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Covid-19 survivor’s hospital hell – and heaven

Covid-19 survivor’s hospital hell – and heaven
Thiren Johnson, 61, recovers from Covid-19 at home in Ennerdale after being discharged from the Nasrec Quarantine and Isolation Centre. He was moved to the Nasrec centre from the Helen Joseph Hospital after contracting Covid-19. (Photo: Chris Collingridge)

Thiren Johnson’s battle against Covid-19 was one of two halves – fought in ‘hell’ and ‘heaven’.

On Tuesday morning, Thiren Johnson, walking more slowly than usual and struggling a little with his breathing, left Johannesburg’s Nasrec Intermediate Care Field Hospital. He was a survivor of Covid-19, and the third recovered patient to be discharged from the field hospital.

Thiren Johnson, 61, with his wife Sylvia Johnson, left, and his daughter Lucinda Diedricks. Johnson is recovering from Covid-19 at home in Ennerdale after being discharged from the Nasrec Quarantine and Isolation Centre. He was moved to the Nasrec centre from the Helen Joseph Hospital after contracting Covid-19. (Photo: Chris Collingridge)

Johnson’s wife, Sylvia, wasn’t at the hospital on Tuesday. She was at their home in Ennerdale, Extension Three. She was in the garden when he arrived, but this homecoming wasn’t celebrated with a hug.

The family was still under strict physical distancing rules, but Sylvia’s face, even partially hidden by a mask, was all the welcome her husband needed.

“I could see in her face a mix of happiness, and relief that I was alive,” recalls Johnson. 

Thiren Johnson recovers from Covid-19 at home in Ennerdale after being discharged from the Nasrec Quarantine and Isolation Centre. (Photo: Chris Collingridge)

For 16 days, he and Sylvia’s only contact had been through cellphone calls. And the one time he caught a glimpse of her outside the ward, was when she came to drop off some clean clothes for him.

Like so many Covid-19 sufferers, his war against the virus was fought without the help of his family. It was also to be a battle of two halves. In his words, he was to experience hell before being taken to heaven.

The 61-year-old retiree believes he caught the virus during a trip to the Oriental Plaza, in Fordsburg at the end of June. At the time Fordsburg was one of the suburbs driving Joburg’s spike in Covid-19 infections.

When he began getting sick with body aches, fever and coughing, he suspected he might be coming down with pneumonia, which he has had twice before. He discovered that he had Covid-19, and after his condition worsened his doctor had him admitted to Helen Joseph Hospital.

Helen Joseph was a hospital struggling to deal with the rising numbers of Covid-19 infections. Johnson was fortunate that he brought blankets with him, as patients were not provided with blankets.

“If you went to hospital without a blanket there’s no way that your family could give you a blanket.

“Your family is not allowed to bring anything… food, clothes or money,” Thiren says.

Gauteng Department of Health spokesperson Kwara Kekana said there had been a linen shortage caused by the pandemic. 

“Due to staff quarantine at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital laundry, they were on skeleton staff.

 “There was a shortage of linen being supplied to hospitals. Helen Joseph did, however, have bunny blankets and sheets which were to give to patients.” 

Then the hospital was hit by a 72-hour water outage, caused by a burst pipe. Patients weren’t able to bath, and staff unable to wash their hands. Equipment couldn’t be cleaned properly and toilets weren’t working, Johnson said. 

After eight days, he was told he was moving, but no one, he said, would tell him where he was going. He arrived at the Nasrec Intermediate Care field hospital angry.

Johnson was one of the first patients admitted to the field hospital. His mood was soon to improve. 

“It was like stepping out of hell into heaven,” he recalls. “The care that they give. It’s great. It’s great because they make you feel important.”

The purpose of the Nasrec field hospital is to help alleviate the burden of Covid-19 patients at clinics and hospitals across Johannesburg. 

Unlike Helen Joseph, the field hospital doesn’t have many Covid-19 patients – yet. On Monday there were only 20 patients.

The field hospital is manned by volunteers, who work six-hour shifts. Johnson was allowed to pick out his own bed and he was given oxygen. Eight days later, the doctors gave him the all-clear to go home.

Johnson has been told he has weeks of recovery ahead of him. He is still a little breathless and he has the odd cough.

But he is home.

“I am happy he is finally here,” sighs Sylvia, as they hold hands for a photograph.

She knows her husband will have to take things easy for a while, which he admits he finds hard to do.

“I just need to sort out these last nitty grittys,” he laughs, “then I will be walking again, and I am a very fast walker. Both my wife and my daughter can’t keep up with me.” DM

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