Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

In the jaws of Covid-19: A journalist’s ordeal

By Robin Muchetu

After spending most of 2020 hash tagging- #CovidKills #StaySafe, #MaskUp#CovidisReal, Covid-19 indeed got real with me and I tested positive at the beginning of January 2021. I was taken aback a little because I never imagined contracting the virus as I had taken all set down precautions seriously. But as a frontline worker, I knew the dangers associated with the job.

Journalist Robin Muchetu

How it started

I fell ill on Christmas Day 2020. I felt a tightness in my chest and I kept taking water assuming it was because of eating a great deal throughout the day and I would wake up fine. The next morning, I went to work and retired home feeling tired and feverish. I didn’t think much but that was the beginning of my troubles.

I developed a bout of flu and a dry cough the next day but still it never dawned on me that it could be Covid-19. The following two weeks were probably the worst in my Covid-19 journey as symptoms kept getting worse. The fever was accompanied by headaches and worst of all an excruciating lower back pain. I could not walk properly and would spend the day alternating between my bed and the sofa.

There was no comfortable place at all as the pain was terrible and no pain killers could calm it. My appetite, sense of taste and smell dropped to zero.

Fast forward into the New Year. Things took a change on 2 January 2021. I literally ran up the stairs to get to the office as I was rushing for an assignment. That was the day top Bulawayo businessman Worthwhile Mugabe who succumbed to Covid-19 was being buried and it was my assignment.

I got to my workstation but I was struggling to catch my breath and I thought since I had run up the stairs, I would be okay in a minute or two but that was not the case. I found myself gasping for air and coughing uncontrollably.

I went for the funeral either way but throughout the day I was struggling to breathe and still coughing. A colleague even suggested I be sent home but we had a very lean team that day and felt I had to soldier on, fulfil my duties for the week and knock off with the rest of the team. I spent all day at the office nursing my symptoms with a cough mixture and painkillers.

The next day, 3 January, a doctor friend suggested I get tested for Covid-19 as I was exhibiting all Covid-19 symptoms. It was not the first time he had suggested but I had not taken it seriously but on that day I did not hesitate and took a test.

Contrary to popular belief, the test was painless. Just a tingling sensation in the nose and I was done. My system then started singing a different tune all together, I found myself at Mater Dei Hospital hanging on to the little breath I had. I did not want to take chances after hearing stories of several people who lost the battle to this virus. I was scared because I seemed to have been deteriorating each day.

Luckily, I presented in time at the hospital and I was stabilised and received treatment, had more tests conducted on me. Mind you, the Covid-19 results were not yet out from the National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory so I was treated blindly for Covid-19 symptoms and it saved my life. I was discharged from hospital and on 8 January 2020 I got the dreaded call from Mpilo Hospital that I was positive for Covid-19.

Healing and remedies
After being prescribed Azythromycin, Zinc and Vitamin C tablets from the hospital I started to recover from home. However, it took a full week to be able to breathe properly. Initially I would breathe like a person who had just completed a marathon and had pain in my abdomen because where others were probably taking 20 breaths per minute I was taking more than 30.

I tried several alternative breathing techniques I read about on the internet including sleeping on my stomach, breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth as if I was whistling softly, and one technique which was hard but I did anyway was to hold my breath for five seconds, five times and on the sixth cycle I was to cough out vigorously! I read all that online. It was effective to some extent.

One thing for sure is that no remedy is universal for the treatment of Covid-19 symptoms. Covid-19 to me is like pregnancy, labour pains and marriage, no two people experience it the same, enough to tell the next person how to deal with it. You deal with your symptoms the best way it suits you.

The next 20 days after testing positive were days spent steaming with zumbani (umsuzwane), guava, lemon, lemongrass, Vicks and Eucalyptus leaves. That brought a great deal of relief as it would decongest my chest. I would cough and release a lot of phlegm which made sleeping and breathing much better. I also used eucalyptus oil and rubbed it on my chest and it was indeed soothing.

I know some patients did the steaming and died but it worked in my favour. I struggled to keep the Zinc and Vitamin C down but others took it with no challenges. I would advise anyone with Covid-19 to do what makes them feel better with the assistance of medical experts if it involves drugs and medicines because self-diagnosis and intake of over the counter medicines can be lethal.

Health practitioners, Covid-19 “experts” and many others who are knowledgeable on the virus advise Covid-19 patients to eat hot meals and drinks but I struggled with that as I ate cold sadza and chilled sour milk almost on a daily basis and did just fine.

I drank a lot of ice-cold Coca Cola every day and did not eat even a single orange as suggested by many and I came out well. One man’s meat is truly another man’s poison. I also struggled to take hot baths the whole time. I felt the urge to bath in cold water as it would always make me feel better.

When one tests positive for the virus it is vital to get family support as they are the ones surrounding you when you are ill. I for one was symptomatic and always in bed as the virus hit me hard. The constant checks from loved ones throughout the day gave me hope of getting better each day. I am grateful to my family, friends and colleagues who knew I was ill and made it their business to check on me everyday. Those phone calls and texts meant a lot.

However, as a frontline worker working tirelessly even when I was under the weather and eventually contracting the virus, the unions, associations and organisations that claim to represent us as journalists were awfully silent during my personal struggle with the virus. They must strive to represent us on paper and also in real terms.

I am positive without a doubt that they do have structures and are represented in local media houses and help could have come from them too. The least they could do was to throw in a phone call of support here and there, organise an information pack of Covid-19 facts, myths, misconceptions and what to do when you have the virus.

They could also have offered some form of counselling for their own as one needs counselling when dealing with the virus and its vital to be kept sane.

Being news vipers and information hawks, our representatives could have come up with a well- researched information pack that is palpable and given to those that will have been infected together with literature that can divert a patient’s attention from their current state and have a motivating effect.

How I spent my isolation period
It is not easy spending the day holed up in one room of the house with limited interaction with the outside world.
A typical day was waking up at about 6am, read newspapers and go outside the house to breathe fresh air, take a cold bath, followed by breakfast, lunch and supper of the day.

In-between the meals I would only sleep, nothing more. At the end of the day I would walk outside the house to stretch and to breathe more fresh air. Never underestimate the value of being able to breathe properly and independently; Covid-19 takes away that ability before you even know it.

I survived because….
In this movie called Life, I still have a role to play, my script still has to run a little longer, the show has to go on.
I also survived because I think I lead a fairly healthy lifestyle of exercising daily. We all need to do some form of exercise to keep ourselves fit. I survived because I still have a purpose in this life which I must fulfil. I tested negative for Covid-19 on Friday last week after battling the virus for a month. The Sunday News