To come out of Covid-19 survival mode and make a full(ish) recovery from a disease that has taken so many of our loved ones has been a blessing, in more ways than one.
When my friend Sunita, warned me not to go on my planned visit to Cape Town a few days before Christmas, I was adamant that I would go to see my family and spend the festive season with them. In response, she told me that I could get sick and die.
I replied that if I was destined to get sick and die, I would rather be near my family who could bury me, than be alone in an apartment where no one would even know if I was alive or dead. My experience with food poisoning the previous week had put that thought foremost in my mind.
If you are Muslim you may be thinking of the hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah upon him), that forbids Muslims from entering or leaving a land where a plague is occurring. Though Covid-19 is not a plague in the Middle Age sense of the word, it still is a worldwide pandemic.
The emphasis being on worldwide and the fact that I could get it as easily in Dubai, as I did in Cape Town.
Covid-19 diaries in survival mode
We went for shopping and dinner to the Canal Walk mall in Century City on the Saturday before I took ill. I had spoken to my brother earlier that day, and despite feeling a bit under the weather from falling asleep under the ceiling fan in his old room a few days before, he decided to bring his family to join us.
By the Sunday morning (the day of my cancelled flight) my throat felt scratchy and my head felt heavy and congested, like I had a cold coming on. I too blamed my symptoms for my nap under the ceiling fan a few days before. It was the day of my cancelled flight and after lunch I felt so tired I went to lay down for a bit again.
I resumed working from home on the Monday and as the week progressed I felt worse by the day. I had a dry cough that felt like my throat was being tickled in a place I couldn’t reach. My head seemed to hurt all the time too, as if someone had clamped a vice over the top and was slowly making it tighter.
One evening when Katriena was frying potato chips to have with a meal, the intense odors of burning oil woke me from a nap. Thankfully, there was no burning oil, it was one of my Covid-19+ symptoms on overdrive.
I felt like I did the first time the smell of burning oil fumes reached me at an audit client nearly twenty years ago, the week before my father passed away. At that time my body hurt too like I was getting the flu; but with Rheumatoid Arthritis too now, every joint in my body rejected the idea of movement. For the first time since feeling unwell I also had body chills (koue koors) that night.
My brother was ill too, but by mid-week he went for his Covid test, and it came back positive. I immediately self-quarantined and my doctor advised me not to be tested too soon or I ran the risk of having a false negative result. Finally, on the Friday afternoon I went for my test, and by the Saturday the positive result was received by text message and email.
By the Sunday I felt like a dead duck. I had a fever and I felt incredibly tired. Like someone had drained all the energy from my body and soul. Everything from the top of my head to the tips of my toes hurt. My appetite seemed to have vanished along with any inclination for companionship. All I wanted was to be left alone in peace and quiet.
There are a few days that I have only a vague recollection of Simone bringing me her morning and evening potions. Everything in between is lost in a haze of fatigue, an aching body and endless listlessness. I’m hoping I did, but I can’t even remember if I prayed or how many times.
My senses of taste and smell appeared to be amplified and everything I ate tasted bad. Not horrid, but either too salty or too sweet. So I stuck with apples and even a boiled egg on one day, but even that tasted strange. I realised it was a Covid symptom after the second plate of excessively salty food on successive days. On the first day I ate actual food I thought Katriena had just been a bit heavy handed. On the second day the cauliflower bredie that had smelled so inviting while it was simmering, tasted saltier than the Dead Sea to me. I recognised the same weird background flavor from the day before though, and realised it was my taste buds that were being heavy handed, not the cook. Profuse apologies followed.
The only other thing I remember with every breath I can take freely now, is being afraid to breathe. With every labored breath, I pictured the woman in an 80’s Cross-your-Heart bra advertisement. Except the cross your heart part was made of steel, and with every breath someone was pulling it tighter across my chest and behind my back. Trying to squeeze the breath right out of me.
By the end of the second week of illness I was still experiencing symptoms, but it was month end at work. As fatigued as I still felt, I was technically on the 13th day after first symptoms, and supposedly well enough to work. I spent the next two weeks with my brother’s family while he was still in hospital.
My brother’s condition was so much more serious than mine and all I could do while he seemed to get sicker and sicker in hospital, was to pray that he would make it through to see his children grow up.
It takes much longer than 10-14 days for many Covid-19+ sufferers to feel anything close to normal and I suffered lingering breathlessness, dry coughs and occasional random fevers over the ensuing weeks.
How I recovered from Covid-19
On the first day of my symptoms I finally started taking the supplement cocktail I had read about online. The video had nothing to do with coronavirus or flu of any kind, but addressed how to reduce inflammation. It seemed an appropriate protocol to follow for a disease that it’s root causes a severe inflammatory response.
The health care practitioner, Dr. Berg, indicated that the protocol was for a severe and intense inflammatory reaction and would be suitable for sufferers of Rheumatoid Arthritis or even someone who was exposed to Poison Ivy.
He recommended the first three items on the list and I added other supplements that I ordinarily take for my RA and one recommended for Covid-19. I took them morning and evening until my symptoms subsided.
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) – 500 mg
- Vitamin C – 1000 mg
- Vitamin D3 – 10000 iu
- Vitamin K2 – 100 mg
- Zinc – 1 tablet
- Omega 3 – 2000 mg
In addition, Simone made me a potion every morning and every evening containing ACC 200 plus dissolvable Vitamin C and black seed oil. This was further supplemented by ginger tea with lemon and honey throughout the day.
I was not on any blood thinning medication, despite being told repeatedly by a relative that I would die if I didn’t take any, because Covid-19 causes blood clots. Instead I drank the Aspirin Protect pills that I carry for travelling, in the morning and evening with the other supplements.
I must confess though, that I was extremely sensitive to taste and smell and anything remotely odorous remained at the door untouched. I was particularly averse to cloves, onions and garlic.
A word of caution:
Although my doctor knew about the supplements I was taking they were not medically prescribed.
Do not start any protocols until you have spoken to your doctor and have been fully advised of any side effects of short, medium and long term use.
Life during Covid-19 survival mode
Aside from the Rheumatoid Arthritis and the occasional colds and flu over the years, I have never been seriously ill. Many would say Rheumatoid Arthritis is too much for most people, but I have learnt to live with it and the limitations it places on me, Alhamdulillah.
Being sick with Covid-19 is entirely different to anything I have ever experienced. My brother had it so much worse and he did not have the benefit of having his family around during most of it while he was hospitalized. Instead, he was blessed with a night shift nurse, Sister Ajeraan; who kept his spirits up, his brow cool and his soul replenished with supplications and Qur’an recitation while tending to him.
Researchers have studied the virus extensively since it became widespread and many studies have been done on the symptoms and how to cure them. Is there one on the emotional and spiritual experiences of sufferers?
If there has ever been a time where I merely existed in survival mode, it was the second week of being ill. Aside from the brain fog and the days where much is a haze, there was also the feeling of disconnection. Feeling emotionally disconnected from the people around me and not even stirring when I heard their voices from the other side of the door, asking if I was ok.
There were days when I didn’t even look at my phone to respond to text messages and I definitely didn’t attend to any calls that I recall. If you received any weird voice messages or calls from me during that time, I plead not-guilty by reason of brain fog and mental fatigue.
Speaking to anyone on the phone felt like a Herculean task so I never ever bothered when my aunt and cousins called every day to hear how I was doing. I barely had energy to breathe and talking seemed so hard to do. Not only the physical act of saying the words but the mental act of thinking in sentences.
No matter how sick I felt I knew I just had to survive one day at a time. There was too much to live for.
Lessons learned from Covid-19
I have lived under lockdown for nearly twelve months and worked from home for just as long. and had adjusted to the limitations it places upon us.
However, being with my family during this period has taught me more about myself and my relationship with them, than I would have learned otherwise.
- In the deepest darkest hour of the night when I thought my final breath would leave my body, the only thing that kept me fighting for another breath was the love of the ones who love me. The ones who checked on me every day even when I was barely lucid and managed my morose irritability with patience, love and kindness. I remember the exact moment when I decided that I could not give up and die from Covid-19, because maybe the people who love me would feel my loss.
- I love my brother, his wife and their four children and would do anything to ensure that they are happy, safe and secure. Sometimes we take our loved ones for granted and it isn’t until we are faced with their imminent loss that we realise exactly how much we love them and care for them.
- Is there anything more heart warming than a good morning kiss or two from my niece and nephews? Without fail, every single day that I was there, my nephew Sulaiman would run into the room as soon as he woke up to give us a morning kiss and hug. On the one day that he forgot, I was blessed with morning, afternoon, evening and a bonus ‘I love you’ hug. My niece jumps onto my lap randomly for a hug or a kiss whenever the mood strikes her.
- Between Simone, Katriena and Rifqa they doctored me until I was fully recovered, and then continued to pamper me to make sure my appetite returned and my sense of taste was restored. Rifqa was like a proud mother of a newborn the day I could distinguish between sweet and covid-sweet. I can never thank them enough for their care and attention, during my illness and every day since I arrived.
- Watching Rifqa take care of her family made me realise how demanding and exhausting motherhood is. Harder than sitting on my backside all day looking at a computer screen, that’s for sure. And she never complains or whines about anything. She just gets on with it and makes sure that her family are fed and watered and wherever they need to be when they need to be there.
- I love my cousins (most of them) and I have many since both parents had 8 siblings each. Their prayers and concern were a like a warm blanket to Katriena and Rifqa when my brother and I were sick. Although I never spoke to them during that time, Katriena would remind me in my lucid moments that they called. The ones who asked after me every day and the ones who prayed for me to take another breath.
- My cousin Shafeek passed away after being hospitalised with complications after Covid. After my father passed away he always came to check up on my mother and she appreciated his visits, as did I. He was one of the few who had any interest in us after my dad’s passing. May Allah forgive his sins and grant him the highest paradise.
- Touchy feely lovey dovey has never been my thing. Except apparently now it is. I didn’t realise how much I would miss being able to hug someone, until I couldn’t hug or kiss my Aunty Gadija on the first time I saw her during the lockdown. Then again, when we had a self-distanced picnic in Newlands Forest with a few cousins, and all we could do was smile at each other. I had never felt the loss of physical affection and contact as keenly as on that day.
- The enforced isolation with family members gave me a new insight into family dynamics and the little things that make families work. I have spent so many years living alone that sharing meal times with my brother’s family made me realise how much I missed that family bonding time. It brought back happy childhood memories and all the meals shared with my parents and anyone else who may have dropped by at dinner time. My maternal grandmother’s motto was apparently ‘make enough for the man in the street’.
- When my cousin Godfrey insisted while I was sick that I eat oysters for their zinc, I pictured a beautiful platter of freshly shucked oysters on a bed of ice. What he actually meant was 2 tins of smoked oysters, and at the time the mere thought of consuming them made me want to throw up. Eventually though when we were both better, my sister-in-law Rifqa procured a few kilos of fresh from the sea oysters. I don’t remember when I enjoyed anything more than I did those oysters. My nephew Ameen nearly gagged and my brother didn’t care for them either, but Rifqa and I had a blast.
Tell them you love them. Why wait for special occasions or birthdays or Valentines Day. Tell them every day, in good times and in bad times. Now, more than at any other time in our lifetimes, we know that tomorrow is not promised to anyone.
If tomorrow never comes, will they know how much you love them? (paraphrasing one of my favorite 90’s boy band songs)
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