My battle to keep Covid-19’s Grim Reaper at bay
By Alan Simmonds
When you are about to die, everything else pales into insignificance.
I was in that unwelcome situation earlier this year.
Being infected with Covid-19 is no trifling matter.
Now, shrugged off, I hope, ending a three-year litany of health woes in which I was stabbed and was DOA at hospital - saved by a novice doctor who used her training and bravery to stick a needle in my heart - to catch the virus was a bitter blow.
When first diagnosed positive with the pandemic’s trail of horrors, I was isolated.
But my breathing worsened, no doubt aggravated by a pneumonia predilection caused two years before by a consolidated haemo-thoracic blob of about 60mm sitting in the lower region of a lung, after being attacked and stabbed in my right chest while walking in the CBD.
I survived the first bout and was freed. Three days later, I again tested positive. This time there was no easy way out; I rapidly developed double pneumonia and I vaguely recollect an ambulance siren’s monotonous wail as I was carried at pace through Cape Town’s bumpy streets to Somerset Hospital.
Yes, you see, no private hospital for me. A state patient, the vagaries of the casualty admission and its teeming throng was to be my destination.
Willing hands (the ambulance personnel were dedicated and thorough) transferred me to a gurney where I was hooked up to oxygen and covered with a blanket. I was still feeling cold and having difficulty breathing freely.
A doctor, his face swathed in protective gear, followed a nursing sister who had collected my not-so-vital signs. I know he was young, efficient, but obviously over-worked.
“You have pneumonia,” he said, after having thoroughly tapped my chest and back and listened as I faithfully rasped in response to his seemingly interminable requests. I felt a needle, then another, enter each arm.
The dreaded drip, those plastic persecutors that pass saline and other unmentionables into the human form in an attempt to mitigate any medial malady. I slept. Some time later I was wakened and taken to a ward; it was dark outside; the ward was full.
Most of its eight occupants - men and women - lay supine and prostrate; all had some type of drip. One young man was not a Covid-19 patient.
He had been stabbed; I remembered my own situation. A man, not a doctor, worked on a drain to his wound; another man offered what sounded as inane advice. Eventually they completed their task and left.
The remainder of the patients snored and whistled; ward personnel moved to and fro.
I remember noticing how clean everything was, but my bed was uncomfortable - too short and the pillows lay at irregular angles.
I did not feel so good. Then I suffered 15 days’ unconsciousness, hallucinations and pneumonia.
In all I had seven drips, I felt and looked, like a gothic rocker who depended on body piercings for solace.
I was very ill. My son, faithfully monitoring the scenario from his South London home - he’d successfully overcome the virus himself - was told he might expect the worse as the Covid-19 took grip on my weakened state. I drifted in and out of consciousness. I imagined in one scenario I was in a club. People came and went.
I called out; no one answered.
Then I was on a train; going where I did not know. Then I was seated in a restaurant, but no waiter offered a menu. The hallucinations continued - how real they felt.
I ate nothing. My taste had gone; nausea overtook me when anything was proffered.
I drank water and an occasional cup of coffee - they tasted identical.
I wore an adult nappy and peed and defecated without control; my nurses stripped me without complaining and fresh linen was delivered. I did notice fresh faces in the ward.
As people died, so others took their places, the procession was unending.
Gradually I came to. I was so weak, unable to eat. I desperately sought to return to my old age home; it was difficult; transport seemed unavailable.
My son eventually enlisted the editor of Weekend Argus Property360 magazine, a Mother Teresa, who managed to arrange for an ambulance and I returned home to two weeks’ isolation with continuing loss of breath control.
An inability to sleep was excruciating.
I’d lost 23kg while in hospital.
I am still feeble, dizzy and unable to sleep properly.
Food has little meaning for me.
To those who pooh-pooh the pandemic and the regulations vigorously applied, do so at your peril - it is not an affliction to be trifled with.
Simmonds, 80, is a former international journalist, university lecturer, pilot and navigator “who always played bridge” and is a former member of the International Bridge Press Association. Since 1969, he has played many times for South Africa, reaching the 1978 finals of the World Pairs in New Orleans and was part of a winning team representing Africa in a World Swiss Teams event in Mumbai, India. A teacher and writer (51 years for Independent Newspapers). He has a PhD son, who is a senior lecturer at London University.