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A Pietermaritzburg nurse who contracted Covid-19 says being a patient at the very hospital she works helped her realise the little things nurses do, count for a lot

Nimmi Biswardutt, 47, a nurse in the cardiothoracic intensive care unit (ICU) at Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg, said her days normally consisted of helping doctors, patients and in general giving back to people. But after contracting the deadly virus, the tables were turned on her.

Her outlook on her industry and the value of the work herself and other nurses do was put into perspective after realising something was amiss earlier this month.

Alarms bells went off when she suddenly lost her sense of taste and smell.

“I could not taste anything and would shiver and had generalised body pain. That’s when I realised something was not right and that I should phone my physician.”

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Her doctor told her she had to immediately get to him so tests could be run.

“That’s when it all began.”

Biswardutt said on 9 July her symptoms worsened.

“I just started vomiting and was not feeling well. I really did not want to go into hospital, but my doctor told me I had to because I am a diabetic. I went in and unfortunately, my chest X-ray did not look good and I had to be admitted immediately.”

She added she needed oxygen and other vital hospital treatment.

“My doctor said he was not taking any chances.”

I didn’t want to die in hospital

Biswardutt said she was apprehensive about being admitted to hospital because of what she witnessed as a healthcare professional.

“You hear about healthcare workers and how so many are getting the disease and I had seen friends in ICU just not getting better. With the new policy regarding visiting, I just didn’t want to be alone and away from my family.”

Biswardutt added the day she was diagnosed, she realised her daughters were also positive.

“My eldest daughter was with me when I was admitted on 9 July, and I could see she was flushed, not doing well. She didn’t want to leave me alone in the ER.”

She said she also just wanted to go home and help her children.

“I knew how they felt. I just wanted to be at home with them. I was lucky that the smallest did not show symptoms, but I was worried about my eldest because I could see she was not well.”

Luckily, her husband did not contract Covid-19.

“She [the eldest] was not as bad as me and could isolate at home. My husband took her home and took care of them. He got them medication and was so great in keeping them OK.”

As a nurse, I got a new perspective

Biswardutt said she was quite anxious during her hospital stay which lasted from 9 to 20 July.

“I just wanted to know my girls were OK. I was also very emotional. I kept asking myself why I picked it up. We are so careful at work. We’ve worn the right PPE, I’ve been taking multi-vitamins and eating healthy and not going anywhere. It’s so lonely not having your family visit. Video chatting helped.”

She added being a patient and not a nurse was eye-opening while being treated for Covid-19.

“When you are on the other end, you don’t realise how weak and vulnerable you are. For example, waking up to have a shower was such a problem. I had to sit on a chair and try to get my breath and as soon as I go into bed, get back onto my oxygen. I was so tired I could not even do anything. I would just dose off immediately because I was so weak.”Biswardutt said she relied completely on her fellow nurses.

“My colleagues were so unbelievable. It was the small things. You are so vulnerable and weak, the care that you get is so important. Something small like just passing me water was a big deal. The love and care that I got helped me pull through.”

She added being a patient at the hospital she worked at helped her appreciate “people and the things in life that you have and the simple things you can do”.

“When those things are taken from you, you realise how much you take for granted. Being on the other end, it was so nice to see the love and compassion the nurses had for me.”

She said the little things counted for a lot.

“Just helping me to the toilet, bringing your water closer, helping me to shower – I mean, all you want to do in the morning is get into the shower and it was so hard to even do that. And then someone helps you to freshen up and put you back in bed. You don’t forget those moments.”

Biswardutt added: “Being a patient, it makes you think of the things you do for your patients and how you can do things differently. We always do our best and try our best to make our patients comfortable. When you experience this, you realise the simplest things you do for people matters the most.”

The pain and poor breathing were too much

She said the worst part of her hospital stay was her third night.

“It was a Saturday night. The generalised body pain that I had would just not go away. It was so intense, all this despite the medication intravenously given to me including anti-inflammatories and pain killers.”

Biswardutt said she maintained her mental fortitude by keeping to a pact she and her four sisters had made.

“Between the pain and trying to breathe, it was too much. My greatest fear was dying in hospital. I am only 47 and I just refused to let go. I lost both my parents when they were 50 and my sisters and I always said to each other, not before 50.”

She emotionally added: “I just said I was not going to let this take me. I was going to fight and overcome it.”

My family also pulled me through

She said her will to survive for her daughters also helped her pull through.

“I said I am never going to let them be without their mother. And I said I will never let go of my family. I just prayed to God and said you can’t let me down.”

Biswardutt said being released from hospital was an incredible feeling.

“I was so overwhelmed. I could not wait to leave. I could not wait just to come home. I was so excited when my doctor said I was going home. I was just so happy to see my family and to know that everything went well.”

She said her daughters did not show many symptoms.

“The little one did not exhibit symptoms, but the big one had a bit of a tight chest, but that has all subsided now.”

People should abide by regulations

Biswardutt said the public should know that not wearing a mask, not staying home and not keeping a distance from others “is not worth it”.

“Protect yourself and protect other people. Don’t be selfish, you don’t want someone else to get sick. You don’t want someone else to suffer and be in pain. After experiencing that, I would not wish it on my worst enemy.”

She said the rules were simple.

“Don’t put people through this pain. Just wear your mask, sanitise, stay at home and keep your distance. That is all you have been asked to do. Nothing else.”