditions are more susceptible to COVID. Anyway, my flatmates took me to the hospital. I had to see the doctor again, and they were confused. They ran more tests and found nothing, not even the malaria I had three days prior. But my blood work showed my white blood cells had spiked. 

Your body was fighting an infection. 

Yep. Also, HMO covered these tests. 

Nice. 

By the way, I’d messaged my family to tell them I might have been exposed, and I just wanted to get tested. You don’t want to unknowingly infect other people. 

They prescribed antibiotics. 

How did that go? 

I didn’t use it. 

Why?

I had zero faith in the doctor I met on that shift. He didn’t inspire any confidence. That same day,  on the recommendation of another doctor, an in-law, I went to get tested for COVID at Yaba. Then I went back home to wait. 

How long did you have to wait? 

A while. I came back and went into isolation, because I have flatmates. I was in complete isolation for a week, and after the first week of just waiting, my flatmates were like, abeg abeg. And everyone barged into my room at once. 

“Alaye, if it’s COVID, we all already have this shit.”

Rascals. 

Hahaha. My babe too was like, “There’s no way I can stay in my house, knowing you’re going through this.” But I stayed sceptical. One of my friends actually had COVID and was self-isolating. He could relate to all the things I was feeling. And he was like, “We need to plan for the worst-case scenario.” 

What did that mean? 

We set up a telemedicine COVID plan. Basically, you can always speak to a doctor, and in cases where you need medical support, a doctor can attend to you at home. They were also going to provide meds, but on the condition that the results came back as positive. 

Did you pay for that?

Yeah. This wasn’t covered by my HMO. It cost ₦160k. So, all I was doing was calling, relaying symptoms, while we waited for results. By the end of the first week when all of this began, the fever was gone, but I was extremely weak. 

I also couldn’t eat, because of acid reflux. I had to switch up my diet to oats and fruits; those were the only things I could eat that didn’t cause immense pain. One week’s stash cost me ₦54k. 

What? 

Hahaha. Yes. While I was speaking to people about what I was feeling, someone recommended celery. A bunch costs ₦3k, and when you blend them, it only fits into a cup. I was doing a bunch a day. Plus strawberries and the grapes. Immediately I started this though, my acid reflux reduced. In three to four days, I could eat normal food with little pain. 

By the second week, there was no pain, but some bloating remained. I was mostly on oatmeals, pancakes, egg whites, chicken, and fruits – apples, grapes, watermelons, bananas – oh my Jesus, I ate bananas.

Did you yo though? 

Hahaha. I didn’t yo. 

What happened next? 

Three weeks later, there was no result. But my strength was coming back. At this point, I was consciously pushing myself, keeping a positive mindset. But the whole thing messed up my head. 

How bad? 

I felt like I was going to die. Since I didn’t get any response, I was paranoid. I had to get another test done. I went through someone to get it done immediately at a private testing lab. Everything cost me ₦70k. 

What did the results say? 

Negative! It felt good. Funny thing is, the day after I did this second test was the day I got my COVID result from Yaba. Negative too. That’s when it got more interesting: if I didn’t have COVID, then what was wrong with me? 

Exactly. 

At this point, my symptoms were gone, except the body pain and fatigue. Anything remotely strenuous was difficult. 

Then my blood pressure started spiking again. They did tests to make sure I didn’t have any issues with my heart or minor strokes. I had to fund all of this myself. 

Omo. Why didn’t you use HMO again?

I wasn’t going through the hospital – I got frustrated because they weren’t saying anything useful.

Some weird rash showed up on my body, so I had to do a blood culture test. They found nothing. The theory, especially with the rash, was that maybe my body was fighting itself – maybe an autoimmune disease. So, we tested for that.  I did an ESR test for inflammation in two different places. One said my result was normal, the other said something was extremely wrong. 

I did anti-ANA, anti-SNA, all negative. Turns out there’s nowhere to do the test in Nigeria, so the lab had to send my blood outside the country. 

Where?

Turkey. 

Have you been to Turkey though? 

Hahaha. My blood has been. During this period I was waiting for my blood to come back, something new started: headaches. I went to see a neurologist, and he said it was tension headaches. They sent me a prescription; antidepressants, stress relievers. 

At this point, I was really tired, so I didn’t buy any of them. 

Sigh. 

And then the neurologist asked, have you tested for typhoid? Then just to be sure, I tested for typhoid, CT Scan and – I can’t even remember the last one. The CT scan alone was like ₦40k. The typhoid tests came as negative, so did the CT scan. Somewhere in the mix, I did an X-Ray. 

And again, I was back to that question —

“What the hell is happening to me?”

Yes. At this point, I was physically, mentally and financially exhausted. I lost 10 kg in two and a half months. By the end of July, I was like, I no do again, and stopped talking to all the doctors or going to the hospital. A doctor even started suspecting that we should run tests for connective tissue disorder. My anxiety peaked.

It was like, I dunno what the hell is happening, but it feels like my body is shutting down. 

Sigh. 

I only kept eating healthy. My father even sent agbo – that helped. I just went about my life, but it created some mental health struggles for me, which is not good for my BP. Someone, another doctor friend, said I should test for typhoid. 

Again? 

Again. But this time, instead of just testing in my stool, I tested in my blood too. When the results came out, there was no typhoid in my stool, but there it was in my blood. Paratyphoid. 

Para what? 

Paratyphoid. I even did an HIV test for the fun of it. Negative. I began typhoid treatment, but my body wasn’t going well with the drug. The day after I started using it, I vomited. It shook me. 

In the end, though, the malaise stopped. 

The anxiety?

It multiplied. My fear of death has now spiked. I understand that at some point in time, we’ll all die, but the fear of death has now become so high that it has now hindered me from doing anything that poses any risk. My body is currently in a constant state of fight or flight. Some days, I have two panic attacks. The occasional chest pains come at night. 

Dude, when does it get better?

I dunno, to be honest, because I’m still living in it right now. I’m just trying to stay positive, even though it’s very very difficult. 

In all of this, where was work? 

Hahaha. Let’s just say I’m in a place of leadership at work, such that my whole unit can run without me being involved on a daily basis. My team mostly covered for me, doing the heavy lifting. The first month, I called in sick. In all of it, I didn’t work for only a month and a half. 

How were you funding all of this? 

My savings. I had about ₦2 million in savings in April 2020. By August, I had ₦800k in savings – basically my house rent. 

So, you spent ₦1.2 million? 

I spent over ₦815k on meds and tests. I can’t even remember the random ₦50ks and – wait, did I tell you about that time I went to have my eyes and ears checked because I thought that was the cause of my headache? Oho.

The remnants of my savings went into fix my car.

Your car was sick too? Damn. 

I planned to travel to be with family outside Lagos, and that meant I had to fix the backlog of things to get my car in a full roadworthy condition. 

What did this drain do to your perspective? 

We’re all a sickness away from bankruptcy. That money wasn’t supposed to go to what it went for, but I was also grateful I had that type of money in savings. 

Imagine if I had depended 100% on my HMO.

On a scale of 1-10, where are you now? 

I’m at a 4 or 5. As much as I’m smiling right now, I still have the mental wars I’m dealing with daily. Last night, I had a panic attack in my sleep. Can you imagine? My anxiety leaves my body stressed, which affects my BP, which feeds my panic.

A vicious cycle.  

What measures are you taking to make sure that you’re financially prepared when the next one comes?

First of all, if I wasn’t in the high-income bracket, over ₦800,000, I won’t have been able to ditch my HMO and look for better solutions. Secondly, I’m upgrading my HMO plan to be able to go into any hospital to get care.

Most importantly, I need to move to a country where healthcare is more dependable and affordable or free.


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