NAIROBI — Eunice Erika Nderitu, 39, a fire emergency dispatcher in Kenya’s port city of Mombasa, had no preexisting conditions — in fact, the only times she had stepped foot in a hospital were to deliver her three daughters, now 14, 11 and 5, the last one with autism. On May 23, she started developing novel coronavirus symptoms, but it took five days for a positive result to come back — a requirement for being admitted to an ICU at Jocham Hospital, a private facility in Mombasa. By that point, she was on the verge of death.

This description of her experience, in her own words, has been lightly edited.

I was pretty sure I could avoid it. Sure, I was scared of it — underneath it all, we were all scared of it. It was all anyone at work could talk about. I know I’m not the first to say this, but the truth is, until you or someone close to you is affected, it’s hard to take covid-19 seriously.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when I got it. Other people at work had gotten it, and that’s why there was a mass testing at my office. But it was still a bombshell because people were being so secretive about it. In Kenya, you find out you’re positive, and people still think it’s a death sentence. Well, for me, it almost was.

Even the doctors seemed scared about the idea of covid. Even though I had the telltale symptoms, they were like, “It’s pneumonia.” I said, ‘But couldn’t it be covid?’ and they basically told me that since results take many days to come back, that for now it was pneumonia and that was that, they just told me to go home. Honestly, they didn’t take it seriously at all. But that was just the beginning of the nightmare.

Each day at home I got worse — it was like a clock ticking down to death. I could barely breathe. My babies were so scared, especially my youngest, the one with autism. My husband would cook, but no one would eat anything. He would take my arm and say, “Please, please, please, don’t leave me with the babies.” He couldn’t control his fear. They say women are the weaker sex, but no. Still, by Wednesday, I could feel that I was going to die.

My husband was begging the hospital to admit me. I could hear him on the phone, saying, “I am going to lose my wife.” It was only when he called a relative with connections at the hospital that they called back, and that’s when they called back to give me my results, as if they had been waiting to tell me while I almost died.

I said, “Send an ambulance now.” It was about as many words as I could speak. They didn’t even come that day. We called back and called back and the phone rang and rang. Nothing. I didn’t sleep the whole night. It was the most alone I have ever felt. I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies, that feeling.

And you know what they did when we reached them in the morning? They asked my address, as if they didn’t know it. I told them yesterday I am dying, and the next day they are asking my address.

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They didn’t even come upstairs into my building. They made me walk down, and I wasn’t even able to breathe, to talk, I could only communicate with gestures. And they made me walk. That’s the last thing I remember until I woke up in the ward later because the nurses were shouting, “She’s going into a state of shock!” I was shivering, grinding my teeth and they put me on an IV and oxygen.

Now I’m on the other side, and I’m not ashamed to talk about it. Wherever I got it from, I don’t know. They did a mass testing at my office after I tested positive and three more tested positive — that’s a good thing.

When our government announces new cases, they just give numbers. Okay, fine, I believe in confidentiality. But there is a huge stigma. So few are sharing their stories, it becomes a totally stigmatized thing. They shouldn’t just say so-and-so number of people recovered. We have to show what this looks like. How else will people take it seriously? If we don’t look at how people’s experiences are going, how can we know if we are ready for more?

And my experience is maybe even on the good end. If the challenges I’ve seen in a private facility are like this, then what about all the people who are in public facilities? No one is watching out for them, I think. I have money and a supportive employer. Oof. I mean, I’m on Day 20 in this hospital. Imagine spending 20 days in one of our public hospitals.

Had I given in to the fear of covid that so many Kenyans feel, I wouldn’t have been tested, and you know what? I think I would have died. I didn’t have more than a few more hours left in me by the time I got to the hospital. We are playing a risky game with how long test results take. People die while waiting. If I wasn’t lucky, if I didn’t have connections, I would have been another statistic, another condolence message from the government.

Covid is real. That is my basic message. We still need to say this.

People want to act as if the pandemic is all just a bad dream. It makes me want to preach. To be a preacher and say: Watch out, people. Watch out.

Since this interview on June 11, Nderitu has been discharged from the hospital and is home with her family.