Zululand Observer - Weekender
Surviving the journey to hell and back
THE treatment is worse than the disease.
This is a phrase all TB sufferers know only too well, and an experience that Mtubatuba resident Chyrese Coetser endured twice in three years.
Having contracted TB in 2013 and fully recovered after spending nine months in hospital, Chyrese became suspicious of any chest infection that lasted more than three weeks, and would visit her specialist in such cases.
In August 2016, a month that will forever stick in her mind as having changed the entire course of her life, Chyrese was admitted to hospital for an irritable, persistent cough.
Three days and countless tests later, Chyrese thought she was on her way to being discharged.
But the news she instead received brought her world crashing down around her.
‘A sputum GenXpert test revealed a positive result for MDR TB.
‘My doctor came in and explained the treatment regime, which included daily injections for at least six months and about 20 tablets every day for at least 18 months.
‘As a final blow, we were informed that only 40% of MDR TB patients survive the treatment.
‘Having two small children at home, I knew this journey was going to be a marathon and not a sprint to the finish.’
Within minutes of starting treatment, Chyrese experienced intense nausea and vomiting which would last for weeks.
After spending three days in isolation, she was discharged from hospital with enough medication to last a month – at a cost of R10 000 – and precious little information on how or where to collect medicines.
And so Chyrese’s treatment journey, which would last two years and send her to hell and back, began.
‘Within three weeks of starting treatment, the excessive vomiting had stripped the lining of my oesophagus, I was barely lucid, my short-term memory had all but disappeared and I had lost about 20kg.
‘My first visit to Catherine Booth Hospital in Amatikulu was an eyeopener.
‘I was met with the most amazing caring nurses you can ever wish to deal with.’
It soon became clear that Chyrese’s GenXpert test was a false positive, having reacted to her previous TB infection.
While many would think this would be good news, for Chyrese it came as another blow as she would have to complete the 18 months’ treatment regardless, owing to the high risk area in which she lives and the probability of becoming resistant to the drugs if she were to stop treatment.
‘If then infected, I would probably contract XDR TB which could be a death sentence.
‘Throughout this process, Dr Ruben Naicker was my saving grace.
‘He went above and beyond, checking up on me daily and administering my injections, which were as thick as syrup and felt like mercury going into my body during the first month.’
As Chyrese spent the following weeks in and out of hospital for the side effects of the drugs, she started writing farewell letters to her husband and young daughters.
‘I remember writing down everything my husband may need, including policy numbers, my last wishes and how I would like my funeral to be conducted. ‘Thankfully he never had to see it.’ Over the following six months of injections, Chyrese lost her hair, her skin became so thin that it would tear, she partially lost hearing in one ear and the vomiting did not stop.
‘It felt like spiders were crawling under my skin and I had a persistent jerk to my body.’
As Chyrese battled the side effects of her treatment, she could not be the mother her children needed nor the wife her husband deserved.
‘Nevertheless, my husband was my rock, his love for me never wavered, it only strengthened our bond.
‘Now 22 years together, we are unbreakable.’
Despite everything, Chyrese returned to work two months into her treatment and managed to finish her reign as Mrs Zululand.
Now, having finished treatment and almost four years since the start of her ordeal, Chrese says she does not recognise the person she was before.
‘Today I am stronger than I ever thought possible, surrounded by a family who values life and its frailty.’
Chyrese has joined a community of TB activists – TB Proof – who continue to inspire through their work.
Within three weeks of starting treatment, the excessive vomiting had stripped the lining of my oesophagus, I was barely lucid, my short-term memory had all but disappeared and I had lost about 20kg