A Zimbabwean woman who has been living in the UK since 2004 was diagnosed Covid-19 positive 13 days ago. She talks to our Deputy Editor Charles Mushinga on the harrowing experience of trying to fight the deadly virus that has grounded the world, killing tens of thousands worldwide.
She opens up on how she has survived despite having an underlying condition (asthma), how her husband also contracted the virus and the vast differences in their symptoms. The 37-year-old mother of two requested anonymity but her story is preg_nant with life lessons on how to handle Covid-19.
CM: How long have you been living in the UK? Whereabouts in UK do you live and what line of work are you in?
COVID-19 SURVIVOR: I have been here since 2004 in East Midlands, Derby. I work at NHS, in the mental health sector.
CM: How did you learn that you have Covid-19?
CS: I started by having flu-like symptoms. My manager referred me for Covid-19 tests and results came back positive.
CM: When were you diagnosed? Do you remember the dates?
CS: Yes, I was tested on the 4th of April and got my results back on the 7th of April.
CM: Were these symptoms bad? Did you suspect that you had Covid-19 or it was just normal work protocol for people with flu symptoms to get tested?
CS: No. The symptoms got really bad. I suspected Covid-19 even before I got my results back. It a different feeling, you will definitely know it yourself that something is terribly wrong. It wasn’t normal work protocol as they were not testing everyone at that time except special requests from managers for NHS front workers. So I was fortunate to get tested. My manager referred me right away because I have an underlying health problem (Asthma)
CM: Take us through the test, is it a blood test or something else?
CS: They take swabs from nose and right at the very back of your throat.
CM: Very deep into your nose? Is it an uncomfortable experience?
CS: The nose swab is quite ok they don’t go that far but the throat one is extremely uncomfortable as they have to reach right at the back of your throat.
CM: How do you think you were exposed to the virus, through work? Where you practicing precautionary measures to the best of your abilities?
CS: I don’t know where I got it to be frank. At work I deal directly with patients. We did not have PPE when the whole saga started because we did not have any supplies. I’m saying maybe I got it through work but it could be anywhere i.e supermarket, gym etc
CM: Did things change after you tested positive? Did they start giving PPE to your workmates? Was everyone at work and at home tracked and tested? Any positive cases that came through from supposed contact with you?
CS: When i tested positive i was so scared it made me feel more sick. They don’t chase you up but they advise to follow government guidelines to self-isolate until symptoms are completely gone. If symptoms get worse they advise you to call ambulance that is only if you are not breathing hahaha other than that ambulance won’t attend you. They advised me to self-isolate from my kids and use different bathrooms, cutlery, plates etc. As for PPE l, i have not been back to work for over three weeks now so I’m not sure what’s happening.
They tested my husband as well since he was exposed to me. They are not testing kids at the moment as they believe that they have stronger immune systems and therefore can easily shake off the virus.
CM: Any medication?
CS: No. They advised me to take paracetamol for pain. But i took a lot of home remedies to minimise the risk of hospitalization
CM: Take us through those please?
CS: I mixed a concoction of boiled water, lemon, garlic, ginger, tumeric powder, muringa powder and took it after every 4 hours.I also took immune system boosters. I used to steam myself under a blanket with boiled water with a few drops of vapour rub in it.
CM: Interesting. So is this according to guidelines in UK or that was the Zimbabwean in you awakened? Who advised you on this course?
CS: This is not according the government guidelines. The government only recommends to stay hydrated. This idea a lot of us got it from Chinese nationals via social media. That’s what they were using or taking when the virus hit china really bad so everyone else is doing it. I don’t know whether it works or not. But the whole idea behind this is to boost immune system.
CM: When you tested positive knowing you had an underlying condition you said you felt sicker. How important is a positive attitude when dealing with this and how did you achieve that from a position of fearing for your life?
CS: I became more aware that i needed to do more than what i was doing before. Before i got my results back i was already taking the home remedies but not religiously. However when i got results back I started to take them more frequently and doing breathing exercises three times a day to save my lungs.
CM: How does one do breathing exercises and how long is a session? Were these painful or difficult?
CS: Breathing exercises are not are painful or difficult. All you do is breathe in and hold breath for 10 seconds and breathe out. Repeat this five times after doing that then take another deep breath instead of breathing out, take a good cough straight away. You can do five repeats of this or more. It’s entirely up to the individual.
CM: I understand your husband also tested positive? How has he dealt with the virus?
CS: His life is just continuing like he has nothing.
CM: What do you think has been his secret, fitness?
CS: He did not take any action as he wasn’t ill hahaha. He continued as normal. I think he’s just one of them lucky people with stronger immune system. Maybe it’s fitness but we go to the gym together. This disease is just not loyal hahaha.
CM: You say you did all this to avoid hospitalisation? Why is this, shouldn’t sick people rather be in hospital?
CS: I believe in hospital that’s where the virus is spreading on a faster pace. The other reason being that i wanted to be around my family. In hospital you are not allowed any visitors at all. If you are to die you will die with no family around but only healthcare staff.
CM: After testing positive and increasing consistency on the home remedies, did you start feeling better or it got worse? What was the peak of the pain and what were the symptoms like?
CS: I got worse. When i reached peak, I experienced heaviness of chest, breathlessness, chest pain, back pain, burning sensation in my chest and upper back and headaches.
CM: Were you in contact with any survivors or people suffering from Covid-19? How do you know you have recovered? Do they do another test?
CS: This side they don't test you after recovery but they are planning to do antibodies testing to see if you are now immune to the virus after recovery.
CM: And lastly, what is your advice to people in Zimbabwe, the UK and world over 1. Those without the virus and 2. those infected?
CS: Stay at home. This virus is real and its deadly. Consume a lot of vitamin C to boost immune system. Infected or not infected i think people should take home remedies just to boost immune system because fighting Covid-19 is up to one’s immune system. Those with stronger immune system can easily shake it off. I forgot to mention that symptoms doesn’t disappear straight away. It takes quite a while for lungs to fully recover. Even though i managed to fight the virus, i still got very, very mild symptoms like slight irritation in the chest.