By Dr Muzvare Hazviperi Betty Makoni |Amidst all the scary information circulating about coronavirus on social media and in mainstream news, you are virtually alone and “watching yourself die”.

It is a different virus and no one wants you near them for fear of spreading it further. As a lone patient, imagine reading that you are going to die and that there is no treatment . . . and you must stay home.

I fell critically ill on March 16. I had lost hope. But thanks to the National Health Service (NHS), England’s publicly funded health system, a doctor listened to my plea after I told him that my breathing had deteriorated.

An NHS 111 doctor saved my life. All I recall was his Indian accent. I am now breathing normally. I have hope to live again. I will be tested for coronavirus again next week.

Getting infected

I started with mild symptoms around March 3 2020. Mind you, mild symptoms can be managed at home. Prior to that I felt an uneasiness and tiredness of the body for a week or so. I had a sore throat and fever. I did not bother to measure my temperature because the symptoms were similar to flu.

But my body was unusually weak. I ignored it (the sickness) for one week and kept on (taking) Ibrofen. One day I took Ibrofen but the sore throat pain overpowered it. I was shocked but ignored it all the same.

Then my breathing became laboured. My GP (general practitioner) said I had coronavirus symptoms and should not go to the surgery. He asked if I had had contact with any infected persons. I told him that someone at my workplace was in hospital.

He advised me to call an ambulance.

I had questions as to how I had contracted the virus. I washed my hands every 30 minutes. I had lots of sanitisers in my home and at the office. I had a clean and well-ventilated small office.

I think it (infection) must have happened face to face with someone I later learnt tested positive. Four of us in the same office suffered symptoms of coronavirus. Three tested positive by March 16 2020. All four of us survived. Coronavirus is deceptive and someone can have it without knowing. I could even have been infected during shopping or anywhere for that matter.

Avoid self-medicating

Treating the wrong symptoms with home remedies is wrong (but this can happen since) testing is no longer done outside hospital. It puts lives at risk.

I have empathy for everyone in self-isolation experiencing chest tightness and lack of breathing like I went through. Due to a lack of understanding of what was going on, I initially tried the following:

Small inhaler for flu, which did not work;

Took Ibuprofen, inflamed my chest and was eventually overpowered by pain; and Ear Drops could not stop the itching.

None of the above which I had used for flu before worked. I had extremely dry skin. I better understood the symptoms in my native Shona language and I believe if I write it in my mother tongue it might help a lot of people out there.

Below are some Shona words for some coronavirus symptoms based on personal experience. I believe they need be translated into Ndebele and other languages as well so that people understand them according to their contexts.

Even here in UK, BME (black and ethnic minority) communities should make an effort to have interpreters. Missing the symptoms can have serious consequences for your health.

Symptoms in ChiShona

Here are some of the terms: Kuzarirwa (difficulty breathing), gararwa muchipfuva (mucous build-up in the chest), kurukutika (tiredness), kukarakata pahuro (sore throat), kutemwa nemusoro (headaches), gosoro (dry cough), kurutsa (vomiting), kusvotwa (nausea), kusada kudya (loss of appetite), kuzungaira (confusion), kuvaviwa munzeve nemaziso (itchy eyes and ears), kuoma mukanwa (dry mouth), kuchaya (running stomach), kutsva nekutohorwa (fever), kubuda furo (frothing), chirungirira (heartburn) and kusafamba mudumbu (constipation).

I also had puffy face and my eyesight became blurred.

Getting treatment

Medics came to my house on March 19 in PPE gear. I was lucky to get a swab test and a bit of breathing support. They did not think I was a hospital case. To them breathing was not gone at all.

I got my coronavirus results at home on a Saturday via phone. I was video-assessed by a clinician. The doctor gave me some antibiotics. They worked very quickly that Saturday and the following Sunday. Gararwa started to clear and yellow thick stuff started coming out. Since then I have been Skype-assessed daily for effectiveness of antibiotics and other medication.

Do not let the situation deteriorate to your lungs. That is the advice I got during all this. Those who are at an acute stage really go through a horrible time.

On scan, lungs turn into honeycomb and they appear as ground glass particles. They later remain as scars. I did not go this far. Mine was just mucous build-up in the chest which was causing respiratory shutdown. I made a mistake of taking Ibuprofen, which inflamed my chest. I

t blocked my breathing. It was gararwa on chest but once I took antibiotics the yellow mucous started coming out. The dose was high because “to attack such a big enemy one needs a strong army”.

How I pulled through

When one is told they are positive with coronavirus, whether at home or hospital, the trick is to stay calm. Accept the results and forget about death news going round.

Your mental health plays a supportive role to your treatment. Focus on whatever medication you are given for the symptoms because so far there is no known treatment.

Do not expose yourself to any family member. You may unknowingly cause death to loved ones with underlying health conditions. I unapologetically isolated myself. None of my children were allowed in or near my room.

Isolation has some stigma attached to it. I received some terrible messages from friends and relatives.

Some of the questions were harmful and played on my mental health. I managed to block them and focused on the doctor who was supporting me. So believe in what your doctor tells you. Agree to try medication even to help others in future.

Create your own “hospital ward”, which is well ventilated. Make sure the room is not entered by anyone no matter the reasons. You are your own nurse. Check your own temperature and keep records. When you cannot breathe and talk, they can use your notebook to know what was going on.

Your medicines, water bottles, vitamins should be in full supply.

Learn some breathing exercises too. Just master your breathing on your own. I forced my lungs to breathe. I had a five-minute jog daily in my room. It helps your chest to ease and open naturally as well.

Cough up and blow out. Sleeping posture that helped me is face down over a heap of blankets. Learn to regularly steam bath (kunatira).

Drink lots of water.

It cleanses antibiotics and other medications. Water flushes toxins out of your liver and kidneys.

I have gone vegetarian. Tomatoes have been the best. I am reacting to any meat or fish products. Soup mixed with lemon is good.

Keep windows of the house and especially your isolation room open. You need fresh air for good breathing. Use natural air too.

Avoid sunlight when taking certain medication. Take antibiotics religiously and also monitor side effects.

Know your body very well. Do not doubt symptoms. Do not delay treating secondary symptoms. The virus is very deceptive and stubborn. It will not go unless it conquers the body.

Before (coronavirus attacks) please keep your immune very strong. Take vitamin capsules and vitamin from fruits and vegetables.

Post recovery tips

It is not over yet. I must go for antibodies tests. I have been advised these are done regularly to see if immune is strong against the virus.

This is done for the next six months and to be cautious I will not do anything that involves human contact until I finish all the tests. I am confined to the house for six months.

I am cautious about being re-infected. I am aware that people differ in terms of immune systems but mine would need tests first.

My job is flexible and remote-working will remain in place until I am tested. Not much is known about this virus. Reinfection is said to be 14 percent in China. Prevention is better than cure. Not everyone develops antibodies to fight the virus.

It might take a long time for me and some people out there to deal with all mental health issues caused by shock, anxiety, loneliness, denial and anger coupled with knowing death was imminent.

I am creating a therapy manual for all like me who went through this near death experience and felt their own unique “loss”. Patient knowledge is very important and hopefully researchers and medical experts will work hand-in-hand with current and former patients to develop treatment and tests that can ease pain and anxiety.

Let us work together to find a solution. There are many (people) testing positive and surviving.

I am grateful to my emergency doctor on NHS111 who supported me. I am grateful to all friends and family who stood by me.