i am super grateful to my friend Nicola Date for sharing her story here.

The first line of it is devastating enough, but i also know there was a cost to writing this piece for Nicola – physically, emotionally – she has really gone above and beyond to produce this account while still in the throes of a disease that is not done with her. Thank you, friend.

i hope this story will inspire all of us to try a little harder and be much more dedicated to doing everything we can do to avoid catching or spreading Covid-19. This is very much NOT THE FLU! As Nicola Date testifies to:

Surviving Covid-19 Twice

While editing this article, I got a call to say that my family member who had been on a ventilator for 1 month and 1 day was gone; the fight was over and Covid won. I am numb. Covid-19 has been emotionally, financially, and physically draining for the global population.

Almost every person in the world can say that their 2020 has been an awful year in one way or another. We are tired of keeping safe, we are tired of not being able to let loose and for many, particularly those of us who work in live entertainment, we are petrified that our income will not come back. I understand the complacency. I understand the desire to want to give up on social distancing. I understand the need for social connection.

As a mother, I deeply understand the pain and suffering that our children are experiencing and I desperately want to give my daughter a normal December holiday, beach and all. We went to the beach the day of Cyril’s speech and the fresh air and ocean view were amazing. We are lucky, we are now Covid immune for 2.5 more months. However, the thousands of people who were visiting Camps Bay beach and overflowing the restaurants without masks do not all have the anti-bodies that I do and it was traumatic to see. Why? Because I have seen the other side…

I am a 2x Covid-19 survivor. The second time, I landed up in hospital and I had a rare glimpse of behind the scenes.

Covid Strikes

When Covid-19 hit South Africa, it felt, to me, like a fictional character. I will admit that when the first lockdown was set, I was not too worried about the disease.

I soon realized the gravity of what was ahead of us and in April I really started trying my best to avoid this horrible illness. My two activities were going to get groceries, sanitized and masked, and, once permitted, going for my daily run while wearing a mask. I was fit then and running brought me immense joy. At that stage, my 5 year old was back at school (My husband and I were both working from home so home-schooling wasn’t an option for us).

In June 2020, I developed the worst headache of my life and this is coming from someone who has suffered from migraines for most of my life. Soon after, I could no longer taste or smell, I became lethargic, had aches and pains, a sore chest, and a low-grade fever. It was time to go to the doctor. When I arrived at the doctors’ rooms, the nurses gave me a Covid form and I ticked every box. After my temperature was taken, I was immediately sent to sit in the isolation waiting room before being sent for a Covid-19 test. When filling out my contact form, I was thankful that I had only seen the members of my household, and I also had to put my local Spar and my daughter’s school as contacts. While waiting for the results, I began to get sicker and sicker. I could feel my breath entering my body with great difficulty.

I tested positive. The government sent me an SMS to stay quarantined and my doctor called me with the news. I was told to stay indoors, take vitamins B, D, and C, and Paracetamol (anything stronger can cause clotting in a Covid patient) and to call an ambulance if I could no longer breathe. I eventually got so sick that I could barely walk and talk. I could not watch TV as my brain was foggy and I could not handle intense stimulation. There I was – a broken blob, lying in my bed, with a disease that medical personnel still knew little about. This was Saturday.

On Sunday, I felt myself suffocating. My husband called the Jewish organization CSO who have an amazing Covid support program. They told me to lie on my stomach while waiting for the ambulance. By the time they came, my oxygen had stabilized so I, thankfully, did not have to take up a hospital bed. On Monday, CSO dropped a pulse oxymeter and thermometer at our house. I was assigned an amazing volunteer who called me daily for my readings and who I could call at any time. I know that not all South Africans have had this privilege and I cannot begin to imagine the fear of facing this alone, without solid support. I cannot imagine going to a testing station, getting a government SMS and then having to experience Covid without having the money to buy the required tools and medication.

The next week and a half was a blur of moments of severe oxygen loss, emergency Oxygen intake, extreme pain and anything too loud being over-stimulation.

Eventually I came out the other side. I could watch TV and I began to feel like a human again, albeit a broken one. I developed Post-Covid Fatigue and it took me 3 months until I was somewhat myself again. I once again started to jog and I was slowly rebuilding my fitness levels. On top of this Covid numbers were decreasing and everything felt bright again. I also had 3 months of medical confirmed immunity and I felt safe and at peace, despite the severe exhaustion and fear for my loved ones health and safety.

The Covid numbers continued to decrease and my freelance work was coming back. I was finally able to do some work in the arts again. I think that for many of us, we were seeing the end in sight and we thought that Covid would die with 2020.

Nicola Date Covid Survivor

Covid strikes Nicola Date again

At the beginning of December, I developed flu-like symptoms,  2 weeks after falling off a stage and developing a concussion; 2020 was certainly my year. I went to the doctor thinking that I had something mild but to my surprise, she sent me for a Covid test.

Once again, on a Saturday, the test was confirmed to be positive. I am not sure if I am a fan of Saturdays anymore. At that stage, I was beginning to feel sicker. The moment I got the results, I panicked, PTSD kicked in and I began to remember the trauma of my first Covid experience. Little did I know what was about to hit me.

With my second bout of Covid, my oxygen levels were stable, but the pain was worse than anything I had ever experienced in my life. My entire body felt like a mess and I could hardly walk or talk. On Monday, I made a virtual appointment with my doctor after my heart rate was bouncing between 32 and 55 and I had woken up with thick blood pouring down my legs. The nurse at the doctors office saw my appointment and knowing I was positive, gave me a call to check why I had asked to see the doctor. I told her my symptoms and she insisted I call an ambulance and that I am rushed to the hospital. The amazing paramedics came and noted my low heart rate and said my blood pressure was extremely low.

At this stage, I felt like my body was running at 10% capacity; a shell of my former self. The paramedics dripped me and took me to the ambulance. The next challenge was to find me a hospital bed. I am fortunately on a medical aid so private was the first option. After about 30 minutes of calls, they found a bed at Chris Barnard in town. By the time I got there, the bed was gone. After sitting outside Chris Barnard for what felt like an eternity, they found me a bed at Cape Town Mediclinic.

We arrived at the Mediclinic’s casualty and I was taken in to the Covid booth, an isolated plastic structure within casualty. The doctor checked me and our first thought was that I may be miscarrying (I didn’t know I was pregnant). After a negative pregnancy test and the discovery of a swollen cervix, the conclusion was that I was shedding clots. This made sense with my low blood pressure and heart rate and Covid patients being prone to clotting. Luckily mine were going down and not up to my brain. After 3 hours and about 8 needles in all the places, I was taken to my hospital bed. My mother is an incredibly strong womxn who has endured immense illness in her life. I have always said to her that I do not know how she handles all the needles but now I know. When you are so incredibly sick, the pain of the illness numbs your body and you cannot feel anything, you just endure.

The medical unit was completely full and the nurses told me they had about 20 patients to tend to. I  shared a room with 3 others. In the 2 days I was there, 3 people left my room and were replaced; 1 went home and 2 went to ICU. The nurses had to wear their uniform, an apron, a mask, a shield and also had to scrub up and then down, every time they entered our room. I cannot begin to comprehend the cost of these disposable scrubs. These incredible, over worked, exhausted and boiling hot humans were so kind, patient, under immense pressure and yet they did their job with a smile.

Everyone in the unit was somewhat critical and this was not even ICU; you need to be extremely sick to be hospitalized for Covid, due to the lack of available beds. After 2 days, I was stabalised and sent home to recover. Once you were safe enough to go home you were out, to make room for the next person. Being in hospital without visitors was a wild experience. There were no friends and family members to take you to the loo or help you wash, the nurses being responsible for this all.

After spending another week in bed, I was out of quarantine. As I type this with great difficulty and 2.5 more months of immunity, I am once again suffering from Post-Covid Fatigue. I have a shortening in my spine from a previous injury that has caused nerve damage in my hands. Covid has exacerbated this and I have up to 50% hand mobility on a good day.

From being a race runner, a 2.5km walk with physical support and stops, feels like the greatest feat in the world. I have brain fog, a lingering headache and my body is stripped of vitamins for which I am being supplemented. I am tired, limited, walking with a clear disability and I feel like I can relate to a Jelly Fish. As a costume designer and performer, I cannot sew right now and who knows what the lights would feel like with this headache? Who knows what will happen but I do need to make money to survive. I hope more people will pay me for my ideas as my mind is ready to go but my body is not. My doctor told me to be kind to myself and to remember that my mobility will come back. I have 2.5 months left of my immunity but what will happen next?

As I finish editing this, we buried my cousin yesterday, a funeral that was like nothing I have ever experienced. My darling child is 6 years old has lost a loved one to Covid which has left her sad and scared. For her, the evil and scary disease that she learnt about at school is a big part of her reality.

To all the other Covid survivors out there: I see you. Well done for surviving what I describe as a monster of a disease, having never experienced anything so horrific.

To all the Covid denialists or people who think that they will not get super sick, you or the people you interact with or walk past may not be as fortunate. This time around I had to make some difficult calls as the play that I was facilitating had to be postponed and the business that I was working with had to sanitise our rehearsal spaces.

Please stay safe and try only socialize outside, socially distanced or with someone who is Covid immune or in a socially distanced setting. Parties are not worth it, alcohol is not worth it as the hospitals are full and it causes you to let your guard down. We will only get through this if we are safe and vigilant. I urge you. [Nicola Date]

Thank you so much, Nicola. i think you were the first person to offer your story to me and i’ve experienced secondhand through our interactions some extent of how difficult this has been for you and i really appreciate it. It is so easy for those of us who have not experienced Covid-19 to feel tired of the restrictions and the monotony that so much of 2020 brought to our lives. But hopefully reading stories like yours reminds us that we need to remain vigilant and really up our game as numbers continue to rise alarmingly right now.

EDIT: Nicola is going to be doing a live show this week – Thursday 14th Jan – with comedy and story-telling and Q & A and so please get the word out there and share this poster, bring some friends and come hang out! 

[For a follow-up post on how story-telling might be the way we work ourselves to a better New Normal, click here]

[To catch up on the other stories in this series, click here]

Nicola Date show a world covided