The virus snuck up on us like a thief in the night. At the beginning of the year, we had heard about something happening in China, but we didn’t take too much notice. Then, early in March, after having watched the virus spread rapidly across the world, the first case was reported in South Africa.
My wife, Helen, and I are both pharmacists who met 27 years ago while studying together at Wits University. We married shortly after qualifying, had two children and have been working together in the Medicare group of pharmacies for over 20 years.
We watched, as the positive case numbers slowly climbed upwards. We had very good reason for being so interested in the spread of the virus in South Africa. Helen had suffered from debilitating auto-immune diseases for many years. These included diabetes, myasthenia gravis, ankylosing spondylitis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Working as a pharmacist was a real challenge for her and standing on her feet all day was pure agony. She woke up every morning and took a handful of tablets for some relief from the pain and to get her through the day. She went to bed each night, exhausted and in absolute agony. So COVID-19 was a very real concern for us and we knew if she contracted it, she may very well be in serious trouble.
We took the decision to keep her at home, and for 9 weeks she resisted going to work. At the beginning of June, she said she felt guilty for staying at home and decided she needed to be in the pharmacy helping her colleagues and her patients fight this pandemic. We both took hygiene very seriously and were pedantic about wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing. We felt safe behind the Perspex screens in the pharmacy.
But then, towards the end of the second week in June, I started feeling ill. A sore throat and sore body. A few days later, Helen started with symptoms. I was tested first. Positive! A few days later we realised our worst nightmare. Helen had tested positive! Did she give it to me, or did I give it to her? It didn’t matter. We were both positive with Coronavirus.
I spent two weeks in bed, getting progressively worse, before eventually getting better. Helen, was also in bed and really sick. Far sicker than me. Her rheumatologist called her to check in on her. She wasn’t happy, and requested bloods be taken. The following day, she phoned again. She wanted Helen in ICU immediately. I gave her a big hug to say goodbye. My daughter took her to hospital and dropped her at the door. Nobody was allowed in!
That was the last time we saw her. Helen passed away 4 days later. She was just 47 years old. The call came through early on Sunday morning. It hit me like a bolt of lightning. I felt a ton weight on my chest. I couldn’t breathe, but this time it wasn’t the virus. My best friend and partner of almost 30 years was gone. The mother of my two beautiful children had been taken away from us without us even getting to say goodbye. This virus is a heartless, selfish killer!
Helen was by far the best pharmacist I have ever met. Her knowledge and professionalism was unmatched. She forged the most amazing relationships with her patients, supplier representatives and colleagues and valued each of them dearly. Her passion for the profession and her empathy and caring for people will remain her legacy. She will always be my hero!