The Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Employee Wellness Programme and The Gender Forum EXCO hosted its third online webinar on self- care during COVID-19.
The DUT community was invited to be a part of the online conversation last Wednesday, 13 May 2020, with guest speaker: Dr Carmen James, an integrative medical doctor and health coach, who shared her story as a COVID-19 survivor, and her views on experiencing the virus from the perspective of a healthcare worker and as a patient.
The inspiring doctor gave an account of her harrowing experience of having contracted COVID-19, revealing to her online audience that before COVID-19 she was keen to give back to practice on a primary care level as there is a need to focus on disease prevention rather than so heavily on disease treatment.
She said that she was interested in the National Health Insurance (NHI) telling us (medical practitioners) on their roll-out plan and how they planned on bolstering the National Healthcare System. This prompted her to apply for work at the government clinic as a primary healthcare physician, and unfortunately, it so happened to coincide with COVID-19 entering into the country. She stressed that a couple of weeks later whilst working at the clinic, she found herself in a situation where she was testing patients that were positive for COVID-19, and in that exposure ended up contracting the virus.
“I decided to put myself into cautionary isolation on that Friday, I was not symptomatic at the time, I just wanted to be cautious. I ended up being in isolation in the weekend and on that Saturday evening I ended up feeling ill. My symptoms progressed in such a way that I was feeling very, very lethargic, tired, with severe body pain and severe pain in the throat, no appetite and just feeling dreadful,” she said. She further added that by Monday, she knew she needed to be tested for COVID-19 but did not feel strong enough to drive herself to get a test done.
“So what happened was a team was sent to my home to test me, and unfortunately it caused a little bit of upset in the apartment building where I lived. As you can imagine having health care professionals coming in with masks, and all PPE, was a little alarming for my neighbours. I got tested, results came back, I was COVID-19 positive and as a result, I ended up being in isolation for 19 days in total,” she stressed.
She further said that she had learnt a lot in that time and wanted to share with the DUT community the three lessons that she had learnt during that period. As she had a lot of time to reflect, she became very consumed with the history of the COVID-19 infection, even before she started working at the clinic.
“The time I had the infection I had a lot of knowledge on the infection and what was going on, and it was such a bizarre situation to be a physician and a healer when you are in a position, where you now on the other side and coming face to face with an infection that had the potential to have quite a serious outcome. So that is kind of what I wanted to open with, about the three lessons that I had learnt during my time recovering from COVID-19. Coming face to face with this infection brought this idea that our ‘health is our wealth’ really front and centre for me,” she said.
Dr James in her online presentation, also shared the latest statistics which outlines the 10 causes of deaths in South Africa. According to the Statistics South Africa, Morality and Causes of Death in South Africa Statistical Release Report, they are Tuberculosis, Diabetes, other forms of heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases, HIV, Hypertensive diseases, Influenza and pneumonia, other viral diseases, Ischaemic heart diseases and chronic lower respiratory diseases. “I want to share that what’s fascinating for me is that half of the diseases that I have listed is what we call non-communicable diseases. The diseases which do not spread from person to person. Which are also known as chronic diseases or diseases of lifestyles. We (South Africa) are now starting to mirror the United States in many ways Diabetes is our second leading killer in South Africa, and I believe in the USA it’s at number seven. We have overtaken them in some of our lifestyle diseases which is very concerning, and the reason why I pay attention to lifestyle and how we can modify and optimise our lifestyles is so that we don’t experience as much or severe chronic lifestyle diseases,” she said.
Dr James stressed that there was also a study which was published over 20 years ago or so which was titled: Actual Causes of Death In The United States. She said the cheeky outcome at the end of the study indicated that people were not dying from chronic diseases but rather people were dying from the lifestyle habits that cause these lifestyle diseases. She said that by the end of the study there were three overwhelming things that people were doing that were putting them at risk for 80 % of the chronic diseases in the USA.
“What it boiled down to was what we (people) were doing with our feet, what we were doing with our forks and what we were doing with our fingers. The study shows that people who are not physically active, who follow a poor diet that is deficient in fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and people who smoke are way more at risk for chronic diseases than the rest of the population, and if you change these three things, you can reduce your chances of getting chronic diseases up to 80%,” she said.
Dr James indicated that to optimise one’s health and prevent chronic disease, this was achievable by optimising one’s nutrition, “Eating well is a form of radical self-care. She said some principals she lives by are to eat the rainbow and not the fruit loops. We are not talking about artificially coloured foods but natural, colourful fruits because these are loaded with antioxidants, also eliminate sugar as far as possible. Just to remember that the food that you are eating today is producing the health or illness in years to come,” she said.
Dr James said the second component of ‘health is wealth’ is exercise. She said including more physical exercise throughout one’s day is very powerful, like taking the stairs instead of the lift or taking a call while walking around.
Dr Carmen also focused on the importance of sleep and trying to get a routine, avoiding screens two hours before bed, keeping a journal and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine.
She emphasised to also avoid toxins like alcohol, toxic people, social media and things that are causing toxicity. She also spoke on the importance of supplements, especially what she took during the time she had COVID-19, which was vitamin C to fight viral infection and vitamin D. In addition, she said to supplement with zinc to support one’s immune support system.
She also delved into the issue of one changing one’s mind-set. “With The fear and anxiety, it’s very easy to get sucked into that negativity. I made a concerted effort to focus on positive things. We need to adapt and modify ourselves, things are the way they are,” she said.
Her final lesson to her online audience was on stigma which in her opinion comes from a place of fear. She stressed that it’s all about perspectives and how people look at things. “I think the antidote for stigma is radical and love for all,” she said. Dr Carmen said that people should love, empower and heal, and that is her hope for everyone to stay safe during this time.
The DUT audience were also given the opportunity to ask questions pertaining to their fears regarding COVID-19, issues on chronic health and all in all, the DUT community audience said many of their COVID-19 related questions were answered, allaying some of their fears of anxiety and stress.
Dr Carmen James story started when she first became increasingly frustrated with prescribing more and more medication for her patients with lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. The dynamic Dr James is passionate about educating and empowering people to transform their mental, physical and emotional health and truly live their best lives.
Pictured: Dr Carmen James