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Ms Moleleki on battle with Covid-19: I starred death in the face

Limpho Sello

THE deadly Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is no respecter of positions, power and influence in society. It is a disease that infects and affects the young, the old, the rich, the weak, male and female.

Here in Lesotho, 742 infections and 23 deaths have been recorded ever since the first case was reported on 13 May 2020.

There have only been 175 recoveries and among these are former Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki, his wife, Dr Thabelo Ramatlapeng and their daughter, Limpho Moleleki.

The Moleleki power couple should consider themselves very fortunate to have beat the disease.

Dr Ramatlapeng (also known as Malimpho Moleleki) opened up on her battle with the virus which saw her hospitalised at the Berea Hospital for Covid-19 patients on 18 July 2020. She was later joined at the institution by her husband and daughter who tested positive for Covid-19 on 22 July 2020 and were hospitalised that very day. Mr Moleleki elected to be hospitalised despite that he was asymptomatic (did not suffer from ill-health despite his positive status).

The trio recovered and were eventually discharged on 29 July 2020.

As Dr Ramatlapeng’s testimony shows, battling Covid-19 is no easy feat even if you are the Ministry of Health’s director for primary health care.

When you become a patient even your medical training to handle psychologically challenging and stressful illnesses is tested. It is difficult to practice what you would have preached to your patients on numerous occasions.

You become an ordinary, whimpering patient who is suddenly aware of her mortality and in the case of Dr Ramatlapeng, the one thing that keeps you going is prayer to an almighty divine power.

“I looked death in the eye,” Dr Ramatlapeng told the Sunday Express in an interview this week.

“Not being able to breath is one of the painful experiences one can endure. It sparks even more fear and panic. Not being able to breath was one of the reasons I imagined dying of Covid-19.

“The fear of death knocked at my doorstep. Although I was getting countless injections and other drugs, I thought I would not make it to the next day.

“I imagined the possibility of dying of Covid-19 but I eventually overcame the defeatist thoughts only because I am praying woman.

“I would not have done so without the support and prayers of my pastors from the Lesotho Evangelical Church in Southern Africa (LECSA).

“The spiritual guidance helped me to be where I am right now. Medication is very important but prayer from your pastors is key as well. Pastor Futho sent messages of hope through WhatsApp every day. There is not a single night I went to sleep without receiving a spiritual guidance message from him.

“In my entire life I have never got so much spiritual support. I realised that the medication and the nurses working at the hospital are just the helping hands while Jesus is doing all the work which includes giving the nurses wisdom to handle patients. I give the glory to God for my healing.”

The mother of three and grandmother of one repositions herself on her couch as the sun rays stream through the window of her Qoatsaneng home. She avoids talking about her daughter in the interview with this publication.

She may have recovered from the virus but the scars are etched on her body as reminder of the war she had to fight. She winces in pain as her movements affect the wounds from the countless injections she had to take as part of her treatment during her two week stay in hospital.

It all began with a light cough which she initially dismissed as something benign. But with each passing day, the cough persisted and developed into something that could no longer be ignored.

“I started coughing at the beginning of July and I initially took it lightly. I told myself it could be flu since we are in winter. I had not been in contact with any known Covid-19 patient or any known suspect and this is why I took it lightly. The cough continued for days and it worsened.

“I then learnt that some of my colleagues at the Ministry of Health had tested positive for Covid-19. It dawned on me that I could be one of those infected because I had attended a meeting with some of the people who later tested positive.

“My colleagues advised me to go for testing. They arranged for me to get tested at the Berea Hospital because it is less congested. I got tested and a week later, the results came back showing that I was Covid-19 positive,” Dr Ramatlapeng said.

She received the results while at home in Maseru. She was shocked. In the midst of that shock, her colleagues told her to prepare for a long, hard fight with the virus at the Berea Hospital.

“An ambulance came on 15 July 2020 to take to me to Berea. I got admitted at the hospital that very day.”

Her horrible experience at the centre is already well-known thanks to her sister, former Health Minister Mphu Ramatlapeng, who publicly deplored the poor conditions at the Berea hospital.

A fortnight ago, Dr Mphu, who served in the Pakalitha Mosisili government from 1998 to 2012, told the Lesotho Times that the facility lacked adequate equipment and facilities to help patients beat the deadly virus.

She said saw first-hand the poor state of the facility when she visited her sister, Dr Ramatlapeng, who was admitted there after testing positive for Covid-19.

She said the facility lacked a heating system as well as hot water and therefore patients had to endure very cold wintry conditions.

And for the first time after her recovery, Dr Ramatlapeng recounted her experience at the Berea Hospital.

“The ward was extremely cold. The blankets were not enough. I was feeling very cold. I could barely sleep. I thought my sickness was getting worse. I called home to inform them that I was not coping. It was around 10 to 11pm on the first night.

Ntate Monyane (Moleleki) had to drive to the hospital to bring me blankets and a heater. The environment was just not friendly at all. The cold was unbearable.

“After receiving the blankets and a heater, I warmed myself and things got much better. The place became more hospitable,” she said before quickly adding, “well, at least in the room that I occupied”.

She said her symptoms included serious breathing difficulties.

“It is very painful not being able to breath on your own. But this was not my only problem.

“Everything I ate tasted horrible. I would ask for different kinds of food thinking they would taste better but they were all the same. At one point I lost my appetite because I could not taste the foods.”

It was equally devastating for her to learn that her husband and leader of opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD) Mr Moleleki had also tested positive for Covid-19. However, his presence at the hospital soon turned into a blessing in disguise for her.

Ntate Monyane tested positive a week later. Although he was asymptomatic, he decided to get himself admitted. It was a blessing in disguise for me because he took over where nurses left off and nursed me back to good health.

“There were times when it was very difficult and some of the memories are now blurred. I am told that I used to take out the oxygen pipes from my mouth and this is not a good thing to do when you have shortness of breath.

Ntate Monyane’s presence was very helpful for my recovery because every time I attempted to unplug the oxygen tubes, he would be watching and he would instruct me to put them back on. He ensured that I adhered to the health professionals’ orders. It was not an easy journey but I got so much support from my family, my husband and my sister (Dr Mphu).

“At times they appeared aggressive towards me but they only meant well. When your loved one is not well you are bound to complain and question some of the issues you don’t understand. So, they had every right to voice out their concerns,” Dr Ramatlapeng said of her sister’s public criticism of the poor standards at the Berea hospital.

Her face suddenly contorts as if in serious pain. It is the painful for her that some of the patients escaped from the hospital because they could not stand the terrible conditions.

“Watching those things (patients running away) unfolding right before my eyes pained me. These are some of the things that need to be addressed urgently. We cannot continue to have people running from the beautiful hands of the staffers at the hospital,” Dr Ramatlapeng said.

Asked if her experience will galvanise the ministry to improve the conditions at the hospital, Dr Ramatlapeng said she was even more determined to ensure the hospital conditions were improved.

“I really have to make sure that the ministry implements its plans to improve the conditions. Patients must have access to quality health services irrespective of their status. The Berea hospital now needs to be at a level where its standards will allow every Mosotho to feel comfortable.

“I am more determined to fight the good fight by ensuring that the available resources are distributed to all hospitals, especially the Berea and Mafeteng hospitals. We should do our best to improve the quality of our services. We cannot drop the ball now.”

After her discharge on 29 July 2020, her body is starting to regain its former strength. She said she finally stepped out of her house on Thursday on some errands.

“I am regaining my strength every day. I hope to return to work soon enough. I feel quite fit because I am doing some exercises regularly as this is encouraged by the doctors,” she says.

The fight with the deadly virus has taught her to treasure life and to rely more on her church for the reassuring spiritual guidance which helped her recover.

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