Covid-19 long-hauler grateful for recovery

Sarawat Ajam and his wife, Fatima Ajam at Groote Schuur Hospital, before being sent to the Covid-19 ICU section.

When Sarawat Ajam emerged from an almost three-month-long coma in Groote Schuur Hospital’s ICU, he could only move his eyes, and he didn’t know where he was.

The 62-year-old from Mitchell’s Plain was diagnosed with Covid-19 on July 23 last year, the day he was admitted to Groote Schuur for what would prove to be a six-month-long stay. He was in ICU for half that time.

“It was a shocking experience for me because I have never in my life been hospitalised for any reason,” he says. “It was really scary to witness myself attached to all the pipes and wires running from under the blanket, not to mention the drips and feeding pipes.”

When he woke up, he found it hard to grasp that he couldn’t remember almost three months of his life. He was discharged in early December last year.

“The only thing I remember about the ventilator was the plastic unit in my throat to which I suppose the pipes were connected to. It was not an easy time being in ICU for so long. I am one of the lucky ones. Doctors still can’t believe I made it,” he says.

“My experience, like others, was nothing less than a surprise. Also the support given during my stay was absolutely phenomenal and I could certainly not have asked for better, particularly my family,” he says.

Professor Richard Van Zyl-Smit, one of the doctors who treated Mr Ajam in the ICU, says he’s one of Groote Schuur ICU’s longest staying patients.

“He challenged us at every turn – having severe Covid-19 on admission, which he thankfully survived, but then developing multiple complications simply from being in ICU for a prolonged period.”

Professor Van Zyl-Smit says Mr Ajam also became physically weak, which further delayed him getting off the ventilator.

“Mr Ajam is a testament to the whole ICU team that supported him but also to his own courage and determination to keep trying and working with the physios to get stronger, and to his family and friends who provided the additional external support to keep his spirits up. It is truly a remarkable story and one which we all hold onto in this devastating pandemic.”

Mr Ajam also has a special message for Covid deniers and conspiracy theorists: “I just want to tell everyone that Covid-19 is so real. We might have personal revelations, but believe me, it is real. I have lost relatives and friends to this deadly pandemic. Please adhere to all the precautions that are being advised by the state.”

Mr Ajam is still being helped with his recovery at the post Covid-19 clinic.

“My main problem currently is that I cannot walk properly yet, but with staff and family by my side, I will get to that. The clinic is useful, they show you how you have improved and encourage you to get better and live a normal life again.”