Andile Tshuma, Chronicle Correspondent
DOCTORS are always the source of answers and hope for many who trust them with the lives of sick loved ones during a health crisis.
At some point, it becomes easy to think of doctors as super-humans who are immune to fear. People who do not get sick much, and do not worry about sickness as they know what to prescribe.
The doctor is always the hero in medical drama. The doctor cannot be a victim.
However a local doctor’s brush with Covid-19 has shown that the virus affects all, and that stigma is the bigger virus than the actual disease itself.
Even he was fooled by a RDT test, which assured him that he was Covid-19 free.
Specialist psychiatrist and deputy director of mental health services in the ministry of health and child care, Dr Sacrifice Chirisa at some point needed a mental health expert to help him deal with fear and anxiety after he and some of his family members tested positive for Covid-19.
He was probably one of the first medical practitioners to test positive and he could not hide his joy in a YouTube video he shared recently, on testing PCR negative, totally recovered and symptom free, after what he describes as a nightmare.
This is his story: “My journey started beginning of July, probably around the 3rd or 4th. At that time, my wife is the one who started having symptoms and she told me that she was having a fever, for just about two or three days shortly after, I started feeling the symptoms and she recovered within three or four days. We went to a laboratory to have Covid-19 tests done, the RDT tests, it was on a Sunday afternoon, I remember, we were having a bad fever. When the results came back, we had both tested negative and that gave us a bit of comfort to say that well it’s just the flue,” said Dr Chirisa.
He said he got worse and his health deteriorated, although his wife recovered from the fever.
However, his thoughts were no longer on him being a potential Covid-19 patient, after both he and his wife had tested RDT negative.
“During the following week, she had fully recovered, but as for me, I progressively became ill, the fever became magnified, I would feel so cold, even if I heaped blankets or used the electric blanket that we had. I would still feel a fever and the cold. Nothing could heat me up. I would sweat and I would drench my pyjamas and sheets. I would actually sleep with a towel to wipe off sweat during the night,” said Dr Chirisa.
He narrates how his condition continued to deteriorate, as he kept thinking that the bout of flue was particularly bad. After all he had tested negative with the RDT test.
Eventually, when one day he could not even get up from his bed, Dr Chirisa said he had to call around and arrange for a PCR test, which is more conclusive.
The results confirmed these fears.
“I would have the chills very much. I developed a persistent cough and I actually ended up having chest pain. One of the days I couldn’t get up on a Friday, it was terrible. I had lost my sense of smell and sense of taste. I couldn’t taste any food, I lost my appetite. That prompted me to go for a PCR. I went to Lancet (Laboratories) and got tested. And 24 hours later, I learnt that I was positive.
“I don’t even know where it came from, I cannot point to a person or a patient, or a situation that I had been to, that I can say was the source. Up to now, I am still baffled to say where it came from. Maybe it’s because of the widespread community transmissions that are rampant now in the country,” said Dr Chirisa.
He said he made arrangements with friends so that he could stock up on all the medication he thought he would need and a number of antibiotics and relief medication were prescribed by fellow doctors.
Dr Chirisa said he also developed diarrhoea, among other symptoms. He also used home remedies to up his chances of getting better.
“When that happened the fever was continuing and I called a few friends of mine. Physicians that are in the frontline in the Covid-19 treatment. They gave me things that I could use and prescriptions that I could buy. I bought and used Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, azithromycin and I also used antibiotics. I did have a supply of chloroquine which I did not use and other medications. These ones, my physician had instructed to use when I was now very sick. The fever continued with the use even of antibiotics. I even developed a diarrhoea I’m not sure if it was Covid-19, or the use of antibiotics as Covid-19 can also cause diarrhoea.
“Over that week, I was now also taking home remedies such as the zumbani tea, ginger, lemon and I would maybe have four cups a day,” he narrated.
He said he was afraid unlike what one would think of a medical practioner and specialist in mental health.
The ordinary person would think that it is easier for the mental health specialist to process things. It would be easy to assume that someone in his shoes would be immune to fear.
But he says he was afraid. News of people dying in the country and around the world kept him up on many nights. He was now one of the Covid-19 patients.
Daily statistics on cases included him too, and it had a psychological bearing.
“The most difficult thing that went through my mind was the psychosocial because I was in the first 1 000 in the country. probably the first medical doctor to test positive. I was afraid of dying because I had seen some people dying,” he said.
Dr Chirisa said fear crept in when he considered that he had an underlying condition, hypertension. He felt that meant somehow the odds were against him.
The mental health expert narrates that he was irritable and did not eat or talk to people who tried to reach out.
“I had an underlying condition as I am hypertensive and on treatment. So, all those thoughts came. I was not sleeping. I was quiet and I did not want to talk. So many things could happen to you when you are in isolation,” he said.
His friends threw medication over the gate. Probably, they were too afraid to get too close to him as a Covid-19 patient. Getting too close would be too risky. But seeing such demanded a lot of mental strength to process, and a psychosocial support.
“Friends would come. They would bring supplies, medication or something like that and they would literally throw the medication over the gate. They would stand back there. I think obviously they needed to be safe as well,” he said.
Dr Chirisa said his youngest son found it difficult to stay away from him, and soon got infected with the virus bringing to three the number of infected family members.
“While I was in isolation, it was 21 days, my last born also became positive. He could not understand the isolation process. He could not stay away from us. The rest of the family that stayed away tested negative. My wife who was nursing me, also became positive. My son was sick for just one day. The other two had mild forms of Covid-19. I had the challenging one. However they have also tested negative. I checked my temperature and my pulse every day,” said Dr Chirisa.
As a parting shot, he encouraged people with underlying conditions to ensure they were well managed so that should they test positive for Covid-19, they are not at risk of too many health complications.
“The take home message I give to people who have pre-existing medical conditions, do not wait until you have Covid-19, this is the time to ensure that your condition is well controlled. You do not want that upsurge because it will change how your body reacts to Covid-19. There is stigma. I volunteered to come out, being a medical practitioner. I had covid-19. It was not my fault. There’s nobody to blame. There are a lot of people that are going to get Covid19. They must be treated like human beings,” said Dr Chirisa.
He said people needed support from friends and family to help recover and said mental wellness had a bearing in the recovery of a patient.
“All you need is support, all you need is care. We must try and break the stigma. I hope more people will come out. I thank God that I am back at work. Ciovid-19 is real. If you have Covid-19, do not just sit in bed. Feed yourself with positive news, read a book or find something motivational. If you feel like you are struggling with breathing and cannot speak a sentence without gasping, then go to hospital. Early oxygen therapy is needed. Most people die because they would be too sick and would have sought help late,” said Dr Chirisa. — @andile_tshuma