- A 25-year-old woman in Durban is warning young people Covid-19 can cause serious harm.
- She had the virus for nearly 30 days and had to be hospitalised.
- She says there was a time during her infection when she thought she could die.
The coronavirus affects people from all ages, but not everybody wants to believe this.
One Durbanite, Bethany Thomas-Wessels, said she was the perfect example of how Covid-19 could strike down anyone at any age, even the young.
The 25-year-old - who had taken vitamins, kept fit and followed all regulations - told News24 young people had to wise up to the pandemic "because no one is safe from it".
Not only did she contract the virus, she had it for nearly a month and had to be hospitalised because of the extent of the damage to her lungs.
At her lowest point in hospital, she wrote a letter to her husband in case she did not pull through.
While people in a younger age bracket are less at risk than those over 55 or have comorbidities, the unpredictable nature of the virus means it is better to be safe than sorry.
Thomas-Wessels' Covid-19 story began earlier this month when she experienced body chills after having dinner with family.
"I didn't think anything of it because we all get those. I thought it could just be the flu. The following day, I had a bit of sinus and was a bit groggy, I didn't think anything of it."
She still went about her usual errands and did not have a fever. "At that time, I had no idea."
Thomas-Wessels said as time progressed, she developed a severe sinus headache.
"I've never had a headache that bad before. I told my husband there's something wrong because I never felt that sick in my life. I had tried everything from sinus to flu meds. I even got a saline rinse, but it gave me relief for only about 15 minutes. Normally when I have sinus issues, I take something and it works right away."
She added: "The pain and pressure in my head was so bad that I could not even sleep. I was in tears with the amount of pain I was in. I then decided to go to the doctor."
When she went to the doctor, he asked her if she could taste or smell.
"I then realised I had lost my sense of taste, smell and my appetite. He also checked my feet because some people have shown blood clots in their feet. I was lucky he was such an aware doctor. He told me I need to go for a test."
Thomas-Wessels said she received her positive test results three days later.
"By that point though, I knew I was positive because I was getting much sicker while waiting."
She added in her second week, she thought she was getting better.
"I even planned on getting back to work and thought it was just symptoms that were going away over time."
Weeks later, more was to come…
Thomas-Wessels said she then began having mild breathlessness and chest pains. She contacted her doctor's office, but he too had picked up Covid-19 and was not at work.
"A nurse had sent medication and prescribed the wrong stuff. She only sent an antihistamine and pain meds. I should have immediately been sent for chest X-rays with the chest pain and breathlessness."
She added while she felt slightly better, a family friend, who is a doctor, told her she could have developed silent hypoxia because of her chest pains.
"What happens with this is that you don't feel anything in your lungs. There is no heavy breathing. You think that everything is fine, but your body is being starved of oxygen for weeks. Your lungs are getting damaged for weeks. By the time you learn of it, it becomes medically very complicated."
Thomas-Wessels said after taking the medication from her doctor's surgery, now 21 days into her Covid-19 infection, she began showing critical symptoms.
"Everything started becoming difficult. I could not shower without it being an effort. I could not even pick up a packet of groceries that was delivered to me."
The seriousness of her situation became dire on 23 July.
"I began having hand tremors. It was such a scary thing because I didn’t understand why I am still sick. It's 21 days since my first symptoms, what is happening to me?"
Thomas-Wessels said she then went to hospital and discovered the worst.
"I found out that my oxygen levels were below normal, and my body had been getting depleted of oxygen for weeks on end since getting the virus.
"It caused critical damage to my lungs which led to Covid-19 pneumonia, blood clots in my lungs and inflammation of my chest and ribs. I couldn't even stand and raise my arms without passing out because there was no oxygen coming into my body."
She was then admitted to hospital.
"My doctor said the virus is so unpredictable and that anything could happen. Being told that at age 25 was so much. I just got married in February and felt like I had just begun a huge part of my life."
Thomas-Wessels said the fear of death had led her to writing a letter to her husband.
"I did this just in case anything happens."
'Emotionally, I was devastated'
She added she had been positive for most of her 21 days with Covid-19, but upon admittance to hospital, she became worried and stressed.
"I was obviously devastated. I was crying writing that letter the whole time. The doctors do try to encourage you, saying you are young, but they also can't assure you that you will be 100%.
"They don't know if there is long-term damage. All they can do is put you on oxygen and a drip for 10 days and hope that your lungs get better."
Thomas-Wessels said while in hospital, she did contemplate her death.
"You know, I didn't want to go there, but in your head, it is natural to have that thought. Because I had been fighting the virus for so long, my mind and body were so tired. Being told the virus is so unpredictable didn't help."
She added her experience previous to her hospital stay also gave her an understanding of the unpredictability of Covid-19.
"It is very erratic. I had already experienced Covid-19 symptoms in waves. It is like a rollercoaster. You feel OK in one moment and then you drop and are crying in pain. I knew there was a chance of the body just plummeting again. My doctor said they could put me on stuff, but it depended on how my body healed."
'Prayer and support helped me'
She said her saving grace was prayer and support from family.
"I was praying from the moment I knew I had Covid-19. There was also a ton of support from my family. There were friends calling me and praying over me while in hospital. My dad is a pastor and his pastor friends also prayed for me."
Just two days later, her condition improved.
"The doctor came to me and said that after treatment and tests it showed that the virus was not progressing in my body and therefore my lungs were not worsening.
"He said I had come back negative for blood clotting and my oxygen levels had stabilised. That was such a turnaround for me, I knew God brought me through that."
She then tested negative for Covid-19 on Monday.
"The virus is not active in my body anymore, it's just the damage it has done that needs to be treated."
'Young people need to beware'
She said she wanted young people like her to be more aware of Covid-19.
"I saw a lot my friends going out and having braais and parties. It made me so angry because how are people so ignorant. At the same time, I want to help because I don't want people to go through what I went through."
Thomas-Wessels added younger people should know their mortality was at stake.
"There are so many moments where you are feeling you're going to die. I hope people wake up and take heed of what happened to me because honestly, anything can happen with this virus. It doesn't matter if you're healthy, fit, eat well or been for your flu vaccines. Nothing matters."