COPING WITH ISOLATION AND QUARANTINE — MY EXPERIENCE
In the past couple of months, many of us around the world had to cope with the government imposed stay at home, isolation or even quarantine orders because of COVID19 Pandemic.
I am quite familiar with this kind of situation. I have experienced isolation and quarantine several times; therefore, this stay at home has not been a big deal to me.
My first experience was when I was working in Ghana. My lungs collapsed, and I had to be evacuated from Tamale in the Northern Region of Ghana to Accra. I was admitted to a high dependency unit.
I had no immediate family in Accra and had to leave my children with the pastors of my church in Tamale. The hospital did not permit those who were not immediate family members to visit in the High Dependency Ward. My colleagues in the Head Office who could only visit during the office hours were also not allowed to visit me because of the strict visiting hours. Since most of them lived away from the city, it was difficult for them to come and see me during the evening visiting time was difficult.
During the visiting time, I was the only patient in the ward who had no visitor. Often the other patients and nursing staff asked me why I had no one to visit me. I started getting upset when the visiting hour was close. I resented not having visitors. I was angry that my family were too far away to visit me.
I began to feel quite upset whenever the visiting hour was approaching. Those were tough times for me. My husband, who had been with me for some time had to return to Geneva for work when I started making improvements. Shortly after he left, my health took a turn for the worse. So, I had no family immediately available to stay by my side.
I said to myself that if I were in my home country, at least my mother would come to sit with me in the hospital ward to take care of me. When my sons would come they were not allowed to enter the ward. Children were not allowed in the High Dependency ward. They had to look through the windows.
I had to choose to turn the visiting hour to a time of singing praises. Faraway from my family, it took a lot for me not to get bitter and abandoned. I had to control and work on my mind not to get angry; it was a constant work as I kept reminding myself repeatedly of the reasons why they could not come and see me.
When I finally got someone to come and visit me, it was like a gift from heaven — a visitor for me; and it turned out to be someone I was not expecting — my goldsmith.
I was eventually moved from Accra to Switzerland on medical evacuation. My husband was a resident there. I was admitted to the general ward in the teaching hospital in Geneva. There were 8–10 patients on the ward. I was frequently coughing. The nurses took notice of the cough each time they came into the ward to attend to another patient, and since my bed was close to the door, they had to pass by me patients. They checked my history and noted that I came from an African country and assumed the cough must be as a result of tuberculosis.
I was immediately removed from the General ward to the quarantine/isolation room. They kept me in a room with my bed surrounded by glass panel walls. There was a space I could speak through to communicate with the hospital staff and my family. It was hard as I was not to be allowed to touch them. I could only interact with them through the glass panel using the speaker. It was challenging.
At a point, I wondered where my life was heading being isolated from family; “Why me. Where is this thing going?” It was when the test results came out they found out I didn’t have tuberculosis and so they released me from quarantine.
“God always brings out good in every season of our life because He is still God and He is in control.”
The quarantine, coupled with the fact that I was not fluent in French brought me in contact with an English-speaking Professor in Infectious Diseases who was senior enough to coordinate all the other doctors involved in my care. The condition was multi-systemic and required the expertise of doctors from many departments in the hospital. This multi-departmental coordination made a massive difference to the assessment of the situation and quality of care I received, which would not have been the case without the intervention of this professor.
It didn’t stop there. When the condition of my lungs worsened and I required an increasing number of intravenous antibiotic treatment lasting 21 days per year, my doctors began to consider what other options were possible to give me quality of life.
In 2008, the professor proposed lung transplant to the team, and they all threw it out because the complexity of all my medical history and attending risks of complications would make me a poor candidate for transplant. Over the next two years, the professor presented my case at every Respiratory Disease conference to get input from other experts around the world. I was not aware of this until 2010 when he presented my case again to the Transplant Team for consideration, this time with strong evidence of the possibility for a good outcome.
With all the data he was able to gather, the Transplant Team has no choice but to accept me for consideration. He went the extra mile to prove that I could be a suitable candidate for lungs transplant.
I had the lungs transplant in 2013. I am full of life seven years after the transplant. Today, I look back and thank God for this professor and for the quarantine that connected.
During the 20 years of dealing with chronic respiratory disease, I had many episodes of isolation. There was a particular isolation period that I knew God wanted me to turn that period to time alone with Him.
From that 2008, I needed to go for respiratory rehabilitation in a different hospital further away in a city where I was living. It required that I stayed in the hospital for two weeks undergoing various kinds of therapy to improve the condition of my lungs. At that time, my lungs were colonized by infectious bacteria because of chronic infection. On this occasion, I was placed in isolation because of the bacteria load in my lungs as soon as I got to the Rehabilitation Clinic; they put a yellow warning sign on the door to my room and all medical staff and family members coming into the room had to put on protective gear and mask. Visitors were limited to immediate family, I had to put on protective equipment whenever I left the room for physiotherapy and everywhere I touched had to be disinfected.
My husband and sons could not touch me without a protective barrier. I was distraught with the situation, especially since we lived together and we could hug and embrace each other at home before I came to the hospital. I felt like I was a contagion. One day, a nurse refused to take back an item on my lunch tray I did not want. I did not want it to be wasted but she refused to accept the cup of yoghurt from me because I touched it in the process of giving it to her.
I had to deal with bitterness and anger building up within me as a result of the isolation. So I turned my face to the wall and cried to God about it. God just covered me with His peace. He encouraged me to change the way I saw the situation as I read the scriptures. He helped me to change my focus to pay attention to the good that could come out of that period. “Turn it around,” kept ringing in my heart.
So I sat by the window and focused my attention on the lake and the mountains beyond it. I began to take note of the kaleidoscope of colours at sunset. I desired to describe what I saw, that inspired me to start writing poems about the landscape beyond the windows. I started noticing minute details I would not have normally paid attention to.
In all those moments, I was no longer angry with the fact that I was in isolation, I began to see beyond the quarantine. I saw the beauty of God’s works in nature. The desire to share this in my writing led me to start the search for words that could adequately describe what I observed. Soon my isolation and quarantine period became an opportunity for creative writing.
We have to find a way to look beyond what we are going through because as long as we are looking around us, we will be depressed and be given to despair, anxiety, agitation. But when we look above the situation and fix our gaze on God, we will see His smiling face in that situation.
I wrote several pieces during my season of isolation and frequent hospital stays that became different chapters in my book; Grace In The Storms.
The lesson here is that when we choose to look beyond the challenging situation around us, we will begin to see things differently and more beautiful. When I stopped focusing on the stigma of isolation, I started to see things differently and to find purpose in it. The isolation became times of extensive bible study. It was during one of such times that I came across scripture; “I would restore your health and keep my covenant with you.” It had a brand new meaning to me and fanned my faith to a flame. My ears became more attentive and attuned to God’s voice. The routines and loneliness no longer bothered me.
When I could no longer leave the house and became home-bound, I faced another kind of isolation and loneliness. My children would go to school, and my husband would go to work, I would be the only one at home and often in my bedroom until they returned home.
I watched the seasons change, sitting on my bed and looking into the garden and farm beyond my window. I watched the trees change from luscious green to russet until they became bare in winter. I saw nature changing season after season. I knew the season of my life would ultimately change.
In all the continually changing seasons of life, we must know what does not change. Indeed, God is the constant in all our constantly changing seasons.
I have learnt the “beauty in solitude” through the isolation and quarantines I have endured. I have noted how Jesus would withdraw from the crowd to go and sit alone in the presence of God. The servants of God must know when to remove themselves from the crowd and into the presence of God. Practising solitude in God’s presence to seek His face is a discipline that helps to deepen our intimacy with God.
I considered my periods of isolation and quarantine as the winter season when the seed must remain buried beneath the surface awaiting the springtime to sprout and blossom.
What you can do:
1. Change the way we are thinking about the period of isolation and quarantine
2. Consider it as a season that will eventually to pass — this too shall pass.
3. Find how we can benefit from it spiritually, emotionally, and also even physically.
4. Use it as an opportunity to spend some alone time with God.
5. Intentionally look beyond what we are seeing around us presently.
6. Ask yourself how you can make the season count for eternal value
Through all my quarantine period and isolation, I have come to realize that there is something good that will always come out of it for me. The grace of God can take us through whatever season, and we need to see the season as an opportunity to learn from God.
Ask God what He wants to teach you and what He wants you to learn through this season of isolation, social distancing and stay at home.