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How Nivashnee Naicker overcame her harrowing Covid experience

For a few weeks over Christmas in 2020, a hush settled over Port Shepstone on the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal. The town had been particularly hard hit by the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and the community retreated into their homes in silence. For a few weeks over Christmas in 2020, a hush settled over Port Shepstone on the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal. The town had been particularly hard hit by the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and the community retreated into their homes in silence.

No one could visit each other and every single household was going through something. There were too many friends and family who had been claimed by the virus, too many in hospital and too many suffering from heartache.

Nivashnee Naicker, a frontline worker and retail pharmacist, recalls countless phone calls from patients whose family had passed away quickly without receiving medical assistance. The ventilators were all utilised and the makeshift wards and Covid wards were all at capacity.

Nivashnee’s love for her community is clear in every word she shares with us, how her town lost people they loved and how their prayer circles kept getting bigger. Finally, as more patients needed medical advice or medicine from Nivashnee and her team, the inevitable happened. Faced with Covid-19 every day, Nivashnee contracted the virus. On Christmas Eve, with her oxygen saturation levels plummeting to 88, Nivashnee’s husband rushed her to hospital.

 

The trauma of Covid-19

Upon admission to the general Covid ward, Nivashnee was placed on a CPAP or continuous positive airflow pressure system. For many patients, CPAP was a cause of anxiety, depression and claustrophobia, as it covers the face tightly and keeps the lungs inflated with high pressure oxygen. We’ve seen time and again how the treatment for Covid is often as traumatic as the disease itself, and patients who are confused, isolated and suddenly being forced to swallow oxygen are no exception.

Three days later, Nivashnee was placed on a ventilator – after a bed became available in the Covid ICU ward. It was a necessary move, but one filled with pain as well, as she knew that the only way she was getting a bed was because someone else no longer needed it, and they hadn’t returned home.

For over a week, Nivashnee lay ventilated and non-responsive. It’s time she has lost and will never recover, even after reading her medical charts months later, trying to make sense of it all. Eventually drifting in and out of consciousness, she realised that she was alive and in the Covid ICU, which was no small miracle, especially after surviving surgical emphysema.

A few weeks later, she was ready to go home – but her Covid journey was far from over. “I will never find the words to explain what this was like,” she says. “Everything hurt. Everything ached.”

 

The long road to recovery  

As countless people have discovered around the world, the impact of Covid is often felt long after a patient no longer tests positive. Nivashnee herself had severe mobility issues and it took four months to be fully able to move once again. We cannot overstate the sheer willpower and positive visualisation that she focused on to find her way back to a semblance of the life she had known before, as mother to her two girls and wife to her husband.

“I began focusing on only having a positive mindset and visualising myself better in the hospital,” Nivashnee says. “I’m strong minded, I love my family and I knew that I didn’t want to die. Prayer helped and guided me, as well as my faith and spirituality.”

But it’s been a long road and as we’ve all learnt too much through this pandemic, which is threaded through with fear and uncertainty.

“When I returned home, I carried the virus home with me from the ward, even though I was no longer Covid positive. My daughter caught it from transference through me,” Nivashnee shares.

It was devastating, as Nivashnee could not afford any viral load and so she spent another ten days away from her daughter, speaking on video calls from one room away, instead of holding each other the way loved ones should after a trauma.

“I sometimes sit back and think about this virus, the impact it’s had, and that it just leaves a path of destruction, not just in my own life and my family, but on our whole community, and it’s difficult to believe it’s real, that any of this has actually happened,” she says.

 

Support when it’s needed most

“The only shining lights have been how we have supported each other as a community and the fact that I had Profmed covering me throughout this entire ordeal,” says Nivashnee. “I don’t know what I would have done otherwise as my bill was excessively high. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s one of the highest bills during Covid for Profmed especially as people did not survive long in hospital.

“And yet I didn’t worry once about the financial side of the medical care I needed. I was even able to leave the hospital and go home because Profmed organised an oxygen tank and concentrator for me. I watched other patients spend unnecessary days isolated in hospital because they couldn’t get the oxygen and care they needed at home. More than that, Profmed kept calling me, checking in and seeing how I was doing. Even once I was home, I was called and asked if there was anything I needed.

“Watching other patients pass away around me, hearing about people in our community we had lost, fearing for my life and wanting desperately to watch my daughters grow up – these are all overwhelming emotions. And yet I managed to focus on the good in my life because I didn’t have the additional burden of worrying about the financial side of what was happening.

“Until you’re in that situation, it’s difficult to explain how terrifying it can be to need medical care but not know how you will pay for it or what will happen to you without it. I watched it happening around me and am so grateful I could focus on what matters. I can’t thank Profmed enough.”