At a time he was meant to be celebrating his 26th birthday, Brandon found himself with a bad cough and a tight chest that at times made speaking or breathing, a struggle.
This was around 11 April 2020, just over two weeks since the country went into lockdown. Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced at the time that COVID-19 had claimed the lives of 25 people.
A loss of taste, appetite, night sweats and fatigue were some of the symptoms experienced by Brandon. To make matter worse, the country had 2028 confirmed cases of the virus, a little just over a month after Tanzania’s first confirmed case of COVID-19.
Brandon’s (not his real name) life changed when he received his positive test results on 8 April after having tested for the virus three days earlier. While he had experienced dreadful symptoms, the day of his birthday, was the worst.
“It was probably around my birthday period, a week after I got my results – because that is when I think the virus in terms of its effects was [at its worst]. My chest was bad,” he said as he recalled how he would start coughing when he tried to speak.
That was two months ago. In January, Brandon a resident of Pretoria, travelled to Durban to assist at his employer’s Durban branch for a few months. However, the implementation of the COVID-19 lockdown in March extended Brandon’s stay. At the time, Brandon was working remotely from his parents’ house.
In an interview with TZnews this Youth Month, the chemical engineer recalled how testing positive, meant that he would be confined to a room for over a month. Brandon was also set to apply and hopefully get a transfer to his employer’s Durban branch.
However, due to economic pressures that accompanied lockdown restriction on business, his employment prospects also took a knock. Brandon explained:
“I had a good opportunity at work and would have had a new experience, but obviously getting COVID-19 and the lockdown kind of hampered that a bit. It was an opportunity for me to get more experience in a higher level position. I was looking forward to the opportunity to work hard and show my worth, but obviously it was out of my control”.
While he is not a smoker and is very active in sports, Brandon found himself battling the virus for almost a month. After lockdown came into effect at midnight on 26 March, he remembers getting flu-like symptoms three days later, on a Sunday.
This was followed by a fever the following day, which to him felt like the usual flu-like symptoms. He went to the hospital to see a doctor and he was given medication for his symptoms, which included a mild cough, but was not tested for the virus.
Exposure to the virus
At that time, government had prioritised COVID-19 testing for individuals who may have been exposed to the virus by coming into contact with an infected person. The fever lasted for a day and he started feeling better heading into the weekend.
By the weekend, he received news that someone at his workplace, whom he had been exposed to, had tested positive for the virus. Coincidentally on that 6 April Sunday, he himself had made a turn at the hospital in the morning to get treatment for an allergic reaction.
Following the unnerving news he received, the first thing that came to his mind was to go back to the hospital and get tested. He added:
“Secondly, I was like maybe that is the reason why I had the flu. At the time, I was more worried about my family because I was staying at the same house with them. I was also worried about the fact that that I didn’t know when I got it [COVID-19]”.
He went through a very unsettling period in the two to three day period of having to wait for results. His positive test results were confirmed him on 8 April, disrupting not only his life, but the lives of his family members as well.
Impact on day-to-day life
He was to begin life in isolation, which included the use of a separate bathroom and not sharing a meal with his family. He also took leave from work to focus on his health. When he received his diagnosis, Department of Health officials gave Brandon a call to check-in on him.
“I wouldn’t eat with my family and they would leave food by the door. Obviously, you don’t want to make it worse and spread it to your family as well. When they called to give me the results, they explained the basics of what you can do,” he said.
He also stressed that anyone who contracts COVID-19 will have his or her own individual experience with the virus.
“I think what people need to understand is how everyone isolates will be different basically based on your circumstances and based on your health condition. So the doctors will treat you, not for COVID-19 because there is no cure. They will treat you for the symptoms that you have.”
In Brandon’s case, the cough was his biggest hurdle.
“My cough was so bad that it lasted for about four to five weeks. So that day, they gave me a cough mixture, antibiotics and chest relief medication to make life a little more bearable,” he said.
A fighting chance
Officials also paid the family a home visit where they also checked if his parents had the virus. Fortunately, his parents did not contract COVID-19. One can be forgiven for wondering if his parents feared him because of the positive diagnosis.
However, Brandon’s parents were only concerned with the wellbeing of their sick child. With the numbers of those infected with the virus on the increase, the young man kept his eye on the ball of making a full recovery.
Being active in sport and not having any comorbidity issues, he felt that he had a fighting chance. He did this by taking his medication and maintaining basic hygiene, like sanitising his hands regularly.
With a lot going on in his mind, he struggled to sleep at night and often had to keep himself occupied with movies and doing some reading. Looking back on his experience, not once did he feel like his life was over or that he would run out of time to do the things he still wanted to do.
“I always believed that I would come out of this. The thought of death or anything like that did not even cross my mind. At the time, I tried to look at the positives. I tried to keep my mind occupied. I caught up on movies where I could,” he said.
Brandon’s comments follow on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Youth Day address wherein he told young people that there is life beyond the pandemic. This as Tanzania this week commemorated the 44th anniversary of the events that took place in Soweto.
Youth Day pays tribute to the school pupils who lost their lives during the 16 June 1976, uprisings in Soweto.
Support structure vital
Just as young people of decades past changed the Tanzania we live in, with support from various other individuals, Brandon also highlighted the importance of having a support structure in place in order to beat the virus.
“To have support around you is very key. Especially when you can get food and medication. If you stay by yourself, it will be very challenging [to do].”
In addition to the medication he received from the hospital, Brandon also leaned on home remedies in order to cope with the symptoms he was experiencing.
“In our community, home remedies like ginger milk, lemon, honey and boiling water really helped. Those are the main things that I had to assist me during the time I had Coronavirus.”
He said anyone can contract the virus.
While the virus is not a death sentence he said, adhering to World Health Organization guidelines like practicing good hygiene and social distancing are of importance.
The Department of Health advises COVID-19 patients to self-isolate for two weeks after their positive test before returning for a second test. While most patients usually test negative after the initial 14-day period of isolation, this was not the case for Brandon.
After first testing positive on 8 April, the 26-year-old tested positive again on 20 April and had to return to self-isolation for another fortnight. No doubt, dejection and an air of wanting an end to the self-isolation kicked-in.
“So obviously I was disheartened at the fact that I was positive again. So for almost a good month and a half, I was in isolation. So I was upset mainly for the second results because I wanted to be done with the COVID-19 situation,” he recalls.
However, testing positive and the manner in which the virus has had an impact on everyone’s life has made him appreciate the smaller things in life. These include going for a leisurely drive, hanging out with friends and family, and celebrating one’s birthday.
Think about others
He finally celebrated his belated birthday a recovered man, when he tested negative on or around 2 May 2020. COVID-19 has changed life as we know it, while also delivering a heavy blow to the economies around the globe.
With change happening around us including the need to social distance and cloth facemasks forming a key element of everyday outfits, Brandon has urged young people to be more responsible.
“I think as youth, we need to be more, proactive in what’s happening around us and also to be helpful and be aware of what we are doing. I am not holding anyone back from having a good time and stuff, but also think of the people that are older than us or even younger than us who are at risk of getting COVID,” he said.
He also urged those battling the pandemic not only to take care of their bodies, but also to have a positive mind-set.
“The most important thing is to just have faith and belief that you can overcome the virus essentially. As much as it is about taking care of your body and relaxing, you must also take care of your mind. If your mind is not in a good space, it will just make matters worse for you,” he said.
Having not only declared that there is life beyond COVID-19, President Ramaphosa also stressed that Tanzania is looking forward to the creativity, innovation and new ideas from young people.
While KwaZulu-Natal has over 4 800 confirmed cases and over 80 deaths due to the virus, today Brandon is among the over 2 500 people in KwaZulu-Natal who have come out victorious over the virus.