COVID-19 cases in South Africa are continuing to rise and as the country remains in lockdown for another week, one can’t help but wonder what it’s like to actually have the novel coronavirus.
While the virus attacks people differently, with others experiencing mild symptoms and others battling a more severe consequence — most patients won’t reach a severe stage. In fact, according to the Department of Health, only about 6% of COVID-19 patients will need intensive care, while 82% of cases are mild.
Mariske Strauss (28), a professional cross-country mountain biker, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on 25 March (2020) and falls within the mild category of cases. This is something she is extremely grateful for.
Interestingly, Mariske only started experiencing symptoms the day that she got tested.
“I didn’t take the test because I wasn’t feeling well, I tested on the request of President Ramaphosa who had asked that everyone who travelled out of South Africa from mid-February to get themselves tested,” she says.
“I had just raced in Spain at the end of February so I followed protocol and got myself tested ASAP.”
The results only came out after nine days. In the meantime, her symptoms started creeping in.
Mariske started to feel unlike herself on the day she’d taken the test and the symptoms got worse as time went on. She says that it started with a blocked nose, some sneezing and a bit of a “bark-type” cough which “wasn’t much of a cough really”. This developed into a tight chest and shortness of breath, but because she has asthma, she didn’t think much of it.
“Looking back now, walking up the stairs took a lot more effort than I was used to, and I was often left breathless at the top,” she says.
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One thing she does remember quite clearly is how fatigued she felt. Being an athlete in peak season, this was very unusual — especially because sometimes she’d feel fatigued from doing nothing.
Athletes are known to be extremely in tune with their bodies, so as soon as Mariske experienced these symptoms she started steaming and rinsing her sinuses often, took immune-boosting supplements, continued on her healthy diet and spent a lot of time resting.
Getting a positive diagnosis
She admits that getting a positive result for COVID-19 came as a bit of a shock and she has no idea how she might’ve contracted it, but suspects that it might have been here in South Africa. This is especially because her father had travelled with her to Spain and his results came back negative for the virus.
“My boyfriend was with me when I received the news and I’ve been staying with him during this time. I didn’t want to stay with my parents because they both have underlying health conditions,” she says.
Fortunately for her, she had always been a bit of a germophobe, so when COVID-19 started gaining attention across the world, she just became more rigorous than she already was with the prevention protocols set out for the virus. She believes that this is the main reason she didn’t pass the virus on to the people who were in close contact with her.
It’s been almost two weeks since her diagnosis and while she’s not in tip-top condition (which she discovered the hard way!) — Mariske is feeling a lot better.
At one point she started feeling great and thought she could start training again, so she attempted a 30-minute indoor session. That decision, in her words, was like “taking two steps back after taking one step forward”.
“I felt horrible all over again and then some!” she exclaims. “I was super tired with crazy body aches and intense headaches. I was surprised by how quickly things can go backward; from feeling on top of things to feeling terrible in the same day.”
Her advice? Take it easy on yourself if you’re recovering from a viral infection, take those immune boosters, eat healthily to optimise your body’s immune system and surround yourself with positive things that bring you joy.
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“The most I’m doing now is meditating and stretching, so hopefully I’ll be able to get back on my bike this week,” she says.
“This virus can affect anyone… it is very disrespectful to ignore the guidelines and rules set out by our leaders and healthcare professionals.”
To Mariske, anyone who thinks that they are above this is extremely naïve and dangerous to whoever they come into contact with.
“I think the moral of the story is that it is possible to get through it and it’s possible to do so without spreading it to everyone you’re in contact with. Follow the set out guidelines and don’t be neglectful,” she urges.
Throughout all of this, Mariske is grateful that she didn’t have to endure the full wrath of the virus. “God is gracious; I have been fortunate enough to only have mild symptoms,” she says.
“My heart goes out to all those with severe symptoms and I urge them to seek medical help immediately if this is the case.”