Fighting fit

Friday, August 14, 2020

Like many looking forward to what is undoubtedly one of the most important days in their lives, Shesnee Naidoo did all she could to ensure that her dream wedding day goes off without a hitch.

Like any woman about to tie the knot, fitting into her dream wedding dress was among the top things on her to-do list.

In her quest to ensure that the big day goes off smoothly, Naidoo did her best to eat healthily and to stay fit in the months leading up to the April 2020 nuptials.

“I tried deliberately to eat healthy, especially because I was trying to be prepared for my wedding. I was already healthy and quite conscious of what I was eating,” she said.

As she ticked the days off her calendar, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a nationwide lockdown that would get underway on 26 March.

The then 21-day lockdown, ripped a stitch from the bride to be’s preparations as lockdown regulations put mass social gatherings on ice.

All of her painstaking planning seemed to have been in vain and she had no choice but to postpone her 11 April 2020 wedding.

As the days under lockdown went by, government’s announcement of the move to level 3 of the lockdown ushered in a new normal for South Africans.

The arrival of level 3 of lockdown on 1 June, saw government gradually open several sectors of the economy.

Naidoo is among over a million other citizens who have returned to work.

Shortly after her return to work, the 36 year-old Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager at one of the country’s leading law firms fell ill.

She recalled how her body was wrought with aches and pains on 15 June 2020. So severe was her pain that she could not even get out of bed.

“My body felt like it was concrete. I was just exhausted and I couldn’t get out of bed, so I stayed in bed the entire day.”

As South Africa commemorated Youth Day the following day, Naidoo spent the day in bed.

Prior to getting sick, Naidoo had ensured that she got the flu vaccine and it made sense that she would rule out having the flu.

Little did she know at the time that these aches and a headache were the first symptoms of COVID-19.

On the night of Youth Day, Naidoo’s fiancé experienced his first bout of symptoms in the form of severe shivers.

The loss of smell and taste jolted Naidoo into action.

Naidoo who is seldom sick, remembers calling her doctor for assistance who was unfortunately away at the time. She was advised to test for COVID-19.

Upon arrival at one of the many health centres set up for COVID-19 testing on Wednesday 17 June 2020, Naidoo and her fiancé were greeted by a doctor who conducted a screening to determine if the couple was eligible - based on their symptoms- for the COVID-19 test.

The World Health Organization lists headaches, body aches and pains, a loss of taste and smell as some of the Coronavirus symptoms.

Like a cloud on the horizon, the couple presented with these symptoms and they proceeded to get a COVID-19 swab.

In the anxious wait for their results in isolation, the couple were unable to head out for daily essentials like bread and milk.

 “You can’t go anywhere; [COVID-19] takes away the simple things from you. Our family members had to buy us groceries and they would leave it outside. We could not even see them.

“We would stand behind the door with the door closed for their protection and just wave at them. It was the saddest thing,” she said.

After two-days, the couple’s test results came back and they had tested positive for the virus.

 “I had the basic symptoms of your nasal congestion and you know it was more of your milder symptoms. Whilst I say it is considered mild symptoms, it’s nothing like I have experienced before,” she said.

In addition, she also experienced debilitating fatigue while her nasal congestion made her feel like she was on the brink of drowning.

She also could not help but wonder where she had picked up the virus that has infected millions around the world.

While there were a few cases of COVID-19 at her workplace, Naidoo never came into direct contact with anyone who was infected.

While she continues to wonder how she contracted the virus, Naidoo made a conscious decision at the time to fight the virus.

With no cure available, the doctor informed the couple that they would receive treatment based on their symptoms.

With a determination to fight the virus, Naidoo and her partner ensured that they take their medication and vitamins prescribed by the doctor.

They also took home remedies.

 “We started taking the medication and very importantly I shut everything out. I could not focus on work or anything else. I just focused on getting us healthy and getting through it.”

Among the home remedies that became their daily ritual was gargling with salt and water twice a day, steaming with eucalyptus oil to help clear out congestion, drinking warm beverages and eating healthily.

To boost their immune systems, Vitamins C, A, and Zinc were a daily staple in the household.

“I would have ginger tea with lemon and honey - all of those things just to boost my immune system, eat healthy so we made sure we have some protein with veggies. We did all of that like a routine, it was like a schedule. Every single day when we woke up, we ate, took our medication and vitamins. We made sure we were consistent.”

In the journey to recovery, there were good and bad days with some days peppered in “feeling great” to complete relapse days.

The first 10 -12 days were a struggle with plummeting energy levels and severe fatigue.

The constant fatigue also crept into her birthday on 21 June.

“It was one of the worst birthdays because on that day I didn’t feel well at all. My fiancé got me a cake. He put a candle on it and I blew out the candle just to make him happy. I slept through most of my birthday because I just didn’t have the energy,” she recalls.

Once she weathered the storm of the first 14 days, she gradually regained her energy.

On 6 July, their doctor booked off the couple on sick leave for yet another week to clear out all their symptoms.

Upon clearance of all symptoms, the doctor certified the couple COVID-19 free.

Having emerged from the storm, the couple took a decision to cancel their wedding, which they had initially postponed to September 2020.

“We had postponed our wedding to September but now that we both contracted COVID, we have decided to cancel our wedding completely. It just does not seem foreseeable and I think for the protection of loved ones [that is what we should do]. Having gone through the virus, I don’t want anybody to go through that,” she says.

With no prospects of a wedding, any time soon, the couple intends on getting their nuptials registered this year. However, there will be no celebrations.

Today Naidoo is among the 437617 South Africans who have come out on the other side of COVID-19.

While much is still being learnt about the virus, Naidoo has encouraged society to boost their immune systems by eating healthily, exercising, following the guidelines of wearing a mask and the regular washing of hands.

“These are important because those are going to protect you and your loved ones as the numbers grow exponentially. Also, take care of your mental well-being. Watch the news to stay informed but take care of your mental well-being as well.”

One can also understand that the graduate recruitment manager would have some apprehension about returning to the workplace, given her experience with the virus.

“My anxiety levels are quite high but I’m going to do everything that I possibly can to make sure that I don’t get infected again so I’m going to take all the precautions because that’s all I can do.

“I can’t make this virus go away. I have to learn to live with it. I have to work, its important. All I can do is use the guidelines that are provided and really just hope for the best.”

As she moves on with her life, Naidoo like many women in the country expressed concern at the alarming levels of violence metered out against women.

This as South Africa continues to experience a rise in the number of gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide cases.

Her concern is shared by President Ramaphosa who said that the country is battling two pandemics, that of COVID-19 and that of GBV as well.

This Women’s Month, Naidoo has urged women not to suffer in silence.

 “I think it is important to surround yourself with people that love you and people that you can talk to. You need a support structure. Try not to isolate yourself and I think a lot of women, who are dealing with gender-based violence, feel ashamed and isolate themselves but they shouldn’t.”

While times have changed in a matter of months thanks to COVID-19, South African women have not lost the drive to fight for a better life and future while also speaking out for the rights of others.

Naidoo who stayed true to her conviction to fight the pandemic will no doubt one day get the chance to don her wedding dress and walk down the aisle. –