TESTIMONY: Overcoming the dreaded virus — David Melvill

David Melvill — glad to be home after a long battle in hospital after contracting Covid-19

The “cold wind” that blew into our lives

It doesn’t seem to happen often that people get off lightly from this deadly virus. I was the only one in my group that survived in Worcester hospital. It is therefore with much gratitude and thanksgiving that I look back.

It was time to celebrate my nephew’s wedding in Caledon. Family relationships were strengthened as my wife’s siblings and their spouses all spent time together in one house.

Our niece, who is a teacher, shared how the children in her class interpreted the word “Covid”, referring to it as a “koue wind 19.” We talked and joked about the “koue wind” never realising how this “cold wind” would affect us in the days and months to follow.

This “cold wind” blew into our lives with such a force and brought with it a storm.

It was hence that not long after the weekend that a sibling, who had not been well, shared with us that she had tested positive for Covid. We knew after hearing the news that we could be at risk too. In anticipation, we went into isolation.

On the way home to the farm in Montagu, we went via Stellenbosch where we met with friends, Marc and Viv Myburgh, where we acquired the necessary medicines (Ivermectin, vitamins, zinc, antibiotics, and cortisone). We also acquired a small oxygen producing machine, for our home recovery process.

So, when Elizma tested positive, we knew we would both have it. Sarah, our eldest daughter, kindly came to the farm to take care of us. She diligently nursed us and monitored our oxygen saturation levels.

Elizma made good progress and fully recovered. I did not. Unlike Elizma, I was overweight and nowhere near Elizma’s fitness levels.

Elizma put it like this, “Covid walked into our lives, unseen, secretively, like a thief in the night. One becomes aware of an enemy who has only one goal: to kill, steal, and destroy. It affects you physically, mentally and spiritually. It clings like a nit and uses your every cell to force its persona on it, multiplying itself and its evil intent.

Covid was always “over there,” for “them” or “not for us.” “One develops a superiority, a pride, a ‘better than thou’ attitude because you think you are exempt. Until it becomes “seen”, in your sore body, your sore eyes struck with partial blindness, in your sore throat, your sore just-about-everything, with the feeling of ants crawling over your lungs.”

Worcester Hospital
When my oxygen levels dropped below 85%, Sarah announced that I needed to go to the hospital.

The family hired an ambulance and sent me off to Worcester’s hospital. I was not keen to go as I have learnt very few seem to make it back.

Our son, Lemuel, kept me company, while Sarah sat upfront. My duration in the hospital was from, August 28 through to October 10 (43 days). The question kept arising, ‘Why should I survive when others were not making it?’. The doctors didn’t think I would make it either.

David, and Elizma by his side.

Doctors and nurses
The medical staff of Worcester hospital really impressed me. Dr Vercuil would visit me each morning as he made his rounds. He was young, yet very dedicated. In collaboration with Dr Pretorius, he worked very hard to establish the best steps to take towards my recovery.

There was a time when I would wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat and my sheets would be soaking wet. I discovered later the cause of this was pneumonia that I had contracted during my stay there.

Regular blood tests were done. They took X-rays and then finally an MRI scan of my lungs. These scans revealed the poor state in which my lungs were. A friend and a retired radiologist said that after studying the scan, he had never seen lungs in such a bad shape. It was a miracle that I had even survived.

The nursing staff were very caring and efficient. One, in particular, was Sister De Boer. She exuded empathy and was most caring. There was nothing it seemed that she could not do.

I realised quickly, that there are still nursing staff out there who are dedicated and don’t just see it as another job.

Gratitude
During my time in hospital my sister, Cathy very kindly created a group on WhatsApp to report my progress to everyone as well as to send out prayer requests. It was amazing to know how many people were interceding for me. I know the words were to ring true from James 5:16 which says: “… the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

Unfortunately, there is no visiting allowed during Covid. However, I was fortunate to have three visits in Worcester, one with Elizma and our youngest daughter, Leesha, who had flown down from Mpumalanga. Two days later, Sarah came to visit. Miraculously, they allowed another visit by Elizma.

Each time they brought me water from the farm, sourced from a spring in the mountain, as well as treats of fresh fruit, sweets and chocolate. There were also gifts that arrived by courier. All of this raised my spirits and strengthened me. As I had plenty to share with those around me it made a big difference to our morale.

Elizma wrote a lovely letter comparing the budding of the apricot trees on the farm, to my recovery from Covid. She also wrote a beautiful poem comparing me with the warrior, David of old. These writings encouraged me to “fight for her and the family.”

But how do you fight something as invisible and intangible as a virus?

Family video calls

Even so the family teamed up for a video call and this inspired me. To build my faith, I spent a lot of time on YouTube listening to spiritual messages – good Bible teachings by David Pawson and Derek Prince. Then at night time, I listened to uplifting praise and worship music.

Sunday mornings I tuned into our online church service. Pastor Hannes Ries and Rupert de Koning shared good messages from home, as well as getting the church behind me in prayer.

A good friend, Lanny Culverwell, shared her testimony with me. I listened to her message four times and tried to emulate what she had done. I held on to my faith proclamation of Psalm 118:17: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”

My gratefulness to the Lord was overflowing.

Do something!
Lying almost useless in my bed, merely enjoying the oxygen on “fast flow” (they can offer up to 100 litres per minute) is very satisfying. It does however mean you have a lot of time at your disposal. I started “counting my days.” I asked the Lord to remind me of all my unrepented sins. Not just for forgiveness in general but for specific sins.

The first part of James 5:16 says: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” I took this verse to heart and repented at leisure as I recalled the not so good ways I had lived my life. It was hard to do this search and not comforting as I owned up to my sinful ways. I also owned up to bad relationships that still needed to be sorted out.

Furthermore, I was challenged by what James says in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” The question was, ‘What have I ever done for widows and orphans?’.

When I could not sleep at night, I pondered on what I could do in Montagu. I am aware of the lovely old boarding house – Blue Mountain Lodge – it is a building in Long street that is part of a deceased estate. It is lying dormant. Could I put a syndicate together to purchase this building and renovate it so that it could become a safe haven for women and children?

There was once an orphanage in Montagu, where the present Jordaan flats are located. This was built after the Spanish flu of 1918 and run by the Salvation Army for many years. Eventually, the children grew up and the need for the home was no longer there.

‘How could we raise the investment capital?’ I wondered. Who would I approach? How could we make this a faith venture that would bring glory to God? I pondered this long into the night.

Is this what you do when your life is approaching the end? Do you start to wish you had made some lasting contribution to society?

The enemy’s attack
The small voice of the “enemy” would come to me and whisper: “Why should you recover and live? You do not deserve it, you are such a sinful man. You are just going to fall asleep one night and not wake up one day.”

The enemy would also remind me: “After all, you started the early home treatment with antibiotics and cortisone, but you never finished the course, your wife did and she is healed.”

As mentioned before, in addition to the Covid virus attack, I had acquired hospital pneumonia. So when my retired radiologist friend, Dr Ivan Kirk, commented on the photograph he said: “I too am totally amazed and of the opinion that your recovery is a miracle. I do not know how you survived. In my entire career, I have not seen an x-ray like this in a living patient. The God of second chances was at work in your case.”

An MRI scan of David’s lungs. Normal lungs appear black in a scan. A retired radiologist told David he had never seen lungs like this before

My angel’s visit
Early one morning while it was still dark, I had a visit from an angel in the form of a nursing sister. At first, I thought I must be hallucinating as I had been given some morphine during the night and this had caused me to have a weird experience in the middle of the night. However, this was different, as it was a very vivid encounter and she had a clear message.

The angel said three things: “You need to keep your faith in God, keep trusting him. God will heal you. You need to lie on your chest (proning) it is best for the recovery of your lungs.” I asked her for her name, she refused to tell me. She merely said she was from another section of the hospital.

Up to that stage I had only been lying on my sides and back. I had no strength and I was so weak that I could not get myself onto my chest. I needed to ask the nursing staff to turn me and come back in an hour’s time to turn me back.

My family had asked me to fight the virus, but how do you do that? This was my answer. So I committed to spending at least four hours on my chest each day. I would say to myself: “This is for you, my Love!”

My recovery
As the lungs start to recover or rejuvenate, one has to try to wean oneself from the oxygen. I had enjoyed the “luxury” of up to 100 litres per minute. Slowly they lowered the oxygen flow. Each day I would receive a very basic physiotherapy consultation as exercise was required.

There were days when I was too weak and I refused to spend my limited energy on it. I became despondent. I could not wash myself, I needed the nursing staff to wash me.

My recovery was so slow, I became impatient, yet I knew I had the keys to recovery and I needed to try harder, even when I did not feel like it.

After four weeks we finally got the oxygen dependency down to one litre per minute. In order to qualify to go home, I needed to be without oxygen for 24 hours. This was harder than I thought.

You can imagine my sadness when I was told there was a terrible road accident at Rawsonville of a head-on collision of two mini-taxi buses. Four were killed on impact and many needed to be admitted to the hospital. They had to make space and so said that I had to be sent to Montagu’s hospital. I was upset, I was so close to being released, but had not yet qualified.

Montagu’s hospital
Montagu’s hospital turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was reminded of Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to his purposes.” I received a warm welcome at Montagu’s hospital – I was pleasantly surprised. I sensed it was going to be like a “step down” facility.

Wendy Hoffman, a cleaner, came to welcome me too and asked if she could pray for me. Wow! This was so unexpected. Here was someone who had a humble role to play in the hospital, yet she was fulfilling perhaps one of the most important functions. Each night before going home, she would call at my bedside and pray for me and any others who wanted prayer. She was a big blessing indeed.

Sister Van Zyl, a senior staff member, was amazing. She was gracious, understanding and most helpful. I marvelled at her ability to encourage me and each and every other patient. Her mentoring and motivating role was of immense value – I witnessed this in a big way. Montagu’s success record in dealing with Covid patients is excellent.

However, because their oxygen machines could only produce up to 20 litres per minute, if a patient needed more, they would send them to Worcester’s hospital. Such was the case with my roommate, Daniel van Rooy, from Ashton. Still I am pleased to report that he has fully recovered and is now back at home.

The valuable role of physiotherapy
In Worcester’s hospital, there were many physiotherapists, most of them were busy with their community service year. They gave me basic exercises to help build my physical body. Since I had lost most of my muscle and fat (15 kilograms to be exact), I felt like a bag of bones. I could see that I was going to be doing these walking exercises for the long haul.

When I got to Montagu, there was only one physiotherapist, Rena Kriel. Rena, I called my “drill sergeant.” She was very experienced and knew just how hard to push me. I had hardly done any walking before this. She showed me what I could do.

Each day she would march me down the passageway, holding tightly onto me at the back of my garment. I would huff and puff, desperately gasping for breath. My heart would race and I could not wait to get back to my bed, where I would want to collapse.

At times, I began to think, I would never pass this “exam,” of walking down the passage with no assistance and no oxygen. This is one of the prerequisites before you can leave the hospital. I regularly needed to remind myself that the Lord is my strength!

Eventually, one day, I arrived back at my bed exhausted. Rena announced, “You made that journey with no assistance from any oxygen.” Unbeknownst to me, she had turned it off. She believed in me, and it was her confidence that got me believing in my own ability to do it.

Elizma allowed to visit David at the window.

Speeding up the process
How do you speed up the process? I don’t really know, all I know is that the desire to go home as soon as possible, was compelling. As no visitors are allowed, I was very pleased when the staff agreed to allow Elizma to come and visit me. Even if it was only through the window. The motivational role her visit played was immense.

Elizma bought me a book that she had finished reading, ‘The Happiest Man on Earth’. It is a story about a holocaust survivor in Auschwitz, Eddie Jaku. I was enthralled by it and read it in one day.

In one of his chapters, he says: “The human body is the greatest machine ever made, but it cannot run without the human spirit. We can live a few weeks without food, a few days without water, but we cannot live without hope, without faith in other human beings.” “Through friendship, cooperation, trust and hope, we can do life, even though difficult.”

Being discharged
On Sunday morning, October 10, a weekend duty doctor arrived at my bedside. He said, “Although we like patients to reach oxygen levels of 92%, before going home, I think your body has established a “new normal” of 85%.” He went on to say, “As you have access to oxygen at your home and a caretaker, I am happy to release you.” Wow! I jumped for joy!

David, Betty Nobel and Elizma.

This was the very best news I could get. I knew Elizma was soon due to start teaching, as the third term in Cape Town was commencing shortly. It was therefore imperative that I go home before she had to return.

Strengthening at home
Elizma had organised a caretaker, Betty Nobel, from Robertson for me. She first went to collect her before fetching me from the hospital. Elizma took the Monday off, the first day of the new term off to help me settle in.

Betty was a big blessing indeed. She managed my medication, washed and dressed me, cooked my meals and became my companion for the next three weeks.

Louise Brand, a physiotherapist, kindly made a trip to the farm, to show me which exercises I needed to do in order to strengthen the muscles for walking.

Throughout the process, Dr Charles Chouler, my GP, in Tokai, kept a keen interest and managed my progress. His support, love and care were invaluable. I look back with much gratitude and thanks that God chose to spare me. It is a miracle that I survived. I am so pleased that I believe in the God of second chances.

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17 Comments

  1. All glory be to God on high!

  2. Calvin Schmidt

    DAVE your trust in the Lord gave you strength to continue may your trust in Jesus christ continue

  3. Hugh George WETMORE

    Thank you, Dave, for your story in such detail. It is truly a remarkable story of God’s care and restoration. Also, to feel with you through your Covid experience is a powerful incentive for everyone to get vaccinated as the best human preventative – who would take the risk of dying from Covid when help is so readily available?

    • David Melvill

      This is a difficult one Hugh. I am not convinced that we have a vaccine that is safe. It is still in experimental mode and therefore we are uncertain of its long term consequences.

  4. Denise Mulder

    David I don’t know you personally but I do feel I know you well…having had the privilege of being on one if the prayer chains through your.journey.. which I think of as DAVID, GOD AND COVID

  5. Piet v/d Westhuizen

    Praise the Lord, David.
    Thanks for sharing your story and give God the glory.

    • David Melvill

      Thanks Piet – I have learned from you and how you bring glory to God through your ministry of Go-carts.

  6. Penny& John Gooch

    thank you Dave for your intimate story and struggle with covid. It was most informative and we trust will be an inspiration for others
    Who are in the recovery process. Lovely to have briefly met up in Montague again !! We ask that you all go from strength to STRENGHT , and Gloy to GLORY.
    Should you happen to see Dot again please give her a tender HUG from us and JESUS

    • David Melvill

      Thank you Penny for your very kind words. It was good meeting up again. You and John have been shining ambassadors for our Lord in the mission field. We will keep a look out for Dot. Hope to visit her shortly.

  7. Marie Schoeman

    Toe ek hoor dat David so siek is het ek sy naam op ons gebedsgroep gesit. Ek was dankbaar om te hoor hoe ernstig die paar mense vir David gebid het. Elke dag het ek terugvoer gekry van gebede, Skrif, en bemoedigende woorde vir hom. Stelselmatig het hy beter geword en getroue bidders het steeds gebid dat hy volkome sal herstel, en hy het! Soli Deo Gloria

    • David Melvill

      Baie dankie Marie vir jou en jou groep se getroue gebed, hoe kan ek vir julle bedank? Die Here het julle versoek vehoor en genesing vir my gegee! Soli Deo Gloria.

  8. Dearest Dave, man of Valour. With you, Elizma and the kids, those that love you and whose lives you have enriched in more ways you know.. I am blessed to be a friend over many years.. To have shared this journey with you.. For your prayers and encouragement through my darling Mike’s transition Home through Covid.. Our bouts of repeated Covid.. Thankful with you.. That we serve El Shaddai The ALL Sufficient One.. His Banner over us is Healing.. Here or There with Him.
    I continue to pray you to strengthen and your testimony of Hope goes before you to continue to seed HOPE. Bless you and your precious family. Martie

  9. Hugh George WETMORE

    Dear David – thanks for your reply. I’m sensitive to your hesitation, but for the sake of Others, everyone can see that your experience has proved that the ‘long-term consequences’ of NOT being vaccinated are serious, while it is a fact that very few vaccinated people have caught the Covid. My cardiologist told me it is safer to be vaccinated than to not be vaccinated. As our President said this evening – “we get vaccinated for the sake of Others, not only for our sake”. That coincides with John 15:12, and follows Jesus’ own example when He put our well-being over His own suffering. I pray that Christians will lead the way in loving Others by helping to reach 70% national immunity.

  10. Wow David… what a story and what a terrible time you had! Can really see God at work not only in your physical body but in your innermost being. We can only say to God be the glory! Welcome back!

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