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Life in the time of coronavirus


It’s early in the day, but the end of the first week back in harness is now within sight. Finally.

Theoretically, it’s the end of the second week back at work that’s within sight. The actual return took place last Monday, the four-week holiday over before it even started thanks to the mayhem that followed moving home. Estate agents, it turns out, are just like politicians, spewing lies and empty promises until they get what they want out of you.

After that, the bastards are nowhere to be seen, abdicating responsibility and buck passing furiously while failing to deliver on what they sold you. Until, of course, the time comes around again to milk you for your vote (or in this case, your money) and they’re miraculously available again.

The actual return was highly inauspicious. It also didn’t last very long. About eight hours, or so. Right up until Omar, the Libyan cat who recently took over the surgery I go to, discovered that the cough, blocked chest and sweating fits that had been bugging me during the last week of the holiday were actually symptoms of bronchial pneumonia.

Omar fled Libya shortly after Muammar Gaddafi was murdered in 2011. He’s been here since. Omar hasn’t been able to go home since 2014, when the last of his family left Tripoli for South Africa. Omar’s given up on going home any time soon.

I’d thought the sweats were just part of living in Durban at this time of year. Tax, as it were.

Our man didn’t. He gave me a massive antibiotic shot in the left buttock, sent me off for a battery of tests and an X-Ray. I hit the bed for the rest of the week — I managed to talk him out of hospitalisation — much of which went past in a blur.

The paranoia was rough. Trust me to get pneumonia — hacking cough, blocked airways, fever, sore throat and sweats — in the middle of an outbreak of coronavirus, the symptoms of which are, pneumonia, hacking cough, fever, sore throat and sweats.

Not a move I would recommend.

I wonder who came up with the name coronavirus? Why not Black Labelvirus? Amstelvirus? Corona is pretty insipid, as beers go, but I never figured it for causing respiratory collapse.

Perhaps it was some World Health Organisation (WHO) scientific cat, locked away behind his computer, getting all Thabo Mbeki in the middle of the night, posing the question: “‘Can a beer, Corona, cause a syndrome, or a fully fledged virus” and all that?


At the height of the paranoia I get a call from my bra, Pooja Uncle, the owner of South Africa’s only Marxist-Leninist prayer goods shop. The Uncle is 100% Mbeki. Not politically, but when it comes to the internet, ailments and the middle of the night. Uncle has stopped drinking because he’s battling with his stomach. He thinks he has an ulcer, or at least that’s his latest self-diagnosis, or at least it was the last time we spoke.

It turns out the Uncle has taken the plunge, logged off and gone to see a specialist. His online diagnosis — ulcer — has been confirmed.

The Uncle is bleak.

Then I tell him I have pneumonia. Bad move. In seconds, Uncle’s in Mbeki mode. He’s ordered me to see the pulmonologist (he even sends me the man’s mobile number in case I need it) and suggests I get contacts from the national communicable disease control centre and get tested in case it’s coronavirus. As far as Uncle’s concerned, I’m a dead man walking unless I get an immediate medical intervention.

I kill the call, exhausted. This is all I need. I try and force the paranoia into the back of my brain, forget about Uncle’s call.

I hit the TV remote. Maybe that will help. Another bad move. There’s a coronavirus status update on the news feed. There’s this doctor, complete with facemask, talking about the virus, its symptoms and how it is spread. How it ends up in pneumonia.

I kill the TV. This is a waste of time. Rather hit the cannabis oil and go to bed. If I had coronavirus, I wouldn’t be responding to antibiotics, which I am.

On Monday, at the surgery, the fever’s gone. So is the paranoia.

I get a clean bill of health, clean enough to go back to work at least.

The mobile goes. It’s Uncle.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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