This virus knows no boundaries and will pounce on any victim it sees fit. Nobody should behave complacently assuming it could never affect them. This is the time for Ubuntu. 

Saturday June 13 as exactly 17h00 will forever be etched in our memories. The dreaded phone call, the screams of disbelief, the haunting cries in agony and the pain just from a few short words.

“He’s gone!”

Rewind to Tuesday, June 9.

My husband complained of body aches, fever and chest pain. It was a long and disruptive night. Neither of us were able to sleep because he felt terribly unwell. The next morning, I reported to school for an hour and left to take my husband and his father to a drive-through COVID-19 testing station not far from our home.

By Thursday morning, my father-in-law he received an SMS from Lancet Laboratories providing him with his results – positive. My husband’s test returned with the same results.

Allow me to put into perspective our situation. My husband is a pharmacist and I am a school teacher. We are both in our late 40s. We are parents to four healthy children: two boys and two girls. My father-in-law lives by himself at his Laudium home but frequently eats meals with us.

As a family, we have been pedantic about taking precautions against the transmission of this virus. Our home, cars, groceries and everything between was sanitized constantly. We followed the rules of the lockdown religiously and spoke about the current situation so that the children were well informed.

But this virus does not discriminate. It sees all people as potential victims, irrespective of race, religion or economic status.  It is a virus that has resulted in a global pandemic, unprecedented in modern times. It has caused death, destruction and ruin across the globe from the rich to the poor, from those healthy to those immuno-compromised, educated and non-educated.

Our family was no different. By Friday, June 12, my husband, his father, myself and our four children joined the list of global statistics of COVID-29 positive cases. Our shocked acceptance of the results and phone calls we received carried the weight of hundreds of questions, concerns and fears that we each felt.  The younger children cried unashamedly; they were afraid. They didn’t know what to expect. They felt fine, so why the positive result?

The entire staff at the pharmacy had to be tested as a matter of urgency. The pharmacy was closed, deep-cleaned and sanitized as per regulations. My school had to be informed and a decision was taken to close for two days for sanitizing and disinfecting.

And so our two-week quarantine began. The Department of Health called us individually to empathize with us, giving us advice on homecare and ensuring we understood the consequences of our test results. They called us every day for five days, sympathizing and offering general emotional assistance.

My husband had a fever, headache, body aches and a chesty cough. He was exhausted all the time; although he continued working from home. Our youngest child also displayed symptoms as early as Friday morning. He had spikes in his temperature which went to almost 39 degrees. He cried in pain from headaches and complained endlessly of joint pain. It is heart-wrenching to listen to a young child cry in pain because his wrists and knees are sore. He lost his sense of taste and had no appetite at all. His body was lame and lethargic, and he looked drained and ill. Our 13-year-old appeared fine – except for a bout of diarrhea. Our 18-year-old had no symptoms at all and our 21-year-old had typically mild flu symptoms.

Meanwhile, my father-in-law was being cared for at his home. On Saturday morning, two days after testing positive, his oxygen levels started dropping and an oxygen tank was sourced for him. But by that afternoon, his oxygen levels had dropped and a decision was taken to admit him to a hospital facility.

That dreaded phone call came at 5pm; we were in utter disbelief and devastated.  Recalling those moments brings back a sense of utter helplessness and despair. It is Muslim culture to bury the deceased within the shortest timeframe possible: my father-in-law was buried four hours after he breathed his last breath – and none of us were allowed to attend the funeral.

Three days after testing positive, coronavirus took the life of an otherwise healthy and fit 78-year-old in his home, surrounded by three close family members. The trauma and pain associated with his death is something we will not easily overcome.

Apart from the symptoms, the guilt that one feels with a positive test is difficult to explain. Society is such that people say and ask the nastiest things. Is there anyone who would willingly want to be infected or consciously infect others around them? Absolutely not! The unnecessary stigma of this virus seems to have preceded its harmful effect. Communities are so afraid and ashamed to admit when they are positive for fear of the repercussions.

Much has been written about the symptoms of this virus; I assure you that each person experiences it differently. We are six members of one family, in one household, that contracted the virus and our bodies responded differently. Much has been said about children not contracting the virus and not getting ill, but I can tell you with certainty that our 12-year-old was incredibly ill. Apart from incredibly high fevers that kept us up all night, he experienced intense headaches, body pain, lethargy, persistent coughing, loss of taste and smell, loss of appetite, lack of energy and congestion.

Personally, I have never experienced an illness quite like this one. In 2017, I underwent a craniotomy to remove an acoustic neuroma and spent 12 days in intensive care; but even that was not as debilitating as these last two weeks. Those of you who have experienced the type of headache that can only be termed “a headache from hell”, will relate to the kind of migraine like headaches that plagued us for days relentlessly. Generally, patients are advised to use paracetamol to manage the pain: it does help but the type of pain I experienced was far worse than a Panado could help alleviate.

We tried every home remedy that people suggested: hot water with ginger; lemon and honey; blackseed oil; hot water with lemon and a pinch of bicarb; eucalyptus and camphorated oils made into a rub for the chest and back; using the nebulizer to help open and clear airways; drinking hot drinks and lots of warm spicy soups.

Two weeks passed in a daze. Days turned into night and so we went on. Hundreds of phone calls and WhatsApp messages helped make this burden a bit easier to bear. On Saturday June 27, an official from the Department of Health called enquiring about our recovery and informing us that we had completed our two weeks of quarantine and were thus no longer infectious. Letters were emailed to us from the Department stating the same.

Can others learn from our experience? Absolutely. This is our personal story of how we are overcoming this period in our lives. As a nation we need to pay heed to government’s calls of caution, staying safe and stopping the spread. This virus knows no boundaries and will pounce on any victim it sees fit. Nobody should behave complacently assuming it could never affect them. It can! Nobody should be ostracized just because they have been infected. The very thought is ludicrous. This is the time for Ubuntu, for uniting under the banner of a Rainbow Nation and sticking together despite the pandemic. We are stronger than this and by following rules, assisting fellow South Africans and keeping our nation in prayer, we shall overcome.