As the Covid-19 infection rates and death toll rise during the second wave, most people are dreading catching the virus.
Meanwhile, Nicola Date has survived it, twice.
But don’t let that give you any false assurance, she warns, describing both experiences as absolutely harrowing.
Nicola is well known to the far south as the former theatre manager for the Masque Theatre. She is an actress, singer, comedian and freelance theatre costume designer who in pre-Covid days was a volunteer for the Reach for a Dream Foundation. She is also married and has a young daughter.
Nicola strongly suspects she has had both strains of the virus as her two experiences were vastly different.
With her second bout, she experienced the horror of being collected by an ambulance and being driven about with the crew trying desperately to find an open bed for her.
“In June 2020, it was obvious to me I had contracted coronavirus,“ she says. ”I had a low-grade fever, horrendous headache, my body was sore, I was exhausted and struggling to breathe.“
She describes herself as having been “out of it” and in terrible pain. At its worst, she was barely able to walk or talk.
Nicola’s husband looked after her and their daughter, while working.
“I just went with it, rode the wave, but I was so lucky to have my husband to care for us and to have the help of Community Service Organisation, a Jewish organisation which provides an invaluable Covid support system. There was an amazing volunteer who called every day to check my vitals and there was also had a doctor on call.“
Once she felt stronger, sitting in the sun for bursts of time helped her feel better, she says. She was advised to take Vitamins C, D and B.
While Nicola did not have to go into hospital the first time, she did suffer from post-Covid fatigue, which included brain fog, exhaustion and a lingering headache.
The first bout carried a three-month immunity afterwards. By the end of August, Nicola’s immunity was wearing thin, but she says the numbers of Covid cases were dropping and theatre work started to pick up. It felt as though it was almost over, she says.
But it wasn’t.
Instead, in December, Nicola came down with what she first felt was bad flu.
“It didn’t occur to me for an instant that I had it again,” she says. But, Covid numbers were climbing, so, just to be safe, she went to her doctor.
This time, she had basic flu symptoms and a low-grade fever.
Her second positive result gave her a panic attack.
“I had a severe post-traumatic stress disorder reaction. I started freaking out, phoned a friend in tears… I was completely petrified. I knew how painful and horrible it was, having already had it, so knowing I had survived it once actually didn’t help me at all. It actually made it worse.“
She had joked the first time around that she wouldn’t survive it a second time, and now she was facing that second time.
This time, she says, her oxygen levels were perfect, but the pain was unbearable.
She woke up one morning barely able to talk, and she couldn’t get out of bed. She describes her headache as excruciating: this, from someone prone to migraines.
“I had started bleeding. It was suspected in hospital that I was miscarrying, but I wasn’t pregnant. The blood was very thick, and there was clotting: I was so fortunate that the clots were going down, and not up to my brain.“
After a call to the doctor, an ambulance was sent for her. The next hurdle was for the ambulance crew to find her an available hospital bed. One opened up at an inner-city hospital, but by the time the ambulance arrived, the bed had been given to someone else.
“Luckily I am on medical aid so I could go to a private hospital, but even so, to find an open bed took a long time.“
She did not go into ICU and did not need to be ventilated, but the hospital visit and after effects were grim enough, she says.
A month later, Nicola is still struggling. Owing to a pre-existing injury after which she had to learn to walk and talk again, her second bout of Covid affected her badly. She is battling to just write.
“I can write one or two words. Typing is a mission, walking is a mission, my body collapses very quickly. My doctor says it should come back, in time.“
Referring to all the conspiracy theories that have sprung up around Covid, she says she is not sure how much someone who has had the disease can influence others, but hopefully, her story will encourage them to take greater care.
She hasn’t seen her parents the whole year and the lack of work has taken a financial toll.
“I really understand the need to socialise and let one’s guard down, in this abnormal life we are living,” she says, but having Covid-19, she adds, is horrendous.
Nicola just lost a family member to Covid-19.
“My cousin just died from coronavirus. We were not in one another’s trace, because that would have been very difficult for me to bear, but we did get sick at similar time.
“You don’t want to be the person who is responsible for making another person sick or passing it on because you and having them die from it. Try your best not to live with the pain of making yourself sick, or the guilt of making somebody else sick.“