Go with your gut, says mom of 2-year-old with Covid-19

Ward D10 isolation unit during the media briefing to discuss the first case of Covid-19 at Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape. (Photo by Gallo Images/Misha Jordaan)
Ward D10 isolation unit during the media briefing to discuss the first case of Covid-19 at Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape. (Photo by Gallo Images/Misha Jordaan)

"Go with your gut," says the mother of a Covid-19-positive 2-year-old toddler who is on the road to recovery after his family took quick action.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, she told News24 by email that when her son first showed signs of being unwell, they were sent home with anti-nausea medication.

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Luckily, they went back at the insistence of his grandmother but were told by the testing facility they were its wasting time. They persisted, and after he was tested, went into self-isolation to wait for the result.

When you found out your child had tested positive for Covid-19, how did you feel? I would have been scared.

At first I was shocked that my son was Covid-19-positive as we were told he was at an extremely low risk of having the virus.

Then, when I started thinking about the implications of him having Covid-19, I became scared and unsure.

This because most times my son had fallen ill he ended up with a secondary chest infection. Even though children were known to be more resilient to this particular coronavirus, it affects the respiratory tract and my son would likely be vulnerable.  

How did you explain it to your child and was he scared?

My toddler, luckily, mostly took it in his stride. He has been sick a number of times in his life and he understands that he will not feel this way forever.

It is difficult to explain much more to a 2-year-old other than mommy loves him and is there to comfort him. He became a lot more cuddly and wanted to be around me all the time for reassurance, so I made sure that I was there for him.  

How is your child feeling, and what are the symptoms that worry you the most, and the least?

When he first started displaying symptoms he seemed generally okay, apart from a small vomiting episode and a rash on his legs that lasted only a few minutes. Two days later, he presented a dry cough and was irritable. The coughing continued and he spiked to a temperature of 38.7° four days later.

The temperature lasted for two days and during this time he couldn't sleep due to a sore throat and coughing. He was moaning and crying constantly as he was in pain.

The symptom that worried me the most was his crackly, bubbly chest as I was worried that this indicated the onset of pneumonia.

Luckily, he was treated with antibiotics for a secondary chest infection and put on an intensive home nebulisation regime. I am convinced that this quick action prevented him from landing up in hospital with pneumonia.

What worried me the least was that he had no loss of appetite at all, so keeping him well-hydrated and well-nourished was not an issue for us.

Nine days after the first symptom presented itself, he started improving and is continuing to do so to our immense relief.   

How are you coping with the medical instructions given to you?

Treatment is straightforward and easy to administer as long as you keep calm and no unforeseen complications arise that you are not equipped for at home. In these cases, hospitalisation will be required.

I administered prescribed drugs to open up his chest using a travel nebuliser which I would highly recommend to any parent. It is worth its weight in gold.

Are you getting enough support from the Department of Health, and on a personal level?

When my son started vomiting, I immediately took him to the doctor on call and was told to treat with nausea tablets if he experienced more vomiting.

When the dry cough started, my mom immediately returned him to the doctor and requested a Covid-19 test as we had travelled from New Zealand via Sydney just over a week before.

Even though both countries were low risk for infection as they had zero and one case of confirmed Covid-19, respectively, at the time of us travelling, we were unsure of the origin of the people on board the aircraft and wanted to make sure he was in the clear.

In fact, the doctor had told us he did not meet the requirements for testing and the matron, who eventually did the testing, tried to turn him away from their testing facility as we were apparently wasting time and resources.

We immediately put my son in self-isolation at home despite being told it was not necessary. We just could not risk him infecting anyone no matter how slim the chance.

Five days after he was tested, we were eventually called with the news that he was Covid-19-positive.

Parents - go with your gut!

At first, we did not receive any guidance and were feeling very much left in the dark. We traced back our movements and worked out that my son had most likely contracted the virus on the flight from Sydney to Johannesburg.

Adequate security measures had not been put in place at the airports we travelled through - we were merely screened at a distance of approximately 5m using a handheld thermo-imaging device. We felt the airline had failed us by providing false security, ensuring their ventilation systems were more than adequate in filtering out viruses and it was safe to travel.

No mention was made of the risks of cramming people into an aircraft with people being less than 1cm apart.

People were coughing all over the aircraft and no one prevented them from flying or even questioned their health.

Looking back, those actions would now be common sense.

The afternoon after I found out that my son was Covid-19-positive, I was contacted by the Western Cape Department of Health (just less than a 24-hour wait) and were assigned a doctor that now calls daily to check up on my son.

She is amazing and extremely professional with a wealth of knowledge. We are no longer alone and surrounded by fake news, but now have solid advice and information.

Following my son's positive result, I also required testing as I had started to develop symptoms. There was a lot of confusion about where I must go to get tested, whether or not home testing was available, and whether or not I was allowed to leave the house for testing. I ended up being tested by Pathcare who was fantastic, a much more professional process than what I experienced with my son.

We have also been contacted by the (National Institute for Communicable Diseases) who is conducting contact tracing although it has not updated us as to whether the person we suspect infected us has been traced. This feedback would be extremely helpful in knowing when exactly we became infected and is essential information for contact tracing.

Following diagnosis of the positive test result, my regular GP was excellent and provided daily telephonic follow-ups providing us with the medication and advice we required.  

How are you keeping the groceries stocked up?

At this stage, groceries are not an issue. Luckily, I had done a big shop just before we self-quarantined and if we do need the odd urgent item such as vitamins or medication, our friends and family have been more than happy to drop this on our doorstep.

We have not yet had to resort to online shopping and for the most part we have not noticed a lack of grocery items up until this point. Exceptions are toilet paper and hand sanitiser but there are always alternatives for these (cloth wipes and regular cleaning products).

The other thing I struggled to purchase was a nebuliser for my son, so I would recommend that parents of young children with a respiratory condition should make sure that they have a nebuliser and Vicks at home.  

Is the constant cleaning and sanitising exhausting you, and how do you get a 2-year-old to work with you on this?

This is a challenge. Luckily, crèche has ingrained in him the behaviour of washing his hands before and after a meal and before and after using the bathroom.

The challenge has been to get him to stop touching surfaces and putting his hands in his mouth. We also have not been able to get him to cough into his elbow, so it is up to us to keep the house as clean as possible.

My advice is to be as thorough as possible but not to overthink it as that is more exhausting than anything. Positive vibes are essential.  

Which food or medications or books or toys did you wish you already had in the house?

We called for reinforcements of multivitamins, throat lozenges and vitamin C; oranges, strawberries, etc. Also wet wipes, which we don't usually use as we use cloth but this became difficult to keep up.

Cough mixture really helped in the early days and nebulisation supplies were essential to manage the secondary infection. Luckily, we have a garden and had art supplies, puzzles, a ball and loads of books at home! My son is a bookworm and the more advanced books keep him sitting still for longer as he really has to focus on the story.   

You sound ill too, so it must be difficult to keep going and be strong. I know this is what mothers do all of the time, but how is it different this time?

This has required a lot of energy and perseverance, especially when my son was close to being hospitalised. I have nursed him alone before, but this time I have had the help of my parents which has been incredible. I have not had to cook or clean much. I have been able to focus on essential communications and paperwork (of which there are never-ending PILES) as well as my son, who is the most important person in this whole story.  

How are you keeping your child occupied during isolation - it must be difficult not being able to see friends, or go to your favourite places.

It is a disappointment to be home-bound as we travelled here on holiday to see our family and friends but we are with two family members and could be in a much worse situation somewhere in a foreign land. I am grateful to have the support in a familiar environment and my family, friends and work colleagues have mostly been very supportive.

Others are not in such a comfortable situation. It is difficult dealing with the possibility that we may have unwittingly passed this onto others despite carefully following the guidelines provided to us at the time but, to date, thankfully none of our contacts have been symptomatic.

The public has been hard to deal with at times, but I remind myself that most of their negative responses are due to ignorance and fear, and not intentional vindictiveness.

Please add any other child-centred advice or experience you can think of that you think readers will find informative.

My son contracted this on an international flight, not locally as has been published in the news. I advise people not to fly unless absolutely necessary. Is it worth your child's health? If you have to fly, don't let your child roam around the aircraft to blow off steam on a long flight. Confine them to their seat (almost impossible, I know) and report any person on the plane who coughs.

It sounds extreme but it is necessary. Apparently, airplanes are equipped to deal with sick passengers that require isolation.

Do not freak out. Avoid social media and source your information from a credible source such as the Department of Health and the NICD.

* The boy's mother has opted for privacy while she waits for her own results.

- Compiled by Jenni Evans

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