Aparamedic who recovered from Covid-19 is still battling its psychological scars, but she is grateful to be alive.
Celeste Wepener-Paulse, 35, has worked for the Western Cape Health Department’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for 13 years, but she says nothing prepared her for her struggle with Covid-19.
The Bridgetown woman had to put her advanced life support studies on hold this year when she was called back to work as the pandemic threatened our shores.
When she resumed work in April, she was assigned to what she and her colleagues call the “Covid ambulance”.
“Our duties included transporting Covid-19 positive patients, as well as investigating suspected Covid-19 positive cases. The latter involved doing home visits. This was still in the early days when the pandemic hit us, and we did not have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) then. I had to improvise.”
On Saturday May 30, Celeste was supposed to do a night shift, but the day before she felt “very ill” with flu-like symptoms. She called in sick, and by the Sunday her condition got worse, and she went for a Covid-19 test.
“I was worried because all I could think of was that I needed to get back on duty.”
On Monday June 1, her test came back positive, and she started to feel afraid.
For the first week, she treated herself at home, using a portable nebuliser to ease her tight chest, but by Sunday June 7 she needed to be hospitalised.
“I was stubborn. I did not want to go to hospital. I panicked, and I wondered if I would get out of hospital alive. I have two beautiful daughters, aged 4 and 6. I was overcome with fear.
“I was admitted to Vincent Pallotti Hospital with Covid pneumonia. I received excellent care there, and was discharged on Sunday June 14. I was also told to isolate for another 14 days.
“According to my husband, I came home with confusion. By Wednesday June 17, I was back at hospital for post Covid delirium. They thought there was something wrong with my brain.”
She spent another week in hospital and was discharged on Wednesday June 24.
“I was separated from my husband and children for nearly a month. My children were scared that I would not come home from hospital. Despite the sadness, I am just grateful to God that He pulled me through. I allowed my faith to overtake my fear. I am so grateful to everyone who assisted me during this time – from my family and friends, to my ministers at my church for all their prayers, to the nurses, doctors and professors.”
Celeste has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is getting help from a psychologist.
She says it’s important to stay positive when fighting the virus.
“You should not allow the virus to overwhelm you, as it could cause PTSD – especially so for front-line workers. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and although I am still dealing with my healing process, I believe I will get through this too.”