"Some of us who work in health care don't think we'll ever be on the "other" side, being someone who has a major illness." ©Skye Grove

My TB was resistant to all six drugs I was taking

Josina’s story

My name is Josina, and I am a registered nurse.

I also have diabetes. As the head of my home, a single mom with two teenagers, and my mom’s only source of support, my family and work were my top responsibilities. It’s funny to me now that I didn’t take better care of myself even though I work in healthcare.

I had a cough in July 2017 but didn’t think much about it. After two weeks, I went to see my doctor and was given cold medicine. I began to lose weight and got a cough that wouldn’t go away. I had night sweats all the time after a month, and my cough was getting worse. In three weeks, I got two sets of medicines.

When I saw my doctor again at the end of September 2017, he asked for a chest X-ray. He didn’t see the sores on my lungs, which are a sign of TB; he thought I just had asthma. Even after getting several drugs, they didn’t work. I was hot and tired, and my fever was going up. I also lost my hunger. I want to spend the whole day in bed. In the end, I was checked for tuberculosis near the end of November 2017 and told I had it. This news shocked me.

From January to June 2018, I took medicine for TB. I continued to lose more weight and started throwing up blood. I had to go to the hospital four times because I coughed up blood. I even had a blood transfusion.

Despite the treatment, things were not improving, so in June 2018, phlegm samples were taken and examined. During the wait for the results, I was taken off of medicine. By late August, the results came back and showed that my TB was resistant to all six drugs I was taking. I began a whole new course of treatment in September 2018 that included nine pills and two shots every day. Because they are used to treat bacteria that are immune to first-line drugs, these drugs are more hazardous than the first-line drugs. For this new plan to work, I would have to follow it for 18 to 24 months. After two months of the new treatment, tests showed that the medicine was helping.

I felt like giving up a few times, but the nurses at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg always pushed me to keep going with my treatment.

The last part of my treatment was over on the 1st of November, 2018. The worst side effects were abdomen pain, feeling nauseous and throwing up, and skin inflammation. I’m glad I’m finally better and still living.

Some of us who work in health care don’t think we’ll ever be on the “other” side, being someone who has a major illness. We see ourselves as the ones treating and taking care of people. We need to learn how to take better care of ourselves. We must also pay more attention to diseases and illnesses and put them ahead of other things in our lives.

On some days, I was ready to give up instead of going through treatment. While I had TB, I lost a lot of things. I didn’t make any money for a year and a half months. I never felt alone, though, because my family, friends, coworkers, and the staff at Helen Joseph were always there for me. My children gave me the strength to get through the long and painful process.

I want to get the message across that tuberculosis is a dangerous illness that can be cured if diagnosed early and treated properly. Taking care of your health is very important so that a disease doesn’t get out of hand. I take care of myself now. I have good control over my diabetes; I eat correctly, take my medicine as prescribed, rest, and don’t take my health for granted. I would not have been able to get better without the staff at Helen Joseph Hospital.

Marking World TB Day 2024 in South Africa

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) data, an estimated 55,000 individuals in South Africa died from tuberculosis (TB) in 2023, while around 280,000 were infected with the disease. The results show that South Africa is fulfilling its objectives of lowering TB cases but not reducing TB fatalities.