With the negative stigma attached to testing positive for Covid-19 in Uganda, it takes courage to confess publicly that one has contracted the virus. Despite the wrongfully imposed shame, some Ugandans are courageous enough to tell their experience, reminding others with Covid to have hope and encourage all to follow Covid safety guidelines. The Rev. Eng Paul Wasswa Ssembiro, the Chaplain of Uganda Christian University (UCU), is one such courageous person. Ssembiro contracted Covid in November 2020. He narrates to Eriah Lule his ordeal with the virus and how God helped him overcome it.
By Rev. Eng. Paul Wasswa Ssembiro as told to Eriah Lule
I don’t know how Dr. Geoffrey Mulindwa (UCU’s Director of Medical Services) referred to me, but I am sure I was “Covid-19 Patient 001.” I don’t have a clue of where or when I contracted the virus. But I got it.
I began to be conscious about some sort of infection when I started feeling general body weakness and pain in the joints. The joint pain was unusual because I used to jog every day, to beat off fatigue. The symptoms were akin to those I got whenever I suffered from malaria. On this Saturday, I discovered that I had developed a dry cough. I was uneasy because I had to lead the church service the following day. So, I sought immediate medical attention at the Allan Galpin Health Center, the university clinic.
I had a throbbing headache, which seemed to be localized just slightly above my ears. I took painkillers and even took too many at some point and out of despair. But, to no avail. I must confess that I struggled with denial and self- pity, saying to myself “I can’t be infected.” Soon, I reached out to Dr. Mulindwa, who gave me a referral to Mengo Hospital, an Anglican Church-founded hospital in Kampala. Mengo. It is affiliated with UCU.
When I got to the hospital, I met a doctor whose team noticed my agony. They administered a diclofenac (anti-inflammatory drug) injection that relieved my pain a bit. Several medical tests ensued: Lung scanning, heart-echo tests, blood count tests and finally, a test that I dreaded the most – the Covid-19 PCR test.
I was admitted to the hospital and immediately given intravenous injections for pneumonia, and pain killers. When the Covid results returned, the doctor told me I could not go home. They had confirmed I was positive for coronavirus.
They told me my lungs were in a crucial state. They sent doctors to counsel me, because the hospital did not have the facility for treatment of Covid-19 patients. My spirits sunk. I was distraught.
I was referred to Mulago National Referral Hospital. Anxiety caused me to unduly feel stigmatized in the process because I seemed like a problem Mengo was trying to rid itself of as soon as possible. But, thankfully, God gave strength to my wife who stood firmly in faith, for me, that all would be well.
Before admission at Mulago, I was sprayed with chlorine that soaked my clothes. The experience was irritating and traumatizing. It was an uncomfortable and painful wait of nearly two hours, before I was taken to my admission room. Eagerly awaiting a bath, having spent 24 hours without one, I was alarmed there wasn’t any I could have.
But God granted me divine favor. It was a Friday morning. A nurse walked in to check on patients who had been admitted the previous evening. She was a UCU alumna. She knew me. God used her to get me to a better ward, where I got a private room, with certain privileges such as accessing fruits to make juice and immunity-boosting concoctions from lemon and ginger, among other foods.
I also met a young man, also a patient, but in a better state than I was. He had known me as clergy from the church conventions I attended. “Pastor, you are my responsibility now,” he told me, with a smile. He started bringing me salads and hot water, until the day he was discharged. However, before he left, he asked colleagues at the hospital to take care of my meals and make sure I was comfortable.
The healing hand of the Lord was with me; my body responded well to medication. Six days after admission, when the Director of Mulago Hospital was moving around the ward, he entered my room. When he saw me, he said: “You are not supposed to be here. There are worse cases than you are. We should be discharging you soon.”
This was good news, to me, from a person who had a bigger picture of the virus. My fellow patients would later tell me I looked better than when I was admitted into the facility. I began doing mild physical exercises. My breath was improving. Finally, on the December 4, 2020, I was discharged.
While I still battle with side effects, such as high blood pressure, occasionally, I bless the Lord for healing me. Of course, my Christian ministry was disrupted; plans got sabotaged. Matter of fact, the whole chaplaincy office was closed to control the spread of the virus, as well as my leadership responsibilities quelled. But, we still bless God for His faithfulness.