How I Recovered From COVID-19
By Wayde Flowerday
It was the dry cough that first alerted me. Then came fatigue, body aches, and worst of all, an immobilizing shortness of breath. Something as simple as taking a tin of soup from the cupboard exhausted me.
This was mid-March, when coronavirus — the virus that causes COVID-19 — was rapidly spreading worldwide. I’m 29 and in good shape and rarely suffer from colds or the flu, so right away I suspected I’d fallen victim to this dreaded virus. My hunch was correct. A test came back positive. My wife, a doctor, also tested positive.
The next few weeks confined to our home were incredibly difficult. I was lucky not to suffer from fever, but the shortness of breath was the worst. It made the simplest of chores almost impossible. A trip to the bathroom seemed like an odyssey so I made absolutely certain I had to go before I even tried to get up. My wife was also down with similar symptoms, so we couldn’t really take care of each other.
Not that it would change my situation, but of course I wanted to know how and where I’d contracted the virus. This is the sort of thing that occupies your mind when you’re flat on the couch for days at a time.
There were several possibilities. I had taken pictures at a rock music festival in Johannesburg and learned that a member of an American band performing there had tested positive after he’d returned home. Also, my wife, a doctor, had been working with suspected patients. In the end though, I’m fairly certain it happened at a bustling Oliver Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, where I’d returned from a flight from Swaziland. Nobody else I was with at the festival contracted COVID-19 and it turned out none of the patients my wife was working with tested positive either.
People ask me if I was scared. To be honest, I wasn’t. I was lucky to be in good overall health, to have access to private health care, a comfortable home, and support from family, friends, and from the medical team and others at IFC, who regularly checked in on me.
But I know there are thousands in South Africa — and around the world — who are scared. Despite the South African government’s bold lockdown response to COVID-19, there were more than 23,000 cases in the country as of May 26, the most in Africa. President Ramaphosa said only this week that the crisis will “get much worse” in South Africa before it gets better. Many will lack the resources to help counter the disease and for the elderly, or those with other health conditions, COVID-19’s symptoms and complications must be terrifying. My wife and I both made our conditions public right away to alert everyone we’d been in contact with, though luckily nobody else we know has contracted the disease.
The world is a very different place — wiser, I hope, and more cautious — from when I fell victim to coronavirus in March, a time when the risk was perhaps still not yet widely internalized. My advice to those on how to stay safe is simple: Follow all the protocols for avoiding contracting the virus, such as washing hands, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing. Contact a doctor if you suspect you have COVID-19. It’s also important to stay calm and know that it can be beaten. I’m heartened to know that the World Bank Group is doing its part to cushion the blow of this global crisis.
Today, I’m feeling much better. I didn’t need hospitalization or a ventilator. I am back to normal almost 100 percent now, and to be honest I feel a little invincible. I am still doing everything I can to avoid coronavirus, of course, because there is some research that says people might be susceptible to catching it multiple times — though it is also likely I will be immune from the strain I already had. In any case, I am now doing all the shopping for my parents, who live nearby, so they can minimize their time in public places. Because she has already had COVID-19, my wife is now part of the testing team here at a hospital in Johannesburg, so we hope some good can come of our experiences.
Wayde Flowerday is a private-sector specialist based in Johannesburg for the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group.