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Impact of COVID-19 on researchers: A Personal Experience

By AuthorAID Team | July 31, 2020  | None  | News

Ezekiel Jubane is a PhD Student in Public Policy and Governance at Africa University in Zimbabwe. He provides us with a very personal description of his admission to hospital during COVID-19 and how it affected his PhD studies.

I set out to share my personal experience of getting hospitalised during the pandemic-induced lockdown, a development which came at a time when I was chasing the deadline for submission of two articles in partial fulfilment of my PhD studies.

Being anaemic, I have always been particular about certain personal health matters and when I started to experience some general body weakness after having lost some considerable amount of blood, and this at a time the country had just announced regulations aimed at curtailing the spread of COVID-19, my gutfeel told me that I was getting into some trying times. I had to immediately seek medical attention.

The doctor I consulted on the 6th of May 2020 confirmed what I already suspected; my Haemaglobin (HB) level had dropped to 5.2, which medically is a life-threatening condition and I was immediately rushed to the main referral hospital.

The hospital has been designated a COVID-19 treatment facility and is now divided into the Red Zone (for COVID-19 patients), and the Green Zone for others. The first port of call at the hospital’s Green Zone was the casual section. This is where patients coming from other health facilities are received, screened and either admitted or discharged. Given that most of these patients are critically sick or seriously injured, they are accompanied by at least two relatives; a situation which results in overcrowding, making social distancing impossible. I felt very vulnerable in this section because the possibility of being infected was real, and when I was finally moved out, I felt a huge relief.

After painstakingly going through a rather long and tedious admission process which included the initial screening for COVID-19, payments and initial assessment by a GP, I was allocated to a General Surgeon who examined me and concluded that I had to be admitted. This marked my two-week stay in hospital, putting paid to anything related to my academic work, including the writing of the two papers that were soon to be submitted.

When I got into the ward, I was placed under the care of physicians who informed me that I needed to be blood transfused with three pints, and other procedures would follow thereafter. For the first four days nothing much happened. There was no blood. On the 5th day, one pint was obtained and the transfusion process was successfully done though sadly this was to be the only pint I got until I was discharged on medication and a fibre dietary regime.

Upon enquiring why I could not get the remaining two pints, I was informed that the National Blood Bank’s stocks were severely depleted due to the lockdown. In compliance with the lockdown measures, Blood Collection Teams could not reach out to blood donors, most of whom are high school students, college students, university students and other large employing organisations. Whatever little blood came into the hospital was given on a priority basis to accident victims and caesarean operations, and yours truly did not fit that criteria. Further compounding my situation, the few times I would be considered, there was a blood group mismatch.

I wanted to utilise most of my time working on my draft articles but my laptop was not allowed in for ‘security reasons’ because imposters could sneak in and steal from patients, so authorities did not want to take any chances. Some of my books were brought from home so I could at least read and write some notes for use later. But reading became difficult because concentrating when the person on the next bed is groaning with pain is next to impossible. It could also be easily viewed as being insensitive, so I gave up on reading during the day, restricting my intimacy with books to some ungodly hours. Visitors were limited to only one person for one hour, and so colleagues in my PhD cohort could not visit, but their calls and messages gave me extra energy to pull through because they urged me to focus on recovering first before worrying about the academic commitments.

My hospitalisation during the pandemic taught me several lessons but I will highlight only three. 1. The impact of COVID-19 is a lot more than what is being reported or seen. 2. At a health policy perspective, no country can ever be 100% prepared given the multi-faceted havoc the pandemic has caused. 3. Life is precious and its preservation supersedes everything else, including the PhD.

Now that I am on the recovery path and at home, I have started picking up the pieces, and this article is the starting point. The journey to attaining a PhD qualification is indeed filled with unforeseen obstacles.

What a privilege to be in this group.

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