Having multiple sclerosis and asthma meant heightened anxiety when Colette got COVID-19


57-year-old Colette Patience has two conditions which put her at high risk for severe illness linked to COVID-19. Colette contracted COVID-19 in June and prepared for the worst. However, she slowly recovered. A pulse oximeter sent to her by Discovery Health Medical Scheme was a huge comfort.

Colette Patience lives in Parkview, Johannesburg, with her husband and their 19-year-old daughter.

In 2010, Colette was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). With this autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks the body’s nervous system and disrupts the communication between the body and brain, causing many symptoms that can vary from person to person. She also has asthma and hypothyroidism.

In 2012, Colette was medically boarded due to her MS. At the time, she was working for a large corporate. “I absolutely loved my work and the working environment. I was in a senior position with exciting challenges. I miss that.”

Colette’s family take every COVID-19 precaution, knowing she is “high risk”

Colette shares her story in her own words:

We had hosted my husband’s 50th birthday party on 17 March. We didn’t know that would be the last time we saw our closest friends and family for a while. National lockdown started soon thereafter on 26 March and my husband immediately started working from home. Our daughter – who had just had knee and also sinus surgery – was with us at home during her recovery and rehab. She is a college athlete due to start studying in America so we really wanted to protect her and keep her as healthy as possible. During lockdown, we took every precaution to stay healthy. My husband was the designated risk-taker who did the weekly shopping. Later, as we moved to Alert Levels 4 and 3, my daughter joined him on those outings.

Everyone was mostly worried for my health. Having MS and asthma puts me in the high-risk category for severe illness should I contract COVID-19. I had my flu vaccine and a pneumonia vaccination at our local pharmacy in early April.

Colette’s MS worsens with some new symptoms

In late April, I had a bout of severe MS symptoms along with some new symptoms. I was really struggling. I eventually contacted my neurologist and ventured out to see the doctor. I was experiencing a relapse in my condition and an MRI confirmed the presence of new lesions. I was terrified at the thought of possible hospitalisation but could fortunately be treated at home with the appropriate steroids, over the course of a month.

“Then, I woke up one morning and my sense of smell and taste had vanished”

Early in June, I ventured out twice and both times strictly adhered to wearing my mask and to social distancing. Then, I woke up one morning and my sense of smell and taste had vanished. I had been feeling particularly tired as well, but hadn’t had any fever. At the same time, we received the dreaded call that I had been in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the recent past. On either of the two outings I made in early June, I could have been infected with COVID-19.

I was terrified at the possibility that I had COVID-19

My doctor suggested I be tested and provided a referral letter. Monica, my driver (as I had to stop driving when I was medically boarded), took me to the Ampath testing station in Rosebank near our home. I took every precaution to prevent exposing her to the virus, knowing I was possibly positive.

I tested on a Friday. Over the weekend, while we were waiting for the result, we discussed what we would do to keep everyone safe, and I started self-quarantining in my room. I was terrified at the possibility that I had COVID-19. We were very worried that I would not survive getting the disease. Every winter I’m sick. So, yes we were worried about how I would cope with this disease.

“All four people were incredibly understanding and supportive”

My GP called on Sunday to say I had tested positive. We had already informed four people I’d had close contact with that I had gone for testing. We called them again to let them know I was positive. It was a horrible feeling. One of them is a hairdresser at a local salon. They had literally opened their doors for the very first time and I was booked as the first client early in the morning. They were so excited to be back in business. All four people were incredibly understanding and supportive, and checked in on me on a daily basis for the entire duration of my self-isolation.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases also got in touch with me to find out whether I had spoken to people I had been in close contact with or whether I wanted them to do so. I confirmed that I had spoken to all four people.

Colette’s husband and daughter test negative for COVID-19

A few days later, my husband and my daughter were tested as they had flu-like symptoms. Both tested negative for COVID-19.

My mom-in-law lives with us in a cottage. So does Monica and her young daughter, who goes to Parkview Senior School. They all quarantined too – that way we felt we were doing the best we could to keep everyone safe.

Colette’s family support her while she self-isolates

I self-isolated in my bedroom and bathroom. We put a table at the door and my family put my meals there. I collected and put the dishes back there. They fetched them using gloves and masks. It was awful because we are all so close. My husband and I had also not really discussed what we would do if I had to be hospitalised – or, if I was hospitalised and didn’t come home again. I felt that I needed to talk about that but we couldn’t do it with a door between us.

I spent almost 15 days on my own. My family and friends were very supportive and checked in regularly.

I’m not a fearful and negative person at all, but the amount of focus that we put on keeping me safe from the disease, right from the onset of the pandemic, did scare me. For the first eight days of my self-isolation I was a state of limbo, waiting for disaster to strike.

My sense of taste and smell fluctuated. I suffered terrible headaches. I had terrible chills. My temperature overall was low – ranging between 34 and 36 degrees Celsius. I was very sore in my neck and shoulders. I was short of breath and would breathe under my bed covers or by cupping my hands over my mouth to warm the air a little as I felt like cool wasn’t good for my chest – I felt had a lot of pressure on my chest. I stayed in bed throughout. I was too tired to do anything else. My eyes were very red and sore and puffy. I developed diarrhoea for about four days.

Colette’s doctors keep an eye on her

I spoke to my doctors on the phone – both the neurologist and the GP. I called when I was concerned, and they checked in regularly. I was giving additional steroids by my neurologist. I was told to avoid anti-inflammatory medicine. Back in early March, we had decided to start supplementing with zinc and vitamin C. I take vitamin D for my MS too. The GP told me to continue with zinc and vitamins C, D and E and to use over-the-counter products and paracetamol. I was told to avoid aspirin. I continued with my chronic medication too.

Discovery Health Medical Scheme sends Colette a pulse oximeter – which provides much comfort

I received a lot of email communication from Discovery Health Medical Scheme when I tested positive for COVID-19, explaining the WHO Global Outbreak Benefit and how I qualify for cover and also information around management of my symptoms. It was very reassuring to know that I had the appropriate benefits in place if major complications arose and this meant I could focus on myself without that additional stress.

The Discovery Health Oximetry Support team made contact with me to check in on how I was doing and to inform me that I qualified for a pulse oximeter as I was identified as being at high risk of developing serious complications due to my chronic illness.

  • A pulse oximeter is a small, lightweight, clamp-like device that fits over your fingertip and measures the amount of oxygen (oxygen saturation) in the blood. They are valuable in early detection of a potentially deadly aspect of COVID-19, called “silent hypoxia” – a reduction in oxygen levels in the blood, over time.
  • If you meet the qualifying clinical entry criteria for at-risk members, you will be issued with a pulse oximeter to track and monitor your oxygen saturation levels. You will also be covered for two consultations with a Discovery wellness specialist, to track and monitor oxygen-saturation levels, and a follow-up virtual consultation with a GP, where necessary. Find out more.

Having this device really kept me sane and I would suggest that anyone who is high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 try and get one. Being able to measure my pulse and get an oxygen saturation reading whenever I felt panicky was hugely reassuring. At my lowest point, my oxygen saturation was at 91% which meant I wasn’t in trouble. I also counted how many breaths I took in a minute and seeing that steadily slowing down was reassuring. I was sending my readings to my siblings three times a day and they cheered me on.

16 days later, Colette begins to feel better, but symptoms persist for weeks

Every day that disaster didn’t strike felt like a miracle. The steroids I took during my MS relapse (and up to just a couple weeks before I was diagnosed with COVID-19) ironically played a role in preparing my body to deal with the illness and holding off serious complications.

I honestly felt like things were turning around on day 16 of my self-isolation. I felt for the first time that I was going to survive for real. I started to move around the house and interact with my family again.

Recovery took longer than I hoped it would. Five weeks since the onset of symptoms, I was still short of breath. I still felt some pressure on my chest. I managed an hour of chores and crashed quite spectacularly for a few hours on my bed before I tackled more.

How has this experience affected Colette’s outlook on life?

I feel very fortunate to have survived this. We are continuing to be very careful and mindful of the risks of social interaction. There is still so much that is unknown when it comes to re-infection with this illness. I am also taking things very slowly. Due to my age and my chronic MS, I’m in no hurry to rush out into the world.

My wish for others is that they would be more responsible in their actions and choices, so that they can protect themselves and others from COVID-19.

Having MS is also a daily challenge. Some days are worse than others. My immediate and extended family are incredibly supportive. I am very fortunate to be so loved and cared for by them and to have Monica to drive for me. I push myself to stay involved and as active as possible with lots of encouragement from my family and friends. I love to cook and I love to sew. My daughter and I have been sewing masks during the pandemic and so far we have made about 300 of them.



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