I survived COVID-19 twice
I’m Nicola Date, a 32-year-old arts manager, comedian, and costume designer, mother, and two-time COVID-19 survivor. I have had a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse through hospitalisation.
When COVID-19 hit South Africa, it felt like a fictional character, but I soon realised the gravity of what was ahead of us. In April, I started trying my best to avoid this horrible illness.
I was fit then. Running brought me immense joy, and grocery shopping was my only other activity. In June 2020, I developed the worst headache of my life, this coming from someone who has suffered from migraines for most of it.
Soon after, I could no longer taste or smell, I became lethargic, had aches and pains, a sore chest, and a low-grade fever. It was time to go to the doctor.
When I arrived at the doctor’s rooms, the nurses gave me a COVID-19 form, and I ticked every box. I was immediately sent to sit in the isolation waiting room before being sent for a COVID-19 test. When filling out my contact form, I was thankful that I had seen only members of my household, but I also had to put my local Spar and my daughter’s school as contacts.
While waiting for the results, I began to get sicker and sicker. I could feel my breath entering my body with great difficulty.
I tested positive. The government sent me an SMS to stay in quarantine, and my doctor called me with the news. I was told to stay indoors, take vitamins B, D, and C, and paracetamol (anything stronger can cause clotting in a COVID-19 patient) and to call an ambulance if I could no longer breathe. Eventually, I got so sick that I could barely walk, talk, or watch TV as my brain was foggy and I couldn’t handle stimulation.
I cannot thank the Community Security Organisation’s Assist program enough for supporting me throughout my journey, and guiding me in moments of oxygen loss. I know that not all South Africans have had this privilege, and I can’t begin to imagine the fear of facing this alone, without solid support. I can’t imagine going to a testing station, getting a government SMS, and then having to experience COVID-19 without having the money to buy the required tools and medication.
Eventually I came out the other side. I could watch TV, and began to feel like a human again, albeit a broken one.
I developed post-COVID-19 fatigue, and it took me three months until I was somewhat myself again. I started to jog again, and I was slowly rebuilding my fitness levels.
The COVID-19 numbers were decreasing, and everything felt bright again. I was finally able to do some work in the arts. I think many of us believed the end was in sight and COVID-19 would die with 2020.
At the beginning of December, I developed flu-like symptoms and went to the doctor thinking that I had something mild, but to my surprise, she sent me for a COVID-19 test. Once again and five months later, the test was confirmed positive. The moment I got the results, I panicked, and post-traumatic stress disorder kicked in. I began to remember the trauma of my first COVID-19 experience. Little did I know what was about to hit me.
With my second bout of COVID-19, my oxygen levels were stable, but the pain was worse than anything I had ever experienced. My body felt like a mess, I was bleeding, and I could hardly walk or talk. I felt like my body was running at 10% capacity; a shell of my former self.
An ambulance was eventually called, and the next challenge was to find a hospital bed. After about 30 minutes, they found a bed at Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in town. By the time I got there, the bed was gone, and the process continued for what felt like an eternity, before they found me a bed at Cape Town Mediclinic.
The medical unit was completely full, and the nurses told me they had about 20 patients to tend to. In my two days of hospitalisation, three people left my room and were replaced. One went home, and two went to the intensive care unit (ICU). The nurses had to wear their uniform, an apron, a mask, a shield, and also had to scrub up and then down, every time they entered our room.
These incredible, overworked, exhausted, and boiling hot humans were so kind, patient, under immense pressure, and yet did their job with a smile. Everyone in the unit was somewhat critical, and it wasn’t even an ICU. You need to be extremely sick to be hospitalised for COVID-19.
Once I was stabilised, I was sent home to recover, making room for the next person who needed a bed. Being in hospital without visitors was a wild experience. There were no friends and family members to take you to the loo or help you wash, the nurses being responsible for it all.
I’m once again suffering from post-COVID-19 fatigue with brain fog, a lingering headache, and my body is stripped of vitamins, for which I’m being supplemented. I’m totally burnt out, but on the road to recovery.
During my recovery process, I sadly lost a close cousin who had been on a ventilator for a month and the adults in my family had to experience the trauma of a COVID-19 funeral. For my precious daughter, the evil and scary illness that she learnt about at school is a big part of her reality.
Please stay safe, and try to socialise only outside and untouched. Parties aren’t worth it. Alcohol isn’t worth it as the hospitals are full and it causes you to let your guard down. We will get through this only if we are safe and vigilant. I urge you.
- Nicola Date is a Cape Town based designer, comic, theatre entrepreneur, wife and mother to a six-year-old girl.
Getting my head around six million individuals
If ever you question the importance of commemorating Yom Hashoah, which we do this week, keep in mind that we’re not talking about statistics, but the systematic annihilation of a huge percentage of our people.
In fact, before the Holocaust, 60% of all Jews lived in Europe. Two out of three of them were murdered during the war. In 1933, there were 9.5 million Jews in Europe and this number was down to 3.5 million in 1950.
This is hard to absorb, I know, but so often, people dismiss comparisons of the Holocaust with the behaviour of Israel or even with apartheid. The more I acknowledge what it means to murder six million Jews systematically, the more I realise that there is simply no comparison.
This year marks 80 years since the beginning of the mass annihilation of Jews and each year, fewer and fewer survivors remain. Many died this year of COVID-19. Their survival enabled us to understand what they lived through and how six million of their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and other family and friends were brutally murdered. The only reason for their death was because they were Jewish.
Until recently, the number six million was simply a very large number to me. Although I had seen the movies and read the books, I couldn’t quite identify with it as being six million people like me and all those I love in this world. It really isn’t easy to absorb and comprehend this number in terms of individuals who had a future, perhaps a degree or three, a wife or a beloved, and children. They had potential and lives yet to be lived, but their lives were stolen from them way before their time.
The Nazis took away their humanity, their individuality, and attempted to make them just a number, which they tattooed on their arms.
Every year, on Yom Hashoah, we observe a ceremony under the auspices of the president of Israel known as “Unto Every Person there is a Name”, in which names of those who perished in the Holocaust are called out.
The point of this particular exercise is meaningful because an individual is given a name by their parents. And they and their families have a surname that they share. This makes every single person a unique individual. Each person has a name, a personality, a particular look, a way of walking, talking, and a way of being that is special to them. So, starting with a name we are given at birth, a person is individualised. And so every year on Yom Hashoah, we do our best around the world to individualise and humanise as many of the six million Jews who died as possible.
To date, Yad Vashem has recorded 4 800 000 names of Holocaust victims on its Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, with more than 2 750 000 names registered on Pages of Testimony.
Here’s the thing: if we had all the names of the six million who were murdered, and could say each name, age, and place of death in one second, we could cover only 86 400 individual names in one 24-hour Yom Hashoah.
To read six million, we would need almost 70 days of 24-hour non-stop reading. If we recited names for only 12 hours a day, giving the reader time to sleep, eat, and have a few short breaks, we would need 138 days to cover the names of the six million Jews who were annihilated in the Holocaust. And that’s if you can read all their vital details in one second.
This brings me a little closer to understanding what the number six million actually means in terms of individuals.
On the Yad Vashem site (YadVashem.org), you can find lists of these names. I went to look this week and found 23 people with the surname Krost who were victims of the Holocaust. I know of a handful. I wonder who the others were. Were they also family?
Then, I looked at the lists of children’s names and there were literally hundreds of pages of names of children, some not even a year old. I couldn’t help the tears as I read names, ages, and where and how they died. I felt quite sick. I couldn’t help thinking that these littlies, who should have been playing and having fun without a care in the world, were brutally murdered because by chance they were born Jewish.
It was then that I decided that I was going to light the six commemorative candles with my sons this year. We will recite the El Maleh Rachamim prayer, and then start reading children’s names and keep going until we can’t anymore. I believe this will give us a better inkling of the massive horror of the millions who perished all because they were like us.
In this edition, there is a story about the Holocaust on page 12 that stands out for me. It’s about the Wannsee Conference, where the decision was made by the Nazi leadership to murder Jews en masse. What really hit me was Holocaust educator Dr Matthias Haß’s warning that it was because of the small incidents of antisemitism that the Wannsee House decision was made. It was the accumulation of decades of slowly building antisemitism that seeped into German society over years that eventually led to the dehumanisation of Jews, he said.
How often do we dismiss or not make a big deal about what seems to be minor incidents of antisemitism or racism? Sometimes it isn’t always so clear and sometimes it is. But it’s not easy to stick your neck out, especially when you are alone in a situation. And sometimes it might be cleverly disguised as anti-Israel sentiment.
The next time someone says to me, “Don’t make a big deal about it” referring to antisemitism, I will remember how I tried to get my head around the systematic murder of six million Jews.
Is the US losing interest in the Middle East?
The United States-Saudi Arabia relationship is a really interesting case study for those who watch Middle Eastern geopolitics closely. Some background to current events is necessary to set the context.
On the one hand, Saudi Arabia is a difficult ally. Its human-rights record is suspect, to say the least. It was clearly responsible for the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, which caused a worldwide outcry. It has also been involved in a war in Yemen that has created a humanitarian disaster, with high civilian casualties and hunger, malnutrition, and illness in that country.
On the other hand, it’s a strategic US ally, and a stable, pro-Western country. It entered the war in Yemen for good reason – to prevent the Iranian-aligned Houthi forces from taking over the country. It was also the second biggest oil producer in the world in 2020.
President Joe Biden was left with a difficult choice. Heading up a Democratic administration, which supposedly prides itself on its support for human rights, he couldn’t leave things as they were. On the other hand, he couldn’t damage the US’s vital strategic and national interests. To this end, he seems to have attempted to walk a fine line by taking the following actions:
He released a redacted intelligence report that blamed the crown prince for being behind the murder of the journalist, but took no further action. He has made it clear that the US no longer supports the operations of the Saudi coalition in Yemen, and has temporarily paused the sale of offensive arms to Saudi Arabia, but has allowed the continued sale of defensive arms.
More importantly, he didn’t act when Saudi oilfields were once again attacked by Houthi missiles and drones on 7 March, which led to a spike in oil prices briefly above $70 (R1 021) a barrel.
The US said on the Monday that its commitment to defend Saudi Arabia was “unwavering”, and in a Twitter post, the US mission in Riyadh condemned the attacks, which it said demonstrated a “lack of respect for human life” and a “lack of interest in the pursuit of peace”. However, the US took no further action.
The main issue, however, which is being brought to the fore by the awkward US-Saudi dance, is that the US is losing interest in the Middle East. The area is much less of a priority than it used to be.
There are a few reasons for this. First, the US no longer relies on imports of oil from the region. Last year, according to The Economist, the US was in fact a net exporter of oil and natural gas.
Second, the US has been involved in long and endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have cost trillions of dollars and achieved very little.
Finally – and this has been the policy across three US presidents now – the US wants to pivot to Asia and focus much more on countering a rapidly growing and influential China. It wants to lighten its burdens in the Middle East, and instead focus its energies on what everyone believes will be the world’s leading growth region of the 21st century.
This doesn’t mean the US will withdraw totally. It still has troops all over the area, and has vital interests in preventing a nuclear arms race there and not allowing terrorist groups to grow and find sanctuary. However, given recent events, it seems clear that it will scale down its activities and no longer expend the time and energy it has in the past. Its military activities will be curtailed.
The effect of this clear signal from the US has been dramatic, and it no doubt played a major role in the Abraham Accords and signing of peace treaties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. If and when the Saudis join the emerging Israel-Sunni reproachment, it will no doubt also be due to the fear of less US involvement in the region and of therefore having to face their enemies alone.
While this development has been positive for Israel in that it now has new strategic allies in the region, bringing much more diplomatic strength and regional influence, in the long term, there must be concern.
The US moves towards Saudi Arabia are a portent for it becoming much less involved in the region, and clearly show its intention not to be dragged into any more wars there.
While Israel now has a lot of new allies as a result, and it seems the friendships will be warm, none of the new allies are major military powers. Local regional alliances, useful as they are, cannot replace the world’s main superpower, and an unstable region will surely become still more unstable without the US’s active presence.
Israeli leaders have long suspected this, but the fact that the US hasn’t responded militarily to the two recent attacks on the Saudi oilfields when in the past, under any president, there would have been a robust and strong response, shows how dramatically things have changed. The US can no longer be relied on as a military ally. Israel will be left to fend pretty much for itself if and when the next war breaks out in the Middle East.
- Harry Joffe is a Johannesburg tax and trust attorney.
Looking for descendants of Lithuanian great-grandfather
I would be grateful for any information a reader may have as I search for descendants of my great-grandfather, Eliahu Zvi Bloch, a Kohen who lived in Anassisic/Anusshishok, Lithuania, near the Latvian border, from roughly 1820 to 1900.
My grandfather, Elchanon, the son of Eliahu Zvi and his third wife, Sarah Oralowich, who grew up in an orphanage, is the only one of the family who emigrated to the United States. I recall hearing that some of Elchanon’s siblings or half-siblings emigrated to South Africa in the first half of the last century.
I know very little else. I believe the family migrated to Lithuania from Germany around 1750 or 1800, that Eliahu Zvi’s father lived to be 100, and that Eliahu Zvi was 66 years old when my grandfather was born. It’s possible that some family members migrated to Israel, either prior to statehood or after living in South Africa. I would welcome any information, even if marginally related to my family, such as knowledge of life in Anassisic/Anusshishok. I live in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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