17 August 2022

Durban health worker Zuleikha Ismail went through an emotional rollercoaster when she lost her husband through Covid. She and two adult children, who also tested positive, managed to fight off the infections. Here is her story.

I married my dear husband, Farouk Ismail, 35 years ago. Being married to someone who was my senior, was such a blessing. He was my sounding board whenever I needed clarity, and his patience, wisdom and understanding, always gave me a different perspective.

We have 2 children, Tasneem (teacher) and Muhammad Zain (Masters Economics Student). Farouk preferred to parent with patience and spoil his kids, while I was the disciplinarian. Spending time with his family gave him the most joy. I chose to be a housewife first. To bring up my kids, be mom’s taxi to school and madressa and when the kids were independent, I focused on my studies.

Farouk was an Educator for 43 years. He began his career at Crescentridge Primary School in Chatsworth.

He eventually retired there as Principal, like his father before him, Mr M.A. Ismail (who was first Principal of Orient).

So many students have passed through his hands, many of them now professionals themselves.

During retirement, he decided to focus on his long time passions. He was very artistic, with Islamic Calligraphy, being his long time passion. He even took to doing woodcarvings of Islamic Calligraphy. But, what gave him the most joy was focusing on religion. He had always wanted to research Hadith, hoping to compile a book one day. He was very instrumental in doing the artwork for a book that his dad compiled many years ago, called Islamic History, First Edition – 1986. This book is still in use in madressas today. He was also a LOVER OF ZIKR. Everyone remembers him for that. I know that people will miss his voice the most. When he retired, he just felt that it was natural for us to reverse roles. He was an EXCELLENT cook. I was very lucky to come home to delicious dinners after work, and we would cook together on weekends.

As my partner in life, he was my most ardent supporter. When I was studying to become an Allied Health Professional, one of my lectures was at night. He would take me to college and wait 5 hours until my lectures finished. That support and motivation, continued throughout, while I furthered my qualifications to becoming a Doula and Childbirth Educator. If I came home from my practice and suddenly got a call to assist a mum in labour, he would say: “shower, read salaah, eat and take a Berroca, because you don’t know how long before this baby comes!” I have received the same support in the 2 years that I have been on Cii Radio.

From March 2020, when Lockdown started, he knew how concerned I was about being an essential service provider. Although all protocols were followed, I was informed in June 2020 that I had been exposed and immediately isolated. I even opted to do more antenatal preparation with my patients and virtually assist them while in labour at the hospital. I went to work every day with the fear that I could inadvertently expose my family to the virus. Towards the end of Dec 2020, when I got the call to say that my patient had tested positive, my husband was battling with a severe bout of Diarrhoea, as he suffered from IBS. The extremely hot weather in the last week of Dec, is probably what triggered his tummy discomfort. His doctor was giving him antibiotic injections.

We tested for Covid on the 4 Jan 2021. We got our results on the morning of 5 Jan 2021. I told my doctor that I was concerned, because my husband had a fever the night before, and he was dehydrated from his recent bout of diarrhoea.

Based on the fact that his sat were sitting in the 90s as well, a decision was taken to hospitalise him, as a precautionary measure, because he had also had a bypass in 2008. He was never on a ventilator, only on oxygen. I was allowed to visit him twice in hospital. Donning the PPEs and walking to his ward was a struggle, because I was weak from lack of oxygen and the regular blood tests you undergo when you are Covid positive .

He had improved tremendously by Friday 8 January 2021. On Saturday 9 January 2021, the doctor told him that, he just needed 3 more IV antibiotics and then he would be discharged. He was so excited, that he called me around 20 times that day. The same night we spoke until 12.30am. I reminded him to read Surah Inshirah before he slept and he told me that he would call at 5am, as usual.

On Sunday morning the 10 January 2021,my phone rang at 4h40am. The nurse said: “Mrs Ismail, you have to come to the hospital right now, please Mam. I asked, ‘WHY?’ She said, because ‘Mr Ismail has just passed on!!’

She had gone to help him to wash at 3.30am, as he was always awake for Fajr. Someone called for assistance, she told him she would be back, and he acknowledged with a “thumbs up” sign. When the nurse went back to my husband at 4h40am, she thought he had dozed off to sleep while waiting for her. He was UNRESPONSIVE.

When they saw him at the hospital, my children were comforted by the peaceful look on their father’s face. The NOOR was unmistakeable.

As my son and I were still positive, we came home after the funeral, back to isolation. My daughter tested positive the next day, and we were told that SHE had to isolate from US because it might be another strain of Covid.

It was only the three of us, sick with Covid, mourning the loss of my husband, and my daughter alone in her room. The next 2 weeks that followed was a blur of nebulizing, sticking to medication schedules, oxygen concentrators and changing linen at 3am after raging fevers. Combined with the fact that we had to have around 6 vials each, of blood drawn, every 3 days, to see how our bodies were responding to the medication.

The nights were the hardest. We felt more isolated. During the day, you could look through the window and hear the sound of traffic and birds chirping. At night, everything is different. We got a lot of comfort from reading our Quraan, Yaseen and Tasbeehs – whatever my children could manage, while they were battling with this dreadful virus.

The high doses of steroids prevented them from sleeping. I remember us getting about 4 hours of sleep, collectively, in 6 days. During this time, I could only grieve after Fajr, when my kids had passed out from exhaustion.

I’m so grateful to my in-laws during this time. We live on the same property. They provided us with hot meals every day and did our shopping, and family members called throughout the day to check up on us. My parents can’t wait to hug us. At 79 and 84years of age, they have never had a situation like this. When someone dies, people gather to give comfort to the bereaved. They sit and read together, and you may even get a relative staying over. It fills that void, especially at night.

But this has been so different. Being in isolation, makes the loneliness more TANGIBLE. My children and I have had to draw comfort and strength from each other. This Pandemic has robbed us of so much. But it has also shown us that we have Imaan to guide us. We draw comfort from the fact that Allah chose to give my husband the status of a Shaheed, Alhumdulillah. So when I get a lump in my throat, or that familiar pain in my chest, like a knife twisting in my heart, I have to remind myself of this.

We are very fortunate to have JEWELS in our society. Women who have been through loss themselves, started a WhatsApp group for widows called “Friends Healing Hearts “. This group was started by Sister Amina Jamal, and it was overwhelming that at inception, within 48 hours, 79 widows had joined.

We also have women in the community, who are preparing meals and dropping off widows and families or for people who are sick and isolating. Apa Aneesa Motala is one of them and Fazila Mitha, who started the organisation called “Alms for Humanity”, is another.

May Allah be pleased with them for the sterling work that they are doing.

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