A Personal Account of the Coronavirus by Nick Jacobs

Slightly hoarse and still teary eyed, I thank the two healthcare workers. I try to tell them how proud we all are for the work that they are doing, that they are our heroes.

I had just watched a movie on TV and was enjoying a drink when my phone pinged. The message from my doctor stated simply that I had tested positive for the coronavirus. It takes a moment to recover my composure. I assure myself that this is nothing to worry about. Most people who get infected recover. I am fit and healthy and have no underlying health issues. But the anxiety is almost instantaneous.

A week prior to receiving that dreadful message, I had spent a few days with a friend who was on a week-long visit from Europe. We had casually spoken about the pandemic and about the affected family in Kwazulu-Natal who had just returned from Italy. Together we had also listened to that first address to the nation by President Ramaphosa. In his speech the President urged everyone who might have been in, or had contact with anyone from a high-risk area, to get tested for the coronavirus. We decided to get tested as soon as possible. We werequite upbeat about doing the socially responsible thing. We joked about how everyone is a potential carrier of the virus and early detection was the trick. I was slightly taken aback by how expensive the tests were and we discussed how it would be impossible for the majority of our people to get tested, given the state of our public hospitals and clinics.

During that first week, with increasing alarm, we watched the impact the coronavirus pandemic was having on Italy and Spain. We watched every newscast on TV and could not avoid the concerns mentioned on social media platforms. The pace with which the pandemic was spreading across the world was amazing.

 

I decide immediately that the first step would be to self-isolate (the new buzzword). Start stocking up with essentials that would see me through for 14 days. I think I have enough toilet paper. I don’t cook, so I’m not sure what to get from the shops. I’m reluctant to ask friends, in case I have to respond to their questions. One of my sons, who happens to cook well, often berates me for my lack of culinary skills. “Just google and you can cook anything”, he says. This might just be the time to follow his advice.

As scheduled, my friend returned home before receiving the results to her test. We are both asymptomatic and constantly repeat the mantra that the vast majority of people recover from the virus with little ill-effect.

From the moment I decided to self-isolate I count down the days. Fourteen days is the magic number. Fourteen days from the day I took the test. Every morning, for as long as I can remember, I cough when I wake up. Now it worries me. I take deep breathes before I get out of bed. I hold my breath for as long as I can and am elated that I can hold it for more than ten seconds. I feel strong and yet the anxiety will not go away.

A week after I received my results, I got a call from the Gauteng health department informing me that I am on the list of infected people and that they need my home address. The official further enquired how I was feeling. I tell the lady that I’m feeling quite well and that I have no symptoms. Later in the day I receive a text message advising me to register on the Mpilo App, a social media platform of the Gauteng Department of Health. There is quite a lot of useful information there pertaining to the coronavirus including a number for the emergency ambulance service and a list of frequently asked questions. I am equallyimpressed by the Department of Health coronavirus website, giving  updated information and guidelines on isolation. Later, on the sameday, I have a short spell of coughing which lasts for a few minutes. My ever present anxiety returns.

Try as I might, I can’t resist touching my face. It is almost as if my face is continually daring my hands to touch it. I am washing my hands so often I feel like I can audition for a role as a surgeon in the television series E.R. I really miss going to the gym and my attempts to exercise at home is not very successful. I don’t have the necessary equipment and my backyard is too small to run in.
A few days later the lockdown is imposed. Sadly, it is also the day the first death related to coronavirus is announced. I fear that this might be the start of an avalanche. My routine now includes watching the daily briefings by the task team led by the very impressive Dr Zweli Mkhize.

Thirteen days after taking my test I get a second call from the health department. I’m still feeling strong and unchanged. The official informs me to expect a visit at home from the health department to conduct a second test. The following day is a big day for me. It is now fourteen days after I tested positive. I am still asymptomatic. The boredom of my confinement is starting to drive me crazy but I am resolute. Somewhere someone has posted a reminder to all of us that Nelson Mandela spent eighteen years in his small cell on Robben Island. Somehow the days are going by and there is much to look forward to. My predicted avalanche has not started yet. I am optimistic that the many measures introduced for the lockdown might actually slow down the spread of
the virus.

 

On the 1 st of April I get my home visit from the health department. The two young women healthcare workers are friendly and very professional in their approach. I am asked if I mind them using my coffee table to spread out their paraphernalia. First the surface of the table is sanitized and then the necessary equipment is opened. Everything is taken out of sealed packaging, including the plastic apron to be worn by the one conducting the test. Sitting back comfortably, I’m asked to open my mouth wide as a longish cotton bud is pushed to the back of my throat to scrape a sample. I can’t help gagging. The two ladies laughingly assure me that my reaction is quite normal. This is followed by another prod which is stuffed high up into my nostril. The jab brings tears to my eyes. And that’s it. While the paperwork is being completed, I notice all the used material, including the apron, is being stuffed into a waste-bag which is then sealed.

Slightly hoarse and still teary eyed, I thank the two healthcare workers. I try to tell them how proud we all are for the work that they are doing, that they are our heroes. Modestly they brush aside my compliments and inform me that I should expect my results in 48 hours. I received a follow up call the next morning from the health department asking how I was feeling and how the test went.

Given the general negative opinions that many of us have of the public health services in this country I am humbled by the service I have received from the first time I tested. Everyone who I have encountered in this past three weeks has treated me with respect and compassion. I salute each and everyone involved in fighting this scourge of the coronavirus.

I am still asymptomatic. Still feeling strong and still very anxious as I await the results of my second test.