Covid-19 A Survivor’s Tale

By Katharine Lee Kruger –Author, Inspirational Speaker and Holistic Healer

Covid-19 A Survivor’s Tale
By Katharine Lee Kruger –Author, Inspirational Speaker and Holistic Healer

Friday 12 June 2020. In an ICU, Covid-19 private hospital isolation ward, Johannesburg, imprisoned in a glass cubicle, my soul begs for freedom. Something denied by the grey, lifeless walls beyond, where nurses dressed in protective blue clothing, white plastic aprons, gloves, masks, and plastic face shields, mutely go about their duties. This cold and hostile place has been my home for five days now.
The only sound is that of the patient in the cubicle next door to me, constantly coughing and gasping for breath. Ripped away from civilization, family, friends, and home comforts, I fell asleep in one world, and woke in another. Hugs and kisses are now weapons. Visits by family and friends acts of love. Power, beauty, and money are worthless. That oxygen the only thing worth fighting for.

A sliver of warm sunlight peeps through the small sunroof above. Disconnected from my life-giving IV, all the machines, a blood pressure cuff, I lean against the cold glass of my jail, soaking up the light and warmth. “Gosh,” I think, “We take so much for granted. Freedom, sun, people, water, the sweet taste of fresh air. Having a shower or bath, and a toilet with running water. Being able to come and go as we please."

I have learned so much since being here. That, no matter how hungry or not I am, I will eat anything. Mealtimes are erratic. Food comes in plastic take-away containers from an outside caterer. Portions are tiny. I rarely get what I order and its cold. The weather outside is freezing, the food tasteless, but it does not matter. This is insignificant compared to the Covid-19 Pandemic raging outside, first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China.

Shock and Denial
But let us go back to the beginning, to Wednesday 3 June 2020. Enjoying an early cup of aromatic coffee, the ping of my phone alerts me. The text message sends cold shivers up and down my spine. “Dear Lancet Laboratories Patient, kindly note that your COVID 19 test result is **Positive. Kindly contact your healthcare provider for more information.”

“It’s impossible”, I think. “This can’t be happening to me. My only symptoms are a cold, diarrhoea, a scratchy throat, and shortness of breath. “How can I possibly be Covid-19 positive? I wear a mask, practise social distancing, leave my shoes outside after shopping, wash my hands regularly, disinfect everything I buy and sanitize surfaces.” My age, hypertensive, overweight and with a history of stroke I fall into the ‘high-risk’ category. “Don’t panic,” I say to myself. “You started taking immune-boosting supplements from 26 March 2020, the first day of lock-down. It is probably going to be like a mild dose of flu. Nothing to worry about.” Little did I realize what a devastating effect this was to have on my life. Like millions of infected people, I was about to lose my sense of safety, of social connections, of personal freedom. A loss of identity, to miss, to be separated, to feel alone and vulnerable. Only later would I realise how empowering this journey would be.

An advocate of positive thinking, inspirational speaker, and holistic health practitioner, I am being called on to ‘walk’ my talk. My biggest challenge? To control my mind and emotions. Of all illnesses, fear is the principal killer. It starts with worrying about ‘What can go wrong?’, and then gravitates to all the articles we have read. The news, social media and horrible stories about how awful life is on a ventilator, the high death rate overseas. I knew that if I bought into it, it would not be long before would be convinced that I was dying. Sometimes the fear of what the coronavirus can do, is more deadly than the virus itself!

Agitated, I call my doctor. She tells me to isolate. “I will phone you daily to monitor your progress,” she says. “Contact me immediately if any of your symptoms exacerbate.”
Reassured that I can manage at home, I go to bed and continue taking my supplements.

Living in a picturesque retirement village, in Franklin Roosevelt Park, news that I had tested positive spread like wildfire. I was not popular either when all the people I had been in contact with, had to go into isolation for 2 weeks and everyone in the complex be tested!

Monday 8 June 2020. A week since being diagnosed positive with Covid-19. I manage my breathing using a nebuliser and by keeping a humidifier with eucalyptus oil, going in my room. The virus chuckles and turns up the heat. Hot and then cold shivers chase up and down my body. I start to feel hot, extremely hot. My breathing feels like an old steam engine trying to chug up a hill. Terror wraps its cloak around me. I phone my doctor.

Alarmed she says, “Go to a Covid-19 casualty immediately.” My flesh begins to crawl. I try to argue with her, but she is adamant. I call an ambulance.

With a crunch of wheels, we pull up outside a large, impersonal beige container, next to the main entrance of a Covid-19 hospital. Next to it a circular landing pad for emergency helicopters. A chopper is leaving, the deafening roar of its rotors making conversation impossible. Much braver when younger, now so much older, my coping skills are not what they used to be. Under all the bravado, I feel afraid, and vulnerable.
Thanking the male ambulance crew for risking their lives for me, I go inside. Empty, except for a narrow, examination bed, it is bleak with a single light, hanging from the ceiling. It could well be the examination room on a spaceship. I lie down. An androgynous figure dressed completely in loose blue protective clothing, wearing gloves, a mask, goggles, and face shield glides towards me. It is a doctor! I cringe as her gloved hands gently palpate my chest. “Ouch,” I mutter “That is very sore.”
“All your chest muscles are inflamed,” she says.
“Is that why it feels like someone is pushing needles into my lungs and heart area?” I ask.
“Yes,” comes her reply.
“And I thought I was having a heart attack!”
“Muscle pain, often caused by muscle inflammation (myositis)—isn't an uncommon symptom for a viral infection,” she explains. "In general, coronavirus, like other viruses, can cause inflammation of the muscle tissue. We have to take blood to find out if you are developing complications,” she explains. Inserting a syringe into my vein, she draws off what feels like litres of blood, in half a dozen little vials.

Waiting for my results, little did I realize Covid-19 was on a ferocious rampage throughout my body, from my brain to my toes, attacking my lungs, vascular and muscular system with devastating consequences. That its reach could extend to many of my organs, including my heart, kidneys, gut, and brain. That a newly observed tendency to blood clotting, could transform a mild case into a life-threatening emergency.

An icy wind starts blowing. It is dark when the lab results come back. Cold and stiff from four hours of waiting, I ask “Can I go home now?”
“No, sorry you can’t,” comes her reply. “We have to admit you.”
“But why?” I ask.
“Your blood is showing an inclination to clot,” she explains. “With your history of high blood pressure and strokes, you could have a pulmonary embolism.”
We need to admit you, put you on oxygen, do a CT Scan of your chest, and inject you with anticoagulants.”
I groan inwardly. This was the last thing I wanted.
“You will have to wait until visiting hours are over,” she continued. “We have to make sure that no-one is around when we take you to the ward.”
Having arrived at the hospital at 11am, it meant another long wait. I phone my son Gareth and tell him the news. Then with my cellphone’s battery nearly flat, I pass the time practicing mindfulness. A simple meditation technique I teach in my workshops. Paying attention in the present moment, observing my surroundings, thoughts, emotions, and body state, help me to relax. Thinking I was going into a general ward, little did I realize the implications of what was to come.

Gowned and robed, the porters fetch me. The trolley wheels squeaking, we travel along the highly polished floor, of a long-deserted hallway. An eerie silence fills the air. Forced out of my comfort zone, I realise how dependent we are on nurturing human connections. Of having someone around to support us. Confronted with a new situation, I am now being challenged to look to my own resources to comfort and reassure myself. I realise that by now the news of my admission will have reached family and friends. They will not be allowed to visit.

They wheel me into a hastily re-opened, dilapidated wing of the hospital. Talking in hushed tones, shrouded figures greet me in the dimly lit interior. The last thing I expected was to be admitted to ICU. I was nowhere near death’s door, with the ward in a bad state of repair, this was not going to be any kind of holiday.

Anger – Frustration, Anxiety, Irritation, Shame.
Tuesday 9 June 2020
. A control-freak imprisoned in a small glass cubicle; it feels like I am in solitary confinement. I cannot go to the bathroom; must ask for a bedpan, water to drink, wait for food to be delivered, no coffee or tea on demand. Trapped in my bed, with a facemask over my oxygen mask, machines monitor my heart rate, pulse, breathing, oxygen intake, blood pressure and pulse. With a drip in one arm, blood pressure cuff on the other, virtually motionless, robbed of my free will and freedom is a new experience. I start feeling agitated and irritable. With no television or radio to distract me, I am confronted with myself. With no clock to orientate me, time ceases to exist. Normally, a kind and easy-going person, one moment I am joking with the nurses, the next I am crying uncontrollably. Depression comes, bites me in the butt, and then leaves again. Emotional swings are par for the course when it comes to Covid-19. The virus affects us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Insatiable, it wreaks havoc at all levels of our being.”

Having originally trained as a nurse, I tend to freak out when in my opinion, nursing is not up to standard. I constantly remind myself that staff are risking their lives to nurse me, and they too have challenges to deal with. With protective clothing expensive, and in short supply, nurses work six-hourly shifts, during which they are not allowed to eat, drink, or go to the toilet. If they leave ICU they have to strip, shower, and don fresh protective clothing. An expensive exercise. Add to this a major hinderance having to practice social distancing and communicate through masks.

Anxious to go home, I ask “When am I going for my chest CT Scan please?”
“X-Ray Department is madly busy,” comes the reply. “We have to make sure no one else is around before we take you down, so it will probably be between twelve and 1a.m. this evening.”

Allergic to iodine, they start pumping me full of cortisone. The ward is quiet, except for the hissing, thumping sound of a ventilator nearby. I realise that, not knowing what is ahead, I must give myself over to the process, letting go of control. To not resist the situation, but work with it, discovering what it offers me.

The porter fetches me at 1am. The journey down to the X-Ray department is eerie. Not a sound or a soul in sight. Although I have had iodine after taking cortisone before, there is always that stressful moment when they open the canister, allowing the iodine to flow into my arm. “Why is it that I am afraid of dying?” I think. “Of leaving the known for the unknown.” A firm believer in life after death, this enigma constantly puzzles me.

Depression and Detachment – Overwhelmed
Wednesday 10 June 2020.
I wake up sobbing uncontrollably. I am afraid of infecting the nurses. Over the loss of identity, freedom, absence of goods and surfaces, lack of automation and routine activities, personal security, love, and of touch. Multiple losses, nearly overwhelming experienced by everyone on earth. A collective grief for a life cancelled and seemingly gone forever.

What do the nurses do? Unplug me from all the machines, remove the blood pressure cuff, the IV, tuck me into my bed and let me sleep for a while. Their kindness completely overwhelms and comforts me as do countless messages from my family and Facebook friends. I had no idea that so many people loved and cared for me. Fellow healers rally round sending prayers and healing energy. I experience this like ripples of love, tingling, and warmth enveloping my body.

Thursday 11 June 2020.
The CT scan comes back clear, for which I am profoundly grateful. Had it not been for Covid-19 I would never have had this experience. When we are resistant to change, life will force us to change. Being ejected into a foreign environment honed my survival skills. Knowing that ‘no one would come’ meant that I had to handle this on my own. Sometimes, however, our strength does not come from within, but from the tears we shed. Of admitting that we are vulnerable, and just doing our best to get through each day without trumpets blaring and applause. It can feel like crawling over glass on our elbows, with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, but live we must.

Friday 12 June 2020. Leaving hospital was like trying to get out of jail. Still Covid-19 positive, no one could fetch me, nor was I allowed to use a cab. I call an ambulance. Security escorts us out of the building into a crisp, star filled night. With strict instructions to go back to hospital immediately, should my condition deteriorate, I go back into isolation for another two weeks at home.

Lack of Energy – Helplessness
Tuesday 16 June 2020.
My second day of my fourteen days of isolation at home. I am so fortunate to have a window to look out of. To feed the birds through my window, to be able to wave at people passing by. Lucky that I have a medical aid, the means to buy supplements to boost my immunity, and people to support me. Lucky to have my own toilet, electricity, running water, a computer, phone … the list is endless. My heart goes out to all those battling Covid19 who have none of these things.

Having Covid-19 is like a ride on a donkey cart! I wake up feeling great, then hit a bump, and rush to take a pain killer. My body feels like its being skinned alive, with every single nerve ending throbbing with heat and pain. Thank goodness I do not have a cough, or runny nose, loss of taste or smell! Intermittent serious depression comes and goes again, as do a sore throat, nausea, difficult breathing, diarrhea, and feeling hot and cold again. Pain wracks my body; my chest is tight. I feel desperately ill, exhausted, and weak. Feeling vulnerable, I drop all my defenses and phone fellow healers for assistance.
“Please help me,” I beg. “I just can’t go on!”
They are flabbergasted because people see me as a strong, positive, and independent person. Someone who never gives up, and here I am asking for help.
I go back to bed and feel loving, warm energy enfold me as my friends telepathically connect with me. Hippocrates (460-377BCE) described this healing energy as ‘the heat that oozes out of the hands, a form of energy exchange, whereby the healer stimulates your body to heal itself.’

Friday 19 June 2020. All I accomplished today was to manage to wash my hair and go back to bed. A big step forward. Every few days, friends pop by with food parcels and treats. Others do my shopping for me. Fellow residents knock on my window to see if I am okay, others wave passing by. Some infected people suffer stigma, isolation, and social exclusion. My community however, welcomed me back with open arms. Their love and support helped to speed up my recovery.

Tuesday 23 June. People say that I am the first Covid19 person they have heard about. Not talking about it means that people could be fooled into believing ‘it’s not so bad.’ Insidious, the virus creeps up on the unwary, especially people like me who believed it was a load of hogwash. Folks, it is real, and it is here. From mild to serious, one must manage the symptoms as they arise.

I would like to put people's minds at rest. Some get Covid-19 so mildly, they don't even know they have it. Most people nurse themselves at home and make a full recovery. Once diagnosed, unless you are in severe respiratory distress, you DO NOT immediately go onto a ventilator. I managed well with oxygen, and my breathing is gradually improving. Not everyone gets all the symptoms!

Return to Meaningful Life – Empowerment, security, self-esteem, meaning.
Wednesday 24 June 2020
. Recovery from COVID19 takes baby steps too. Managed to wash the dishes today and tidy up a bit. Having walked the path so many times after major health and other setbacks, I know the drill. Do what you can when you can. Don't fight with yourself. Ask for help. One little task at a time. Then rest, before you try again. So, what if it takes an hour to wash the kitchen floor? Do it in stages like everything else, and thank God for all your blessings, of which I have many.

Saturday 28 August 2020.
Nearly 3 months later, my body is doing an excellent job of healing itself. I have lived through hand tremors, manage gastrointestinal and nausea problems and extreme fatigue. My memory and walking have improved as has my breathing. Tens of thousands of people have similar stories of unrelenting and unpredictable symptoms that surface daily. Not knowing which symptom will present itself each day, is like having a guest in the house. I organise my life around it. Covid-19 has taught me the importance of freedom, sun, people, water, and the sweet taste of fresh air. That when Life throws us a curved ball, we must catch it, and draw on knowledge gained from previous experiences to cope. That emotional mood swings are par for the course. That identity, home comforts, automation, routine activities, personal security, love, family, and friends provide a foundation for living. That forced change can deepen appreciation and that recovery takes time. Ends/…

©Copyright Katharine Lee-Kruger 8/7/2020 All Rights Reserved


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