Rwandan man who recovered from COVID-19 shares experience

Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the Director-General of Rwanda Biomedical Centre, speaks to people who were discharged at Kanyinya health facility on Sunday, April 5. Photo: Hudson Kuteesa

On Sunday, Rwanda discharged the first batch of recoveries ever since the country recorded a COVID-19 case on its soil on March 14.

The new development means Rwanda remains with 100 active cases of COVID-19, out of 104 confirmed cases.


One of the discharged people, a Rwandan man who has been treated at the facility for about 20 days shared with us his experience as a patient and the journey to recovery. He requested to remain anonymous. 




When and how were you identified?

I was identified on March 15. It was just a normal day. I think I had a headache the day before and on Sunday I decided to go for a checkup. I did screening for both COVID-19 and malaria at King Faisal Hospital.

The results for malaria came negative, but I was advised to stay longer because I think the regulations had changed and someone couldn’t go home without getting their results. So I stayed on for about three hours.

Then I was told there was one of my contacts that had tested positive, so the doctor told me that because of that they were going to expedite my samples.

I think around 1 PM, I was told I was positive and I had to be transferred to the isolation centre in Kanyinya.

What symptoms did you have?

On Saturday I had some fatigue, but not extreme. I was driving and felt I wanted to have a nap. In the evening I had a fever. On Sunday I felt like I had fever. Everything rotated around having a fever and feeling fatigue, but not something really extreme, only that we were informed that there is COVID-19 going around, so you suspect many things.

How did you feel when you were told you have COVID-19?

I wasn’t really shocked. I felt like it is a virus going around. Obviously the concern is how it is going to end. You know, when you get into it the main challenge is the exit. So, I was like how is it going to end, there is no treatment and there is no exact information. By that time, everything was starting because I was the third person, even the counselling services were still low because everyone was trying to catch up. Even for the doctors, I think the learning curve was steep at that time.

But overall I didn’t have fears that I am going to die, or something like that. I felt like my body was strong. But for me, if I was to say something was really concerning is that thought that if someone dies during this lockdown, they may be buried by only the police or doctors.

But otherwise, I didn’t have fears.

 How was your first day at the facility?

I reached around 6 PM at the facility. The first day, I just went straight to bed because I was very tired. I had spent all day at the hospital. That is Sunday.

On Monday, I was a bit weak, I lost taste, I lost the sense of smell. This is one of the symptoms that also characterized other patients. You can’t even smell chlorine which they use to mop the room.

 Did you reach a time and you were really ill?

It was on Tuesday (third day at the facility). But it wasn’t really long. It was about for one hour and a half when I felt the rate of breathing was so high.

 How was your normal day like at the facility?

In terms of medics and preparedness, the medics were 100 percent on the top of their game. They would come in the morning and do temperature body tests, they check blood pressure. They had three tests to do every day, morning, mid-day and evening.

They were not giving medication, but if you had something like a strange headache, they would give you Panadol, if you had a cough they would give you a syrup. But it was not really about the medication. It was about the doctors who were there all the time and following up.

 And what has normal life been like? Are you allowed to do some sports, watch TV?

 We had TVs with DStv, we had about 12 channels to watch. We had WiFi also.

In terms of going outside, there were some confined areas, but you would go out and have some sunshine. But there were some precautions like you don’t have to be close to each other. You could also do some press-ups in the room. In the evening there was also some space for people to go and some physicals as well.

 Are you allowed to have any contact with other patients?

We were staying two in the room. You talk to each other, but they advise you to have social distancing between yourself. They also tell you to make sure you have your mask on all the time. I was there with my wife and my brother, and I would check on them.

 The rest of the family you left home, were they not worried about you?

The first week of the outbreak was characterized by the challenge of giving the assurance to the people outside that we are okay. People would call you and then they send a message asking you if you are dead.

Some families were panicking because they knew there is no medicine, no vaccine and they were watching news of people dying in outside countries. So there was some panic.

 When did you first start to feel better, and how many times were you tested to confirm you are negative?

I think I felt I was normal after one week. That is when I regained my taste and woke up in the morning feeling strong. (But he hadn’t yet been confirmed to have recovered).

When it comes to the time of being discharged, they carry out two tests on you; they do the first test and if it comes out negative, they wait for 24 hours and do another one. If it also comes out negative, you go home. But this test has to be fed into various machines to see that they produce the same results to be sure you are negative.

 You have been there for 20 days. You may have lost a lot being inside there. What are some of the things you have lost as far as your daily life is concerned?

I think the challenging thing is a complete shift in the mindset and turning out in an environment that you are not prepared for. But the main challenge was the small things like you don’t have your toothpaste, and you are given a new toothpaste you have never used before, or you used it but in high school fifteen years ago. Or you are given a new body lotion or soap you have never used in your life.

If you use toothpaste it becomes part of your culture. So these small things were some of the hard ones.

But of course, some patients came with their property for use. For me, it was a different case because I wasn’t allowed to go back home after I had tested positive at KFH.

 You are one of the first people to recover, why do you think you have been able to make it faster than others who are still remaining at the facility?

I think it all goes down to the body system of the patient because I arrived on 15th and there is someone who arrived on 14th. And coming out, I was with three people who arrived on 19th or 20th when the people that arrived before are still there. I would think it depends on your immunity.

What I have seen is that when you go there and you are weak, it does not mean that you are going to stay longer than someone who comes when they are strong.

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