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HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: This is important: Long-Covid is real

opinion

I realise that week after week I keep writing about the same thing. But the reason for that is because as someone who contributes to the news and has that privilege, I need to bring attention to what is now being ‘substitutionally’ called Acute-Covid by several medical journals and other research papers.

There is simply not enough information about this in the South African media. Bar one or two simplified articles, and a podcast we did earlier this year for Don’t Shoot the Messenger, no one in South Africa seems to be nearly as informed as they should be about the progression and sustaining symptoms of this illness which are varied, unpredictable and could have long-term consequences.

It’s one thing for the public to be uninformed, not all of us are doctors and not all of us are living with this, trying to manage it and get on with our lives. But there are people out there, South African people, who have this “disorder”, if I can call it that, who are simply not getting the coverage on Long-Covid that we want and need from media platforms who are responsible for reporting research and updates, however small those studies may be.

More so, there seems to be a lack of education amongst our very own medical society. We’re being shifted from specialist to specialist and treated like lab rats because GPs aren’t reading and aren’t informed and what’s more, neither are specialists.

It is not the first time that I have mentioned to a doctor that I am suffering from a debilitating limp that has now lasted three weeks, that I often have dyslexia, severe brain fog, sometimes a stutter and a really, really hard time getting work done because it takes so very, very long for my brain to function.

These are scary neurological symptoms to take care of – which doctors often explain away as being caused by stress and anxiety or depression. I have been a chronic sufferer of all the above psychological diagnoses all my life and never, ever have I felt so mentally debilitated.

And then, of course, there are the physical symptoms. Which as I mentioned before, crop up whenever and where ever they see fit. I am not the only one who has suffered falling over my own feet for absolutely no reason, suffering a temporary blindness at times, having pains in the bones of my hands which come and go and now, the limp.

I could not go to the same doctor for both my hands and feet, apparently specialists in Cape Town only focus on one area at a time, and because it’s so expensive, I gave my foot preference because it has been the most consistent of all.

I have done no exercise in over 30 weeks. I have had Long-Covid for almost 23 of those weeks. I did not have a physical injury. The severe pain in the bones of my right foot manifested seemingly out of nowhere and I feel completely mad when I try to explain this to people mostly because of the ignorance that surrounds Long-Covid and also because it makes me feel completely mad. I was even told at one stage that maybe all of this is psychosomatic.

I have never had such a problem. In fact, I am an illness denialist in many cases. So, when I tried to explain this to the foot specialist, for some reason he couldn’t pick up the inflammation just by looking at it, so he requested I get an X-ray and an MRI. For those of you who don’t know, an MRI costs approximately R7,000 per body part. So, for example, if I also wanted to get neurological answers to my brain, which I feel is more important than getting an MRI on my foot, it would cost R14,000 – approximately. This is not an in-patient service, so a hospital plan won’t do.

I opted for the X-ray. It must be severely highlighted that after giving the doctor a history of my bone-specific symptoms, and trying to explain Long-Covid, he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. Never heard of it before. Not once. Not a single time.

Is it because he only reads South African news where there is no information – there is much more on this on international websites – or does he just not read medical journals? Who can say? I could not contain my frustration, so I just said: Obviously you don’t know, you’re not the first doctor.

The X-ray revealed something he couldn’t quite make out, a stress fracture – which would require me actually hurting my foot from a fall or a physical exercise – moot! I didn’t. So how could I have a stress fracture? No answer. Or he said, just some inflammation between the bones. I did get confirmation that it wasn’t arthritis, which was good news because there have been several cases where Lo-Co patients have developed this.

We settled on inflammation because I helped myself to my own diagnosis and a cortisone shot which luckily, he explained has a leach effect, so may help my hands as well, R2000 saved – well done Haji. When he tried to pierce the area between the bones of my foot, the inflammation was so tight and what I can only assume as quite serious, he couldn’t get the needle through.

I’ve got to wait 72 hours for this stuff to kick in, at which point my limping is supposed to stop completely for at least six weeks. If the pain doesn’t subside, or the limping comes back, then I have to visit him again – or rather as he recommended, because the symptoms seem to attack a variety of my body parts, a GP who would be able to do an overall assessment. Tried it, no luck.

But perhaps in six weeks, the medical professionals of the country will have decided to get more educated. Or we’ll get some sort of address or confirmation from the Health Department about something which is very, very real.

And if my pieces are the only ones being written about it, irritating as it may seem, they are necessary!

Is anyone listening?

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.