Journalist recounts Covid-19 nightmare after having to go into ICU

Corné van Zyl while recovering in the Zuid-Afrikaans Hospital. Photo: Facebook

“ICU is a lonely, dark room with no TV or windows, just a bunch of machines. I had no way of speaking to anyone. My nightmare had begun.”

You’ve read the news headlines, you’ve stocked up on sanitiser and you have a bunch of face masks and shields. You feel Covid-ready. You make minimal trips to the store, you prep your children on safety measures – so how is it still possible to contract this virus?

These were the thoughts of Rekord newspaper’s deputy group editor, Corné van Zyl, when she started to feel sick in December.

Van Zyl and her family, who reside in the Willows in the east of Pretoria, opted to stay home for the festive season, as she and her husband Charles both had to work. The couple have a two-year-old son, Logan.

“I started to feel a little sick on the day before Christmas,” said Van Zyl.

Corné van Zyl with husband Charles and two-year-old son, Logan. Photo: Facebook

“We had a family gathering, but only closest family members attended. On the 26th, I started to feel extremely tired, almost like I wanted to sleep the entire day.”

“We wrote it off to sheer exhaustion from Christmas and having family over. On the night of the 28th, my health would however take a change for the worse when I woke up with a horrific fever of 39.7 degrees.”

Van Zyl said she immediately knew she had contracted Covid-19, being in the media industry, she knew exactly what symptoms to look out for.

“My symptoms intensified the few following days, but it included kidney pain. On the 31st of December I decided to get tested. We isolated and I medicated myself, which clearly made no difference to my health.”

Van Zyl explained that one of the strangest aspects of this time was the hallucinations she experienced while having a high fever.

“Charles asked me repeatedly to take me to hospital, but to be honest, I was scared. I heard all the news of so many people who didn’t survive this second strain. After getting the message that I did in fact test positive, we decided to isolate and get better at home.”

On Wednesday, 6 January, Van Zyl experienced continuing hallucinations and the couple decided to drive to the Zuid-Afrikaans Hospital in Pretoria.

“I was pushed into the emergency room, very weak, a sky-high fever and I was unbelievably scared and paranoid about what was about to happen. I didn’t even have time to kiss Charles and Logan goodbye. After enduring all kinds of blood tests and scans to my lungs, I could see the fear and panic in the doctors’ eyes.

“I had Covid-19 pneumonia and had severely low oxygen levels. Before I could make sense of the situation, I was wheeled into ICU: a lonely, dark room with no TV or windows, just a bunch of machines. I had no way of speaking to anyone. My nightmare had begun.”

Van Zyl told Rekord that a nurse waited outside her room; every time she wanted to ask something, the nurse had to put on layers of PPE, plastic covers and be sanitised again before she could tend to her requests or needs.

“Lying in that room, having only my thoughts, it was the loneliest time of my life. I have never been so scared and uncertain of anything. Thinking about my family, whether I would walk out of there and wondering whether my son would have to grow up without me.”

She said that when the medical personnel moved her from one room to another, they covered her with plastic bags.

“I can’t explain what amazing people these medical workers are. My doctor, Dr Nyasulu Chilongo, was amazing. They are all angels.

“They took care of me and supported me through everything. Sometimes, I just wanted to hold someone’s hand, and the nurse who took care of me, did that, with all her gloves and plastic covers. It was painful and I have never panicked about anything like this before.”

Van Zyl said that one of the hardest things during her time in the hospital was having the doctors break her fever.

“My infection count was so high, my fever literally took days to break, I don’t know how to explain the severity of that.”

“I will go as far to say that the emotional burden of this experience is much worse that the physical pain and discomfort I had to go through. I have always considered myself a strong person, but this virus broke me.

“The uncertainty of what was going to happen to my life, my husband and my son. I wasn’t at all prepared in any sense. At times, I had to prepare myself for the worst and made peace with the fact that I could probably die from this,” she said.

Van Zyl was released from hospital on Friday, after spending six days in ICU, secluded and separated from the rest of the world.

She said that her Covid journey is far from over as the recovery process takes a while and that the effects of her symptoms are starting to show as she gets back to her life.

“I have already noticed how much muscle mass I’ve lost after the last week. My body feels broken and I am out of breath by doing the smallest tasks.”

Van Zyl plans to take in and appreciate every small bit of her life after her ordeal.

“I do not wish this virus on anyone, I am afraid to go into the outside world, I just want to stay home, stay away from everyone and protect my loved ones.

“Please do not underestimate this virus. It is brutal and it’s quick. I have an amazing support system and people who helped out so much during this past week. I feel tremendously grateful to be alive,” she said.

This article first appeared on the Rekord East and has been republished with permission.

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