By Dr Karin van der Merwe, a general practitioner working in Johannesburg. Founding member of GGPC ( Gauteng General Practitioners collaboration) which is a platform for doctors to share resources during Covid-19 . Look for  #voicesthatcare on the GGPC Facebook page.

COVID Diary: Early Signs

I woke up on a Saturday morning feeling anxious. I had an interview with 702 and I put down my funny feelings of abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea and and slight nausea as nerves. The interview went well but I still felt odd afterwards. It dawned on me that I had a sore throat and headache and was feeling a bit feverish. As is the case with most people I have spoken to, I was in denial  that this could be COVID. I figured that since it was Saturday and I had some time before my next shift at the practice on Monday, I would do a swab just to put my mind at rest.

COVID Diary: Diagnosis

 After compulsively checking my phone for the next 24 hours, I still remember the exact moment the “positive” result came through. I was shocked and many questions flooded my mind. When did I get it? How sick would I get? Had I already infected someone else? I ran through my movements for the last few days and for a fleeting moment considered not telling anyone I was positive. It was too much effort. Maybe I could just pretend this had not happened?

Eventually I realised that I was going to have to tell people the truth. Murphy’s law was that I had gone to the hairdresser for the first time and I had allowed my son to see a friend. So I started the process of calling all my contacts. Fortunately all my contacts were very understanding and more concerned than angry.

COVID Diary of a dr

COVID Diary: Course of the Illness

I started on a regimen of Vitamins (D, C, B3 ) and Zinc. I used paracetamol and Medlemon for pain and fever. Otherwise I didn’t take any medications. 

I was not prepared for how ill I would feel especially since I’m a healthy 43 year old with no comorbidites. My  symptoms varied from muscle aches, headaches, nausea, a very runny nose, nose ulcers, and most prominently, extreme fatigue. For the first week I hardly got out of bed. I didn’t completely lose my sense of taste but things did not taste right. Most alarmingly- my beloved coffee tasted like dishwater!

About 10 days in, I also got tiny vesicles (blisters) on my legs, and one large vesicle on my right baby finger. I also had a persistent itchy patch on the pulp of my left index finger which has still not completely resolved. This is evidence of how bizarre this virus can be. It is quite scary to have a new disease which is not well known. Having said that I got off easy. Unlike some of my colleagues with COVID, I did not experience any respiratory symptoms, myocarditis nor neurological fallout.

One thing common in many COVID survivors is ongoing fatigue and shortness of breath on exertion. This has been called “Long COVID”. Some patients with relatively mild COVID, are 6 weeks post diagnosis and still not able to exercise optimally I’m 4 weeks in and I’m still tired with lingering sinusitis symptoms. By late afternoon my head gets heavy and I just want to be still. I’m trying  to take it easy. I’m still not able to run like I did pre-diagnosis but I can now manage a brisk walk. My expectation was that COVID would just make me feel fluey for a few days but this was not meant to be. 

COVID Diary: the dreaded Isolation

The isolation was very difficult. For the first week, my husband slept on a mattress in our living room and I only saw the family for food delivery. My husband and kids started feeling fluey about 4 days after my diagnosis and were diagnosed with COVID a few days later so then we all mingled freely and isolated as a family. This was much easier and it was a relief to be reunited with them. All 4 of us had different versions of COVID. My son had fever. My daughter had abdominal pains and my husband couldn’t taste and had flu-like symptoms. 

COVID Diary: So what’s it like to be a doctor with COVID?

I briefly had a feeling of shame that despite all my knowledge, I let down my guard enough to contract this disease. Everyone asks “where did you get it” as though you can pin point the exact moment. I can’t . 

There was also relief. I no longer had to live with the anticipation of catching the dreaded virus. And of course The thought of immunity was glorious. 

My self-study of COVID has given me empathy for my patients- especially those with so-called Long COVID- and a greater understanding of this extremely diverse disease. 

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