After her personal details were leaked, some suggested the misdiagnosed woman be killed before she could spread the virus
The suspicion that she may have caught the potentially fatal Covid-19 coronavirus was the last thing on Isabella Santos’* mind when she left home in Vryburg in North West last Friday morning for a consultation with her doctor because she had had a fever for a few days.
“Obviously this is a virus that we are not so strongly informed about, so we don’t really know how it reacts. It’s something new. The minute they told me I was positive, all that was running through my mind was that I was going to die,” Santos says.
After four days of being quarantined in hospital – during which she tried to accept the reality that she may be another number added to the skyrocketing number of people infected with the killer virus around the world – Santos was discharged from Klerksdorp’s Tshepong Hospital just before midday on Tuesday.
She couldn’t wait to see her seven-month-old daughter back home.
The traumatising ordeal, she says, started late last Friday on her return from Johannesburg. She possibly took medication without having much to eat and was feeling drowsy by the time she got home.
“So I went to see a local doctor. He started asking me questions and I answered them. The next thing I see, the doctor was wearing a mask,” Santos says about her first day at Vryburg’s Joe Morolong Memorial Hospital late last week.
“I was freaking out because I didn’t know what was going on, you know. After that, the doctor told me they had to take a saliva sample. When I asked him why, he told me that they were testing me for malaria.”
Santos is a professional working in the financial sector, and she knows malaria is not contagious. She stayed in hospital overnight and her blood was drawn in the morning for tests.
“They took my blood and then two other guys came in. They were dressed in surgical clothes and were wearing masks. Then the doctor told me I was being tested for this coronavirus,” she says.
She had been in contact with her fiancé. who had recently travelled to South Africa from Angola, which added to the doctors’ worries.
Santos was soon placed alone in a room containing only a bed and a toilet.
“That was the scariest; being alone and not being able to be in contact with other people is something that really got to me.”
Three nurses looked after her and prayed for her to survive the virus. Santos read Psalm 91 (The Lord is my refuge) repeatedly “for protection and deliverance”, she says.
“Back when I was home with my husband, it was one of the Bible verses that we would always read together. It just gives me hope.”
She had her cellphone with her, so she was able to keep in touch with family members and her fiancé.
The worry that she may have infected them crept in and her fears worsened.
The results of the blood test also took time, making her even more frustrated, especially because she just wanted to go home.
Her appetite was also gone, despite the nurses taking good care of her.
Then her personal information was leaked, including her sister’s contact number, and people started “sending crazy messages”, including one that suggested Santos should be killed before she had a chance to spread the virus.
“My name and surname were on the internet. My home address and my little sister’s phone number was on there. My family was in danger and that gave me even more stress. That was just not right.”
Xenophobic comments were directed at her cousin during work, with people claiming that “we’re bringing corona from Angola” – Santos’ parents are originally Angolan.
“People would remove kids from school because my nephews attend schools here in Vryburg. That was just horrible,” she says.
She adds that the hospital staff in Vryburg seemed less prepared with protective clothing than those in Klerksdorp, where she was transferred to last Sunday.
“They tested me positive and then sent an ambulance to come and pick me up to take me to Klerksdorp.”
Fortunately, the doctor in Klerksdorp was kind: “He did not react like I had some kind of disease or anything like that. It was much better.”
On Monday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said during a media briefing that Santos’ final test results showed that she was negative.
Her family is now anxious to get formal confirmation, but the doctors and nurses know nothing, and “it is frustrating”.
“The doctor told me I shouldn’t put my heart into it because the minister gave that statement without speaking to them, and they are not sure yet. So, once the results come out after the next test, they will come back to me.
“That whole night, I didn’t know whether I was negative or positive, and that caused me even more pain. I was told I was positive, but now I don’t know if I’m positive or negative. I must have lost so much weight from that experience,” she says.
On Tuesday, it was finally confirmed that Santos test result was negative. At first, she was worried when the medical staff still wore protective clothing around her.
“I thought: ‘If you are still wearing this, it means I’m positive.’ And then I saw my doctor walk in there without any protective clothing. I just got so overwhelmed and I was so happy. We hugged and it was just amazing. It was such a relief. I was so happy that I could see my daughter again.”
*Not her real name
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