Maverick Citizen

PUBLIC HEALTH

The travails of getting tested for Covid-19 in Diepkloof, Soweto

(Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

‘Recently, my daughter had contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. She isolated and, at some point, had a sore throat. She wanted to be sure, so she went for a Covid PCR test. She arrived at the testing site at 8am and waited in her car for an hour and a half listening to a podcast. The test was quick. She went home and, eight hours later, she got an SMS with the results. Thankfully, she was negative,’ writes Harriet Perlman. Tshabalira Lebakeng’s experience, however, was very different. From the time of feeling unwell to finally getting his Covid-19 test results took seven days.

Two weeks ago, I was not feeling well. On Sunday, 5 December, I started to cough badly. I thought I would be better but on Monday I was still coughing. 

I spoke to my friend who said I must go to the clinic to get a Covid test. 

On Tuesday, I left home at 4am. I go to the clinic fairly regularly for my diabetes medication. I know patients start to line up outside as early as 4am in summer. 

Walking took me an hour and I was there by 5am. 

When I got to the clinic, I was number 26 in the queue. 

The grass we were standing on was wet with dew. The clinic garden maintenance staff know that people stand and wait for hours on that grass every day. It is really horrible standing for long hours on long wet grass when you are feeling sick. 

At 7am, security opened the gates. I was hungry like hell, because I didn’t have breakfast before I left. I just wasn’t feeling great. It was going to be a very long day. When I reached the clerk, they put a sticker on my shoulder. Green sticker is to go inside the clinic to collect meds if you are chronic or for family planning. An orange sticker is to go round the back to a tent. 

Usually, I get a green sticker to go inside to get my chronic medication.  Today, I got an orange sticker because I felt fluey and wanted to get a Covid test.  

It was now 7.30am. I had been there nearly two and a half hours. 

When I got to the tent, I was number 11 in the queue. I felt like I was waiting for Moses to rescue me from Pharoah. There were chairs outside and I could at least sit down. But there was no shade. I waited in the hot sun, which made me feel worse. 

In that line behind me was a 20-year-old man, Ntando. He was also from Diepkloof. He works at the BP garage. He is a funny guy. He told me he came to the clinic last Monday and told the nurse he was feeling dizzy. He wanted to be checked. The nurse told him “you just like attention. Maybe you are just hungry.” But he said he was feeling very dizzy. When the nurse checked him, she found that his blood pressure was very high.  

She told Ntando “stop drinking alcohol and drink your medication”.

I asked him why he’s back at the clinic. He told me he booked for a Covid test and the first he could get was today. A week later! His boss at the garage told him to test for Covid-19. I told him I want to test too because I’m not feeling well. 

Then I chatted to a young lady. I think she was 19 years old. She sells second-hand clothes in town. “All the while I sit here, other people are earning money,” she said. She was waiting to make a booking. 

She was irritated and went to the front to ask why people who came to make a booking are in the same line as those who are sick. She needed to get to work. “We will all end up sick,” she shouted.  

The nurse told her to go and complain to the manager. She took her bag and left. “I will come back another time,” she told me.  

The nurse began to chat loudly to her friend who was coming on duty.  “I want to take an early retirement. I’ve had enough of seeing these people,” she told her. Her friend replied: “Me, I am stuck with these people. My kids are still young.” 

How can they say this in front of people who are sick and scared?  There is no love there. 

It was now 11am. 

After waiting six hours, it was finally my turn to see a nurse. I told her my symptoms. She told me I have flu and gave me antibiotics. I asked: “What about Covid? How do you know I don’t have Covid?”  

“I don’t know nothing about Covid. Go to that nurse there. Ask her about a booking.”

“NEEXXXT,” she screamed. She sounded like a furious headmaster shouting for the troublemakers at school. 

I went to the booking nurse. She had an expensive weave and glasses. She told me I must come back on 15 December. 

“I want to have a Covid test,” I said.

“No, you don’t test today. You must make a booking first. Come back on 15 December.” 

Yoh! That was 10 days away!  

“Is that the earliest time?” I asked her.  

I told her I am sick. I can’t wait so long. 

“Well, other people do,” she said.  “Asazi bhuti ukuthi uzokwenze njani angizingeni mina. [I don’t know, my brother, what you are going to do. I’m not involved.]”

I was angry because I wanted to know as soon as possible. I have a comorbidity. I have diabetes. I am scared of Covid. 

So, after more than six hours of waiting to be told to come back in 10 days, I went back home. 

But I didn’t want to wait until 15 December to know if I had Covid. 

The next day – Tuesday, 7 December – I decided to go to Clicks at Diepkloof Square. My friend told me they do testing. When I got there, the lady at security told me they are not doing Covid tests. She said if I wanted to go to a private hospital, I could get a test for R800. 

Wednesday I stayed in bed. I was so angry. What was I supposed to do?  I wasn’t getting better. 

So, on Thursday, 9 December, I woke up early at 4am. 

F**k them! I am going back. They must help me. I didn’t even take a bath. I was determined to try to get a test sooner.  

I stood in the long line again. The gates opened. I got my orange sticker.  I waited again. Then my turn came and I told the nurse I was back to book for a Covid test but I wanted one sooner than 15 December.  

She gave me an appointment for Friday – the next day. I told her I was surprised that this time I got an earlier date.  

“I came on Tuesday and you told me to come back on 15 December,” I told her. 

“Onkosi yam! Just be happy,” she said. “You people from Diepkloof are always complaining. You don’t appreciate us.” 

“Be at the clinic tomorrow at 7am,” she said. 

There is no such thing as getting to the clinic at 7am, if you don’t want to be there the whole day. I know I will have to be on the road at 4am again tomorrow.  

Friday I arrived at 5am and queued again.  

This time the nurse was complaining about filling in the form. She was telling us how hard it is to fill it in. But it didn’t seem complicated to me. It is just your name, surname and contact details. 

I saw a woman, 45 years old. She looked very respectable. She spoke fluent English. She had come for her results. But inside the clinic they had told her, her results were missing. She was so angry. 

“Sisi! Sisi please,” the nurse said. “I didn’t lose your results. Can’t you see I am dealing with these people. If you are not happy with our service delivery, go get a test at a private doctor.” 

She refused, so they said they would do a test again. 

A second man complained. He looked humble. He told the testing nurse that he comes from inside the clinic and they told him his results are missing. 

“Onkosi yami, ningenzani? [Oh my God, why are you doing this to me?]” she cried. 

“But at work they want those results,” the man pleaded.  

The testing nurse at the tent told the old man she’s got nothing to do with results and she can’t help him. He will need to test again. He was so upset. He said he can’t be absent from work again.  

Finally, it was my turn to have the test. It was now 11am and I had waited for six hours for the second time. 

The nurse asked me to open my mouth. I opened my mouth wide like a hippopotamus. It was quick and easy. After testing, I asked the nurse when my results would be available. She told me I should wait for an SMS, then I will know if I’m positive or negative. But I was worried seeing people complaining about missing results. Maybe no SMS would come. 

But I went back home to wait. It was a long weekend. I was scared waiting and thinking about Covid. What will happen to me if I’m positive? It felt stressful. I was chronic and what would that mean?  

Over the weekend, I did some shopping in case the test was positive. I went to Diepkloof Square and bought some supplies. 

Monday morning the SMS arrived: “TSHABALIRA LEBAKENG your Covid-19 PCR test result is positive.” I read it a few times. I felt very frightened. But I will be okay I told myself. I knew what I had to do.  Isolation for 10 days. Take it easy. Then I will be okay. 

It was difficult to tell my aunt because I know she cares about me. But I had to tell her. She said I would be okay. I must call her twice a day.  Last night she called at midnight. 

“You still there Tshaba?” 

“Yes mam, I am here.”

“Okay go back to sleep,” she says. 

I am in my seventh day of isolation. It is difficult to stay indoors, in my small one-roomed shack with a stove, mattress, table and chair for company. I usually like to go outside and talk to people at the gate or in the yard.  

I don’t like to burn my paraffin stove because it makes me cough. 

I called my girlfriend, who lives in Welkom, and said that if I die she must know that I love her. She told me that I have fought many wars. I can win this one too.

I will be okay. But I couldn’t sleep. What if I woke up next to God? 

Since I first got symptoms, it is more than 10 days. It’s cold today. Electricity comes and goes. On for a few hours, then off again. I still feel fluey. I am sneezing a lot. But at the time of writing this story, I am still breathing. My aunt says if I have trouble breathing I must call her immediately. Her friend, who is a nurse, will come straight away.  

So, let’s wait and see. I hope I will be okay. DM/MC

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