‘ICU is a cold and lonely place, get vaccinated’ — Covid-19 survivor

A drop in the number of vaccines administered in recent weeks has sparked concern.
A drop in the number of vaccines administered in recent weeks has sparked concern.
Image: SEBABATSO MOSAMO

While lying in a cold and lonely ICU ward, Khanya Ndaka received a WhatsApp message from her 10 year-old daughter saying: “I think you are going to die.”

Before getting Covid-19, Ndaka did not see the value in getting vaccinated. However, after a near-death experience she went from being a vaccine-hesitant citizen to sharing her story and encouraging fellow South Africans to follow suit.  

“I am not an expert. I am not a scientist. I am not a doctor. I am just me. I just want to share my story because I do not want anyone to go through what I went through,” she said during a health media briefing on Friday.

Ndaka shared her experience, hoping to persuade hesitant citizens to get vaccinated.

The national coronavirus command council on Thursday approved the registration and vaccination of the 18-to-34 age cohort. This was done to address increasing hesitancy fuelled by fake news, disinformation and fearmongering on social media platforms.

The latest eligible group was initially meant to start vaccinations on September 1. By Friday morning, 184,000 had already registered on the government’s online portal.

Recounting her experience, Ndaka said when she tested positive for Covid-19 two days before Christmas last year, she thought she would be able to manage, despite having a comorbidity.

“I still thought, I have read all the pamphlets, the WhatsApps people had been sending me, all the remedies and so I thought I was going to be able to manage, but by day five my oxygen level had dropped to below 70%.”

Ndaka became anxious and contacted her doctor who was away on holiday. “When she found out what my oxygen levels were, she told me to rush to the hospital.” Ndaka was still in denial.

“My doctor was frantically trying to get me a bed. I remember sitting in the car parking lot with my sister who drove me there. We both had Covid-19 and we waited for hours for a bed because it was December and the hospitals were full.”

As the hours wore on, she began to panic. “That is when I realised that this thing is serious and I might not make it.”

If the vaccine can prevent me from dying, then I will take it because I never want to go through that experience again
Khanya Ndaka

Ndaka was eventually admitted to a medical ward, high care and later the ICU.

“Things were not improving and I remember getting a WhatsApp from my daughter where she simply said, 'I think you are going to die.' For me that was the most harrowing moment, that my 10-year-old was sitting at home wondering whether I was going to die,” she said with tears welling in her eyes.

Ndaka shared a room in ICU with an elderly man they called mkhulu (grandpa).

“I remember there being such a flurry around my neighbour one day and then in the afternoon, it was quiet and I was lying there and these two men came in. They did not look like doctors. They came in and went to mkhulu’s bed and they started talking to him saying, ‘Dad, you have been the best dad ever.’ They were saying goodbye to him.”

Ndaka feared she would be next.

“ICU was a terrible experience, it was cold and lonely and I was disconnected from everything and I was wondering if my daughter was OK. My mom and I just wondered if I was going to make it.”

The nurses told Ndaka she was not doing well and needed to fight.

“I remember lying there thinking I am next, but things did turn for the better. I did eventually come out of ICU and when I was discharged I was still on oxygen and I spent six weeks connected to the oxygen machine.”

Ndaka said she could barely walk and needed to go to physio to get back to basics and learn how to breathe again.

“The road to recovery was long and difficult and it was lonely because there was a certain stigma and people did not come to see me. I remember just feeling afraid, even after Covid because getting back to normal was taking time.”

A simple act like walking up the stairs in her house is something she is still battling with. “Trying to take my daughter to school is such an achievement.”

Despite the experience, Ndaka said she was still not sure whether she should get the vaccine. “I thought what’s the point when I have survived Covid-19, because other people need it more than me.”

It took her colleague’s encouragement for her to eventually go.

“It was also my daughter who reminded me that I nearly died, and I use that as a learning lesson that if the vaccine can prevent me from dying, then I will take it because I never want to go through that experience again.

“For me it was about getting a chance at life again that convinced me.

“Get the vaccine, trust me,” she said.

Johannesburg family practitioner Dr Daniel Israel said it was important to understand why some South Africans choose not to get vaccinated.

“We no longer have an issue of supply but a problem with demand, so we need to make sure that the demand is up,” he said, adding that it was important for South Africans not to become complacent.

Health minister Dr Joe Phaahla said the government is concerned that in many areas people are no longer practising non-pharmaceutical protocols.  

“Even when we have been vaccinated, it is important that we keep up with these non-pharmaceutical interventions because they have been proven to be effective.”

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