The day before the WTS Grand Final in Lausanne, Switzerland, I began feeling somewhat uncomfortable with a dull headache and a sore throat, but I didn't think much of it.
I woke up the next day with a throbbing headache. I even took paracetamol which I would never usually do before a race. I felt flat all day, and it just got worse as my race progressed. Being in one of the best shapes of my life, I produced an appalling result. Afterwards, I could barely breathe or talk, and I was extremely pale.
My team and I were left scratching our heads in disbelief, as there was no reason for me to have a bad performance. My buildup was perfect. With a lot of disappointment from racing, I had something else to look forward to... Celebrating my wife's birthday two days later in Lausanne.
We had so much planned - to sightsee and explore the city and its surroundings. However, I just didn't seem to recover, and my pulsing headache and extreme fatigue never went away. I would take paracetamol to help with the pain, but as soon as it wore off, the headache would come right back. The four days we got to spend in Lausanne were pretty terrible and miserable even though I tried my hardest to have the energy to explore and give Franzel the time of her life. It was very difficult for me to be upbeat and excited to explore as I felt horrible, and I could see it upset Franzel.
After noticing my temperature was elevated the day we were flying back to South Africa, I called my doctor at home for his advice, which was to see a doctor in Lausanne but we were already on our way to the airport. I ended up seeing the airport's medical staff, but they could barely speak English. They checked my blood pressure and offered paracetamol, so that didn't help. We decided to get home as soon as possible.
I saw my doctor as soon as I got home and he advised resting while we were awaiting blood test results. We also discussed the possibility of picking up a bug during the Tokyo Test Event but concluded that the incubation period was too long as it had already been three weeks. While trying to rule out all the serious illnesses like meningitis, I continued having a high temperature, blinding headaches, slow reactions, and a stiff/sore neck for almost a week. I woke up one night with cold shivers, severe temperature and felt nauseous. The latter is what made me go to the hospital at 2 am with fears of meningitis.
The doctor on duty couldn't really say what was wrong or causing my illness. They ran some blood tests which came back normal except my iron was concerningly low. They decided to admit me to do further tests and to get a diagnosis for my symptoms.
I spent three nights in the hospital on two different types of strong antibiotics and morphine to help with the fever and pains. I was prescribed Tamiflu, which led to one of the worst nights of my life. I endured the most excruciating pain in my abdomen, and it felt like I was going to pass out from the pain.
During this time, one of the doctors attending to me was really helpful and wanted to find a diagnosis. I had a CT scan done, and more blood tests were taken, which found my liver and spleen to be enlarged and extremely inflamed. The ALT & AST counts were in the 1000's, where a normal range is between 0 and 50.
Further testing was done, and a result came back positive for Coronavirus. At that time, there was not a lot of information available about this kind of virus, other than that it originated in the Middle East. I was told that it was nothing to worry about and that I probably picked it up during my travels through Dubai. My liver and spleen, however, were quite alarming.
During the next couple of weeks, fourteen of the best doctors in South Africa were working together with the Tokyo LOC medical team and doctors from various countries to figure out my diagnosis as it became a case study. There has never been a case like mine before.
Meanwhile, after being discharged and off the drips and medicine, all my symptoms returned almost instantly. Headache, fever, stiff neck and extreme fatigue. I was instructed to rest until my liver healed and was required to do blood tests every third day until my ALT & AST counts returned to normal. Two weeks after I was hospitalised, the headaches and fever started going away. However, I was still struggling with fatigue and exhaustion, and my liver and spleen were still enlarged and severely inflamed. After about four weeks, my results started improving, and I was feeling better.
It was easily one of the toughest times of my life. It took me quite a while to get back to my full energy levels once I was given the all-clear. Looking back at where we are now in this pandemic, I was wondering about the test that came back for Coronavirus back in September. It turns out there are different strains, and I had a Middle Eastern strain called MERS-CoV, which has a very high mortality rate.
It's scary what a virus can do. For me, as a healthy and fit athlete, it got the best of me. Sometimes we can be vulnerable to viral infections because we are pushing our bodies to the limit on a daily basis. We need to keep our immune systems strong during this time and not over train right now. There will be plenty of time to train properly before we compete again.