Some of my readers are aware that I have been down with Covid-19 for several weeks, and I feel the time has come for my Kiraitu Murungi moment. Well sort of, as unlike the Meru Governor (whose article about his experiences was published in the Sunday Nation of April 25) I never entered the world of politics, and so it did not lead me to self-flagellate over my past.
Like for the governor, my early stage was denial. My symptoms were such that at first I was convinced I just had the flu. But acceptance came with testing positive for Covid-19, leading me to wonder where and when I had become infected. My sister in London had been warning me against indulging in the active life I had been leading, but until I succumbed to the virus I felt it was all fine.
Then, there I was in an isolation ward at the Aga Khan Hospital, confined to my bed and with no energy. It reminded me of the poem I wrote in 1980 when I came down with hepatitis, about just “watching the ceiling go by”. Here’s how Mr Murungi summed it up: “Corona had disconnected me from everything. It put me out of action. I felt weak and useless.” Yes, I relate to that.
I only recently learned from family members that they were told by my doctor that I was close to death at one time. Wisely, neither the doctor nor they shared this with me then, and even now I find it hard to accept — surely they’re referring to someone else! This is in stark contrast to when I had cancer of the prostate 16 years ago, when I seriously contemplated my mortality. Why not now? Denial again? No, this time I managed to exclude it from my mind as unwanted baggage.
Like the governor I have been inundated with messages of goodwill through emails, SMSs and WhatsApp get-well messages, assurances of prayer, expressions of great optimism. I was quite overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from around Kenya and far beyond, wanting to respond to each one and feeling good that I was able to.
I also related to Mr Murungi when he referred to “some people being congratulated for winning a ‘heroic battle’ against Covid-19”. This was a self-delusion, he wrote. “I did nothing. I didn’t fight. At the hospital I just followed the doctor’s and nurses’ orders. I didn’t even know what they were giving me. I was too weak and subdued. It was a very humbling experience for me.”
Was I strong? Did others fight less heroically than me? Apparently so. But more often I felt like an under-performer, not finishing my meals or exercising as much as I should have, due to my low energy. Some at the hospital urged me to push harder, while one doctor reassured me I didn’t have to be “top of the class”.
Like me, for the first time in many years the governor found himself all alone. My solitary confinement – for that is how I came to think of it – lasted a full two months, where the only contact I had was with the nurses and other support staff and through the fleeting daily visits of the doctors.
My hitherto decent circle of influence was largely reduced to influencing my own daily micro-activities, which focused on major projects like having a shower (and initially just being washed in my bed by my wonderfully caring nurses) and eating a meal (despite serious loss of appetite).
While Mr Murungi reflected about his life and future while he was burdened with Covid, my thoughts rarely extended to either my past or my future. But somehow I did summon up the strength to write my articles for this column, keep up with my mails and texts, participate in a few online meetings, and more recently to keep adequately active with my directorships and a few of my consultancies. It is this that has kept me sane and hopeful.
Eventually I moved out of the isolation ward and into my own room, itself a major upheaval – giving this change management consultant food for thought about how anxiety can be provoked when letting go of an existing environment, however preferable the new one may be.
I am no longer in hospital, but the journey to full recovery is very much ongoing. Living through these difficult days and nights has made me much more aware of what those who are seriously unwell endure, and it will make me far more empathetic towards such people in future. Realistic too, sensing what they can and cannot handle.