A Week In The Life Of A Nurse On The COVID-19 Frontlines

April 14, 2020

“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.


Today’s subject is *Agnes, a nurse currently caring for Covid patients. She tells us her fears as a young person working in close contact with an infectious disease.

 MONDAY:

I did not sleep all night. My mind keeps playing the different scenarios that can happen before this pandemic is over. “What if I get infected?”  “What if I make a mistake and infect my family?”

I don’t feel like going to work today.

My parents are really supportive. My dad reminds me that my job is a humanitarian service. My mum tells me to just go and she prays for me. This gives me the positive reinforcement I need to leave the house.

Once I get into the ward, all my fears melt away. Seeing the patients gives me ginger to work and I immediately swing into action.

One of my patients is reluctant to take his drugs but I encourage him. He tells me that he knows he doesn’t have a choice but it’s just so difficult. He is tired of staying indoors, not being able to see his family, and constantly taking medications. I try to empathize with him but I realise that I can’t completely understand what he’s going through. I have the freedom to go and come as I want. I also get to see my family, but he’s stuck inside.

On my way home after work, I can’t stop thinking about the patient. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be alone so I say a silent prayer for him. I pray that God comforts him.

My family is excited to see that I made it back alive. I am scared of infecting them so I tell them to keep their distance. I undress before entering and fold my clothes along with my scrubs from work.

I have my bath again. This is the third time today because I can’t take any chances. I soak both my casual clothes and scrubs in bleach without bothering to separate them. I just want to make sure that they are disinfected. After I have scrubbed to my satisfaction, I go to greet my family members.

 TUESDAY: 

It’s easier to go to work today. I am motivated by the réalisation that the patients have nobody; they only have us, the health workers. They can’t see their family and they can’t leave the hospital.

I am taking danfo to work and as an extra precaution, I pay for the whole seat. I am trying to separate myself and make sure I don’t infect anyone. If I seclude myself from other people on the bus, they have lower chances of getting infected.

On my way to work, I see people in clusters and I am annoyed. Some people are even jogging. Can’t they jog in their house? It makes me wonder if people are not listening to the news about how this illness spreads. I am risking my life to care for patients and to make sure the discharge rate increases and some people think this is the right time to jog.

I need a distraction from the annoyance I feel before I get to work. I open social media and I see a video from the discharged patients thanking the healthcare workers. They are dancing and they look genuinely happy. This makes me happy and improves my mood. At least, some Nigerians appreciate my work. I am not working in vain.

 WEDNESDAY:

Wearing the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is not child’s play. It is very uncomfortable.

COVID-19 nurse

Face shield on the person in white.

The first step is to wash my hands. Then, I get two pairs of gloves. I wear the first pair of gloves. Next, I wear a disposable cap. After that, I wear an N95 respirator, then a regular face mask on top of it. The N95 respirator holds my disposable cap in place. Then I wear the PPE gown. 

COVID-19 nurse

N95 facemask.

Next, I wear a face shield. This protects my eyes and makes sure my face is covered against splashes from body fluid. Then, I make a small hole in the sleeve of my gown and put my thumb through it. This prevents my gown from drawing back when I am attending to the patient as this can leave me exposed. Then, I wear the second pair of gloves over the first with the thumb sticking through the hole.

Finally, I wear my knee-length boots. Once I am done, I tell my colleague to check for space and to make sure that there are no mistakes.

It’s so hot in all these layers of clothing. It’s even harder walking in the boots. But I have no choice. 

After taking this precautionary step, I am annoyed when I read a statement by a journalist claiming three nurses in my hospital have been infected. It’s annoying because they haven’t taken any health worker samples for testing, so how can they even be positive?

Also, the news is making my family members panic and they have been calling me all day. They keep asking “Are you fine?” “Are you part of the people infected?” 

I spend the rest of the day reassuring them that I am fine and this only stresses me further. Every day I go to work is already stressful enough for them. It’s unfair to add the rumour of health workers getting infected to their fear. 

Can today just end? I just want to go home and watch Boys Over Flowers, my favorite Korean series. I am in serious need of a distraction. 

THURSDAY:

Today, in the ward, my face shield falls off. I am too shocked to process anything. I keep thinking, “Is this how I die?” All I remember is my superior telling me to quickly leave the isolation ward. My legs carry me outside but I am not present. I wash my face, arms, and neck with chlorine water. The one we use to disinfect our PPE before entering the ward. Then, I take more chlorine water and I go have my bath with it.

I decide to sleep in a hotel tonight. I can’t go home. At the hotel, I have another bath with chlorine water. By the time I am done scrubbing, my eyes are very red. I look like I have either just finished smoking or crying.

My bosses keep calling and I can’t stop asking them if I will die. I tell them that I feel like dying but they keep reassuring me that I won’t die. I don’t know why they are more confident than I am. They also tell me to take some time off work to rest.

I can’t tell my parents the real reason I am not coming home so I make up an excuse. I know if I tell my mum, she’ll wake me up in the middle of the night to pray for me and I will end up not sleeping.

Honestly, I really just need to sleep. I can’t wait for all this to end.

FRIDAY:

After this pandemic is over, my colleagues and I need to see a psychologist. Is it normal to dread going to work? To be uncertain of what will happen when you get to work: How many patients will come in today? What will happen today?

It’s worse when I am on night shift because all the admissions come in the middle of the night. Because of the stigma, people wait till the cover of dark before asking the ambulance to come pick them. Since everyone is thinking the same way and trying to avoid stigma, the night shifts are intense. During my last night shift, we admitted seven patients at once. I wanted to die from the stress.

I don’t blame these patients too. I remember a couple that tested positive for the virus but their kids were negative. Because the whole family knew about their diagnosis, nobody wanted to take in their children. They were all scared that the test results were fake. So, the poor kids had to go stay with their parents’ colleagues from work. That’s when the stigma patients face dawned on me.

All of this only adds up to make my work ten times harder. At least today, I get to chat and listen to music and not think of work. I am less scared today than I was yesterday.

SATURDAY:

I call my family members today to let them know that I am still alive. I haven’t spoken to them since Thursday. I will be going home today. I am alive today so let me spend time with my family. I have been boosting my immune system and scrubbing my body with chlorine.

I cherish any free time I have now and I want to spend it with them. God forbid, if I go to work one day and someone calls my parents that something has happened to me, how will they take it? So, the least I can do is spend as much time with them as possible.

I considered getting a will when the government first increased my salary for being a part of the COVID-19 fight. But then I realised that I don’t need one. My parents know all the passwords to my ATM cards. My sibling is my next of kin.

Also, only two people in this world owe me money and it doesn’t count. The first person is a childhood friend and I feel indebted to the person. Even if I die, it’s money my ghost can forget. The second person is my mum and she has done far more than that for me. She even deserves more. I can’t now start going to write in my will that “Mummy owes me this.”

After considering all of this, I just can’t be bothered. I just keep praying that all of us see it out alive. From Nigeria to me, to my colleagues at the frontlines, to my family members.

For now, let me prepare to go home.

 SUNDAY:

No church today. But there hasn’t been church service for me in a while. When the pandemic first hit Nigeria, I was nursing COVID-19 patients, so, instead of entering the church on Sundays, I would stay outside in a secluded place and worship from a distance. I went to church because I needed that communal feeling of worship. After the service, I would leave before everyone. I was so worried about infecting anyone that I avoided mixing with the other worshippers.

Today, I say a silent prayer. I pray that God should save me. I am not married. I have not given birth and I am playing with a pandemic. I have a lot of things I haven’t yet done. I want to learn how to drive. I want to travel; I want to experience the fashion in Korea. I want to experience their culture. I keep watching it in their series and I want to see it in person. I also want to visit my sister’s kids because I have never met them in person. But, most importantly, I look forward to getting married. Even though I left my last boyfriend because he was not serious, I am still open to love. 

Tomorrow, I go again.


This story was edited for clarity. Some details have been changed to protect the identity of the subject.


Check back every Tuesday by 9 am for more “A Week In The Life Of” goodness, and if you would like to be featured or you know anyone who fits the profile, don’t hesitate to reach out. Reach out to me: hassan@bigcabal.com if you want to be featured on this series.

Hassan Yahaya

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