Stay at home, pleads a Cape Town retail buyer who has just tested positive for the dreaded covid-19. He suspects that he was infected during a coffee shop visit on the day before South Africa’s 21-day lockdown officially kicked in.
The 42-year-old Charlton Isaacs* is still coming to terms with the news after doctors at the Cape Gate Mediclinic called on Friday morning to confirm his worst fear. Now the father of two, who lives in Kraaifontein, not only has to fight the highly infectious disease that placed most parts of the world on lockdown, but also try his best not to infect his own children who live with him.
Isaacs says he started feeling ill with covid-19 symptoms last Sunday. “First it attacked my eyes. The pain lasted a full day. The following day it attacked my sinuses. The pain lasted a day. The next attack was on my mouth. It was the most excruciating pain ever. I then lost my sense of smell and taste. Next up was my head. The headaches started. I started sweating and by this time I was weak as f*ck…”
It was then that he rushed to the Cape Gate Mediclinic about four kilometers from his house. In the wake of the pandemic the hospital set up a drive-through testing centre in its basement parking lot.
The mobile testing centre – one of three at Mediclinics in the Western Cape – works much like a fast-food drive-through. Isaacs remained in his vehicle while he was tested after a screening assessment.
He tells Food For Mzansi this was an uncomfortable experience. “First they swab your nose with a (15-centimeter-long stick). It’s like they’re fetching something right at the back (of your upper throat). It’s terribly sore. The second swab is down your throat. This is not that sore, but terribly uncomfortable.”
According to the World Health Organisation the idea is for the stick to brush the back of your upper throat. The swab is used to gather cells whose DNA can then be analysed and tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the scientific name for what is widely called the coronavirus.
‘They really care about our country’s health’
Despite the health shocker, a tired-sounding Isaacs is highly impressed by the quality of medical care he received. He says, “I tested just after 15:00 on Thursday and they said that it would take 72 hours to get the results. Less than 24 hours later they sent all the reports. My GP, Dr JS Trokis at Langeberg Medicross, has called me twice on Friday morning. Also, Dr Zunaid Mohamed, who heads up the covid-19 emergency unit at the Cape Gate Mediclinic, has called to check up on me. They’ve really been great.”
Isaacs also sings the praises of the Western Cape department of health. “This morning alone they called three times. I have not felt panicked for one moment. I know that we are being led by great medical practitioners. I mean, they do not have to call me every two hours. These people really care about our country’s health.”
However, his journey to healing has just begun. The covid-19 vaccine is possibly still 18 months away and, like most patients, Isaacs has to recover at home. He’s on flu meds and pain killers and has to boost his immune system with vitamin C tablets.
“I am a diabetic (which is a risk factor for the disease) and that makes me a little nervous. But I’m not a smoker, so my lungs are totally fine. I’m a little bit shaken, but not scared.”
What does the coronavirus actually feel like?
Isaacs says, “It’s at least ten times worse than the flu. The virus feels a lot more intelligent than the common cold. It attacks you in stages. It doesn’t take you down all at once. It is incredibly systematic. The one day you’re feeling hopeful, and the next thing something else strikes. The fever came right at the end.”
Now Isaacs and his 17-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter are locked up in their home in Camden Green, Kraaifontein. “We’ll be self-isolating for at least two weeks. I can only thank God that my kids are not currently showing any symptoms. For now, we will have to communicate through the bedroom door…”
Until their father gets better, the Isaacs children will have to feed themselves. “There are many easy meals that they can prepare. Of course, it’s not their grandma’s food, but it will keep them going. I have to monitor their own health now too, frequently asking if they are having any symptoms. As soon as they start showing symptoms I will have to get them to a doctor.”
Covid-19 is no ‘white man’s disease’
Isaacs has been working from home for at least two weeks prior and has only left the house once to meet up with a friend at the Tyger Valley Shopping Centre in Bellville on the day before the lockdown kicked in. He suspects this is where he picked up covid-19 because he hasn’t been anywhere else in this period.
“It was our last catch-up before the 21-day lockdown. I haven’t been overseas. I’ve only been to that coffee shop.”
Isaacs’ friend has now also been tested. She is currently awaiting her results.
Meanwhile the divorced father describes perceptions that covid-19 is a “white man’s disease” as ignorance. He is Coloured, and says he’s also just read a report that 35% of American citizens currently testing positive are black. “There’s no such thing as a white man’s disease. It’s utter nonsense… Unfortunately, there are still people in our communities with that perception.”
His message to fellow South Africans is simple. “Lock your doors as soon as possible. Don’t go out. Don’t go to the shops unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re looking for a bit of sun, go sit in your yard. Do not get in touch with people you do not have to see. Don’t get in your car to go for a quick drive. Stay in your bloody house.”
*Pseudonym to protect his identity.