MUST-READ: Owner of HealthPlus, Bukky George shares lessons after surviving COVID-19 battle


-Myself, ten other household members tested positive, survived Covid-19 in Lagos… -lists early symptoms, local remedies, breathing techniques and drugs that helped

Pharm. (Mrs) Bukky George, CEO of Healthplus, biggest Pharmacy chain stores in Nigeria and CasaBella International, has narrated her ordeal in the hands of the dreaded novel Coronavirus.

The Healthplus CEO, who has just recuperated from the infection, after she and 10 other members of her household were discharged from the Infectious Diseases Hospital, IDH, Yaba, took to social media to recount her experience.

In a post titled: “When the unthinkable happens”, Bukky told the story of her journey before, during and after COVID-19 infection.

My journey before, during and after COVID-19 Infection:

I am the least likely person to be infected by COVID-19. Why? Because I am strict and particular about hygiene, health matters and maintaining standards. As the pandemic trended in Asia, Europe and the Americas, I stayed on top of authentic news & information, and swiftly put in place processes and procedures at home and at work. For example, I coordinated the return of my children from their schools back to Nigeria, ensuring proper decontamination on arrival and 14-day self-quarantine for each. We initiated working from home before the Lagos State lockdown. My home too was on lockdown before the Lagos State lockdown. “No one in, no one out” was our mantra! All packages coming into the house were sanitized with bleach solution in a spray bottle, disinfecting wipes, hot ironing or washing with soap and water, depending on the item. All members of the household religiously took their nutritional supplements and had their stash of masks, gloves, hand sanitizers etc.

One weekend in April, a member of the family started coughing. It was a chesty cough and I did not initially pay attention, afterall, dry cough was the symptom associated with COVID-19. After a few days of constant coughing, it was necessary for a visit to be made to the hospital and COVID-19 antibody test was carried out. The result came back positive.

Antibody tests have about a 70% degree of accuracy. I was trembling like a leaf when I got the news. I was in total shock. How did this virus get into our fortress? I will never know for sure! I immediately reached out to a friend who facilitated swift PCR tests the very next morning. Every member of the household including the drivers were tested (nose & throat swabs and sputum tests). I asked the doctors about the timing of the results. I was told 48 hours.

A call came through in 24 hours and the doctor said ‘’Is this a good time? Well, there is never a good time for news like this. We have a lot of positives’’. I grabbed a piece of paper and started scribbling. 11 out of 12 of us were positive. We had several vulnerable persons with underlying conditions in our family. From cardiovascular disease, asthma, allergies to the elderly. My life flashed before me!

Yes, I am aware that COVID-19 infection is not a death sentence but according to statistics, about 3% – 4% of infected persons will die. What are the odds that all of us will be spared? I was frightened. I was even more gutted by the fact that I had made a comment before the lockdown that if I get COVID-19 infection, I will die because of my underlying health conditions. Now my result was positive! My first action was to fall on my knees, join hands with one of my family members to pray and cancel my earlier confession. I learnt a lesson of a life time – never ever will I confess negatively again, as there is power in the tongue. I asked God to forgive my careless words.

I carefully broke the news of the positive test results to each person, managing emotions. My son researched information on what COVID survivors did and he shared the details with me. One of his findings is that they ate and drank alkaline foods and beverages and took a lot of hot fluids. We therefore shopped for alkaline foods such as lemon, watermelon, pawpaw, kiwi, pineapple, cucumber, kale and other green leafy vegetables. Other alkaline foods include broccoli, cauliflower, onion, garlic, root vegetables (sweet potatoes) and nuts. We avoided acidic foods such as sugar, dairy, processed foods, apples, grape fruit and drinks. We ordered a lot of juices from a popular local brand as some of their combinations ticked the alkaline box. We were determined to deal with this virus that was susceptible to heat and an alkaline environment.

The next day, we all packed our clothes and personal items for 7 days. We checked into the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) Yaba for isolation. The testimonial of Mrs Eyamba Dafinone on Arise News was reassuring as we journeyed to Yaba. There were 5 of us in the female ward and 6 in the male ward. Therapy started immediately. We were placed on Antiretrovirals (Lopinavir and Ritonavir aka Aluvia), Antibiotics (Azithromycin), Calcium, and Vitamin C. We continued our own prescription medicines (where relevant) and nutritional supplements. The supplements included our usual Multivitamin & Mineral Complex, Immune Boosters, Zinc, Black Seed Oil, Vitamin D etc.

The hospital was clean. The beds were new and the building had been obviously renovated from the Ebola times. This was comforting. The mattress was however covered by a disposable fitted sheet. There were no bedsheets, no pillow cases and no blankets. For the first two nights, we slept without these. The day after admission, my good friend helped us shop for bedsheets, pillow cases, blankets, cartons of bottled water, mentholated balm, Aboniki, electric kettles, plastic buckets and bowls, healthy snacks, honey, toilet paper, liquid hand soaps, detergent, disinfecting wipes, air freshener, disposable plates and cutlery, mugs, body cream, shower gel, toothpaste, toothbrushes etc. These were split between both wards. We tried to stay positive, determined to make the most of our stay. Food was ok but we augmented on most days.

All was well on Day 1 after admission. No one had symptoms. On Day 2, I was coordinating our affairs when I suddenly felt my lungs fill with fluid, like I was drowning. It was very uncomfortable and I felt some pain under my rib cage. It appeared like my chest was being pumped with fluid using a bicycle tyre pump. I raised an alarm. Luckily, our ward mate was a registered nurse who contracted COVID-19 in the course of duty. She swiftly grabbed a bucket, boiled water in a kettle, poured the boiling water in the bucket, put in a scoop of mentholated balm, sat me on a chair, I bent over the bucket and covered my head with a blanket. She coached me to breath in and hold for 10 seconds, then breath out and in again. I repeated these for 10 minutes. When I stood up, I felt better. Next was chest physiotherapy. She patted my back for some minutes. Click on this link for the technique I was then offered a very hot cup of tea. I felt much better. Finally, I went online for information on breathing techniques that help COVID-19 patients. I had heard about these and found one. Click on this link for the technique The relief lasted 3-4 hours and the fluid/mucus started building up again. I quickly figured that I had to repeat this process of steam inhalation, chest physiotherapy, breathing technique and hot fluids 3-4x a day. I was really afraid to sleep that first night. I told my folks to check on me periodically. When I completed my last routine and slept on my tummy, I surprisingly slept like a baby that night. In the morning when I woke up, before opening my eyes, I whispered ‘’Thank you Lord’’.

The cough started a day after the respiratory illness. It was a raspy, productive cough with white sputum. My good friend shopped and made us two bowls of herbal paste made by chopping, blending and boiling 5 ingredients – Ginger, Garlic, whole Lemon, whole Orange and Pineapple. A heaped teaspoon of this paste in boiling water, in a mug, sweetened with honey became our mainstay. We shared with our fellow inmates.

Over the next 5 days, I got progressively worse. No fever, no loss of smell, no loss of taste, no headaches, just this horrible respiratory illness! Breathing was laboured. There was a fullness in my throat, like I had extra flesh inside the base of my throat. There was a tugging sensation across my throat and chest. There was a perpetual painful turbulence in my chest. I felt awful. The symptoms, which were sometimes indescribable, were worse at night. I recalled the animated documentary on CNN that described the damage that COVID-19 causes as it ravages the lungs. This bothered me. I have hyper inflammation on a good day, so I wasn’t surprised I was suffering so much. Apart from the respiratory symptoms, my legs ached. I also had back pain. It felt like I was permanently wearing a lead jacket. I walked slightly bent over. I was weak on several occasions. The wave of weakness made me feel like a doughnut, hollow on the inside. My symptoms were very similar to that of my girlfriend who lives in the UK. When she came down with the virus, I was in touch with her almost everyday and was very aware of how she suffered. She did not receive any medication beyond paracetamol and home remedies. I told myself that if she made it, I had a better chance of coming through.

The medicines gave me diarrhoea at first but this soon settled. Imodium was the remedy for this. We were advised to drink at least 3 liters of water daily to flush the kidneys.

COVID-19 is known to pack up the kidneys. It was important to rest, at the same time movement was key. The good nurse/fellow patient said to me “You need a lot of both rest and exercise”. Lying on my back was not advisable as breathing became difficult. Lying on the tummy was advised but I found this position uncomfortable. My compromise position was on my side. I did not sleep well most nights. Exercise was walking within and in front of the wards. This good nurse made my entire family one spirometer each (aka blow glove). She requested for 11 latex examination gloves, 11 10ml syringes and cellotape. This DIY device was used to measure the movement of air into and out of the lungs. We all used it to exercise the lungs by blowing hard into the glove 10x back to back, once a day. She advised escalating to the doctors if anyone was unable to blow properly.

I made friends with the other ladies in the ward. We came from all walks of life, across all ages. Some were infected by their husbands. It appears many men don’t listen to advice, feel they know all, feel invincible! Small wonder COVID-19 infection statistics show a 70% to 30% split between male and female patients. Quite a few on admission were doctors and nurses who caught the virus on the job. We had pregnant patients too. Every morning and evening, we praised and worshipped God. We read the Bible and prayed. This kept us going. We kept hope alive. We developed a special bond. By His grace, we did not lose anyone in our section of the ward. Three of us in the ward however had the respiratory illness. My SPO2 monitor (aka Pulse Oximeter) was my companion. As long as the oxygen saturation in my blood was equal to or greater than 95, all was well. So I tracked this measurement periodically each day. I dipped to 92 on a few occasions but the breathing technique I found on Youtube and my other routines bumped my numbers back up. Apart from that done by the nurses, we still checked our temperature daily. Hot water salt gargle was recommended, so we did this 2x a day. Hot water bottle was suggested and we bought two. I filled both with hot water and placed them on my back. The back ache disappeared by the next day. We all had to wear our 3 ply surgical masks all the time while on admission. My guess is that it was to minimize further exposure to the virus which may increase viral load and delay recovery. I purchased a steamer, usually intended for a DIY facial. I preferred the steamer to boiling water in a bucket. I would set up the steamer, add 6 drops of eucalyptus or another relevant essential oil. The steamer provided a constant stream of steam for 15-20 minutes and this helped to break down the mucus in my lungs. Very effective!

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