Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Deputy Governor Dr Kuphukile Mlambo views himself as a lucky and blessed man after surviving what he described as a hellish and nasty Covid-19 ordeal.
Dr Mlambo had to mourn the death of two close friends who also succumbed to the virus, one in Bulawayo and the other in Harare, in absentia, as he was holding on to dear life as the virus rocked his existence.
He said losing friends to Covid-19 at a time when it was threatening his life made him start seeing his own mortality, moments which he said brought him even closer to his creator and strengthened his faith.
He is back at work after a long break following his Covid-19 encounter, which he has described as a near death experience.
He picks up the story: “I do not know where I go it. I was following all the Covid-19 safety precautions. I was using sanitisers, and I was moving only between work and home daily. At work, we were only allowing a few people to report physically to the office, as part of our measures to decongest the workplace and help fight Covid-19. Most of our staff were working from home, even directors were rotating.”
He said Covid-19 was the last thing in his mind at the time.
“The encounter started on a Wednesday. I was feeling very cold. It was the last week of July. I had no energy. I called my doctor, however, I delayed as I was very busy, until Friday July 31. I came to the office, but I was unwell, and I went back home and slept all day. My wife says I was restless throughout that day I slept. I felt as if I had been immersed in an ice bucket. However, I was in self-denial, and I delayed taking a test till the following Wednesday. By the time I got tested I felt like I was in hell,” said Dr Mlambo.
He described his wife as his biggest heroine as she stood by him throughout his Covid-19 ordeal, risking getting infected herself.
“The Newlands Seventh Day Adventist church, where I fellowship with my family, came through and offered support. The Adventist men prayed for me and held virtual sessions for support. The governor acted quickly and organised a doctor to attend to me. My biggest hero is my wife, Beatrice, who was there the whole time.
“She prepared all sorts of concoctions and herbal remedies, the lemons, ginger, umsuzwane tea and many others. I drank them all. I had to do whatever was possible to cling to life. I steamed often. My experience with Covid-19 is not something I would want on anyone, not even my worst enemy,” said Dr Mlambo.
“I was in a state of confusion. I didn’t know what was happening around me most of the time although I now do get flash backs of some of the moments. The Thursday before Heroes’ holiday totally doesn’t exist in my memory. I was not sleeping well throughout. This thing nearly took my life. My wife was getting very worried. However, God’s grace and a dedicated family made it possible for me to live and tell my story,” said Dr Mlambo.
He said his condition was worsened by an underlying illness which he, however, preferred not to disclose.
Dr Mlambo said he was isolated at home and only confined to the bedroom and the balcony.
“My wife had to temporarily move out of our bedroom and use a guest room while I was sick, although she was the one taking care of me day and night. There were four of us at home; myself, Beatrice and our two children Lwandile and Thandolwethu, a girl. Thando was most worried, you know how girls are about their fathers. She was really concerned and having to stay away from me was taking a toll on her. She called me daily and we spoke on the phone, even if she was in the house, she couldn’t come to my end,” said Dr Mlambo.
He said his wife decided that he better be treated at home as it was possible to self-isolate and distance himself from everyone else.
“I spent more than five days on a drip. On Friday, two drips were administered on me. I had breathing difficulties, I was breathing heavily but by grace, I never needed a ventilator. I had so many blankets and water bottles, they were almost burning my skin, but still I felt very cold. The slightest relief was when I was in contact with the bottles filled with very hot water. I would shiver.”
“The grace of God, my dedicated family and my praying church led by Pastor Moyo and the elders gave me hope. My family worldwide, koBulawayo especially, all came through for me and constantly checked on how I was doing. The bank also acted very quickly to assist me and I am most grateful to the Governor, my colleagues and the rest of the staff at the central bank. “
He said losing friends when he was fighting for his own life was a rude awakening on the fragility of life.
“What also made my encounter with Covid-19 hard is that the week I was very sick, we lost Norman Mataruka, my friend, and I also lost a very close friend Sibangilizwe Ndlovu who worked at the United Nations, both to Covid-19. It was devastating and it made me wonder about my own fate with the virus. It took a toll on my mental health, it hit me hard. Some cousins around the world also succumbed to the virus and the news would filter in as I was also fighting my battle. It didn’t make things any easier for me. In that situation, you also start seeing your own mortality, that it can be you next in line, anytime,” he said.
He said it was a miracle that none of his family members contracted the virus from him when he was sick, but said it was a combination of discipline and grace.
Dr Mlambo said his firm foundation on his Adventist faith gave him hope during the most trying times of his life, and re-affirmed that family support was an integral part of someone’s healing process as it had a bearing on one feeling purposeful and wanted.
“My Adventist faith helped a lot. I just told myself that when God’s time has not come yet, it has not yet come and when it is God’s time, you cannot run away from it. Support systems are the most critical elements of the healing process. Dr Mangudya, the bank staff, the family, the church, friends all played their role to help me deal with the battle,” said Dr Mlambo.
“I appreciated their kind messages, at that time I did not want to be told to be strong, I wanted people to understand my pain, and encourage me to leave it to God. I wanted to hear the kind of messages that did not minimise the pain, but understood the pain,” he added.
“I urge all people to take this pandemic seriously. Covid-19 is real. I myself had a nasty experience with it. Please, take all the necessary precautions to ensure your safety. Do not let your guard down, especially if you have pre-existing conditions. It is no walk in the park. Take all the precautions, rely on your faith, and family. You need those support systems.”
Dr Mlambo said he hopes sharing his experience with the virus will encourage other Zimbabweans to take the virus seriously and to heed the advice of health experts on how to conduct themselves.
He said he also hoped to contribute to ongoing efforts meant to do away with the stigma surrounding the virus.
“I encourage companies to allow people to continue working from home wherever possible, even if lockdown rules have been relaxed, health comes first. I thank the bank, especially the HR and the Governor for the precautions that they have put since then. People must work from home as much as possible. We have over 500 people at the bank, but our Covid-19 count is low,” said Dr Mlambo.