NASSIM JAHANGIR: My story of triumph over COVID-19

Kindly introduce yourself to us

My name is Nassim Jahangir. I am a clinician by profession and the Founder and CEO of Connect To Retain CBO, which is a youth-led organization based in Kilifi.

Among the diseases that many people fear so far is COVID-19. Sharing your own experience, how did you feel/react when you realized you had contracted the disease?

When I realised I had contracted the virus, my first reaction was not good, because I was shocked. I had been hopeful that the results would turn negative even though I had those symptoms for the disease. It was during this period of shock that I realised the disease was very much real.

So what was the next step you took after realising this?

Initially, this happened on my return flight from Nairobi. By this time, the health protocols were not being observed. It was when I landed in Malindi, that I felt fever and chest pains. I didn’t take these symptoms seriously at first and reported to work the following day. Later on, I realised I had lost the senses of smell and taste. So I decided to take the test. The results came out after two days.

Since the results were positive, I had to stay in isolation. Luckily, I was granted the home-based care after my home was assessed by health officials. So I was isolated in my bedroom and could only access my personal belongings. Physical interactions with family and friends were prohibited during this time in isolation. Furthermore, contract tracing was done and luckily, none of them tested positive.

One of the greatest punishment for a person is being left alone in solitude. The mind is usually put to torture. How did you maintain your mental wellness during this period you were in isolation? And how long did you stay in isolation?

It feels lonely being in isolation. It is actually torture to your mental health, because you are restricted in your movements and interactions. What was even worse is I couldn’t physically interact with my family during this period.

During my low moments, I would limit conversations with people and would only reply when my spirits were lifted.  However, I had to hide my experiences at that time and did not share it with any one. It was during this period in isolation, that I started physical exercising and reading books. I spent 33 days in isolation. Most of the time were spent sleeping.

How did your family take the news? How did they handle it?

My partner was supportive and understanding during this period. However, I couldn’t tell my kids on my experiences at that time, in order to protect them from mental and emotional anguish. I only broke the news to them, later on when they also had to be tested, as part of the medical procedure.

During this period, were there any medications you were put under, as part of treatment?

I had severe body pains and was given Azithromycin antibiotics. I was also given Vitamin C and Zinc supplements. Furthermore, to curb the cough and chest pains, I was given Prednisolone and painkillers. I also used a concoction of lemon, ginger and honey mixed in hot water.

What is the difference between Isolation and Quarantine?

Isolation is for patients who are already infected so that they don’t infect others. Quarantine is for those who are exposed to the virus so that they can check on their progress, healthwise.

How did the outside world (friends, family, co-workers) receive you once you were removed from isolation? Considering the stigma associated with the disease.

For the period I was in isolation and limited contacts with people, most of my friends were worried about me and kept inquiring on my whereabouts. It was even worse for partners and stakeholders in business, for whom I couldn’t honour engagements such as physical meetings.

When I came out, I faced stigma. When I passed near some people, they would wear their masks fearing to contract the virus from me. Some would not attend meetings where I was a participant. I also lost personal friends during this time. These experiences can be disheartening.

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Are there any key lessons that you learned during that period that you would like to share?

I have learnt a lot from the experience. First, is about patience. I had to wait for 33 days in order to come out of isolation. I was also able to learn why taking care of your mental health is very important, and the various ways to promote mental wellness. I also learnt on the value of friendships during this time.

I also learnt much more on my personal lifestyle and health and how to improve on it. Further, the stigma I experienced has been an eye-opener, since I work with persons who face the same stigma.

Is there a way we can reduce this stigma associated with the virus?

We can remove stigma by creating awareness. The more the people get to understand more about COVID-19, the less they will stigmatise. Information is key in fighting stigma in the community.

Who needs to self-isolate? How can I know if I am self-isolating correctly?

Once you show symptoms close to those of COVID-19 or have been contact with someone infected, go for a test and isolate. This can be done at home or isolation centers.

While in isolation, ensure everything you use is disinfected and ensure that you do not physically interact with others. Wear masks and avoid touching things. In case of any health issues, contact your medical officer.

There has been a general perception that;

1. Corona is not real, it is just a sensational story shared by media/government for their own gains.

2. It is just a mild flu that can easily be treated.

What is your advice to us with regards to this?

It is sad that people have such perceptions. Corona is real and I can attest to that. It is difficult to cope with the virus, especially for those with chronic illnesses like hypertension, diabetes and more. Observe the health protocols as outlined. Wear masks and maintain social distancing.

What is your parting shot for us today?

Be ambassadors of COVID-19 to your community. Create awareness on the disease while ensuring health guidelines are followed.

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