I grew up privileged. All my life I was catered for, went to good schools and we were comfortable at home. We always had something to eat at meal times and my cupboard was full of my own clothes, toys and all of that. My parents loved me and always provided for me and my siblings. In high school I matriculated 5th in the grade, I had managing to attain A’s in all my subjects. I was told I had the whole world at my feet and I could do anything I wanted and would succeed. I believed that. I believed that I would go through life well and reach all my goals and dreams. So I pursued MBChB (medical degree) at the University of Cape Town. I was going to spend my life saving lives as I loved the idea of helping people.

1st year… done… 2nd year… done… 3rd year… done…

Everything was going well for me and I was getting closer and closer to my dream then TB got a hold of me. I could not believe it, parts of me still can’t believe that this is what has happened to me and this is who I am. I am one of the unfortunate students that got sick while working at the hospitals.

After diagnosis I was devastated, in my mind I wasn’t supposed to get TB. I had no idea of the tough times that would come. My nightmare had begun. Soon I had to start getting the terrible injections which made my days horrible because they would limit my movement, prevent me from sitting comfortably and make lying down a very painful task. I was in pain every day of my life and there was nothing I could do about it. Then there were the 21 pills I had swallow every day that made me feel so sick that doing anything after taking them was impossible. I felt dizzy, nauseas; I vomited many times and also had on-going diarrhoea for weeks on end.

The thing that hit me the hardest though was the sadness that swallowed me.

Everything so far in my life was good and all of a sudden I was living this nightmare. I thought it was so unfair that it had happened to me and not anyone else that I knew. I was still struggling to believe that it had happened to me. I started to feel very lonely and began to isolate myself. I would stay in my room all day thinking horrible things about myself, about other people and about the world. Soon it became hard to even be around anyone. I was at school so my parents were far away and they did not understand much about the TB that I have so not much support was offered from them. I am still unsure to this day why my parents were so distant (not just in kilometres) at a time I needed them the most. Not only distant but they pushed me to carry on with school instead of coming to me and making sure I was alright regularly. I felt as though God, my parents and my friends had turned against me.

In my low days I would stay in bed all day. I didn’t see any point to getting up; to tell the truth I didn’t see the point in even being alive. I didn’t get up; I didn’t shower or eat all day. A few friends would ask how I was doing but I would lie to them and tell them I was ok. There was only one friend I let in. Little did I know he would help carry me through. Life really wasn’t worth living to me and many times I came close to ending my life. That time was just very dark. I could see my life ending and I believed it. I could not see a future for myself, I could not see my life progressing beyond 2013. I had convinced myself that the world would be a better place without me and that no-one would mourn my death. I felt that life was just too hard to live because bad things always happen to good people. There was just too much pain, suffering and sadness in the world for my liking.

All the voices in my head were telling me to do it but one voice said, “No, I’m too afraid to do it and I don’t want to go to hell.” Another would say, “Don’t be a wuss!” This was a constant argument, day and night.

Then I began to think of all the people that loved me. If I took my life I would make them feel so much pain and I hated that. I don’t want to be the cause of anyone’s pain. I began to think of the people that I would like to see in future, see them grow, get families and make a life for themselves. I had no sight of my future but was interested in seeing theirs.


I was told by other people that have had MDR-TB in TB Proof that the depression was something that they struggled with too. So this was the treatment’s doing. Not the disease it was treating but the treatment itself.

MDR-TB almost took my life. The sadness that came as a result of it almost took my life.


Surprisingly there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am 14 months into my 18 month treatment so the end is near. I will be returning to medical school in 2015 to complete my degree. For 2014 I will be at home with my family while I complete my treatment. My career as a TB activist has begun and will thrive after treatment is over and I have become involved in the fight against occupational TB as well as TB as a whole in Africa. Even though the future appears dim I know that I have a future. I have learnt that nobody actually knows their future anyway, they just hope for the best. I did not expect any of this to happen to me. I have also learnt to trust God even when times are tough.

This experience has opened up my eyes to the suffering that patients endure. I am a patient now and know how I would like to be treated. I know the difficulties of being a patient and what can be improved when it comes to patient care. This will help me be a better doctor in the future as I will be sympathetic toward their struggle. The struggle with health is really close to the heart of the person fighting for their life. In this struggle it is very necessary for there to be adequate support from the health care staff, family and friends of the person who is ill. Hopefully I will inspire many other doctors to develop their patient care skills and will educate many people about the experience one has with TB.

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13 Responses to Is my life over… or has it just begun?

  1. After reading your last heart-wrenching post it is so good to read that you have persevered and are now near the end of your treatment. Your pain will bring good to others as you advocate (including for better infection control!) and finish your medical training with an inside knowledge of how hard it is to endure this treatment. Stay strong.

  2. After seeing a PBS special last night, I realized the TB suffering and resistant strains are man made from taking the drugs which are suppose to help. These drugs have serious side effects in addition to causing mutating strains. My inner voice from the heavens say to consume raw garlic clove three times a day with food, NAC, and DHEA. Diet should consist of green, green, green with rice, root vegetables,clean water, etc. all supporting the immune system. Healing prayers and unconditional love! God’s light.

  3. Hi Zolelwa,
    Thanks for being so open and honest. i am glad you have kept strong and even at your darkest moments you were brave. Your experience will help you to touch other lives. I hope you resolve your feelings about your family .regardless of what happens you have accomplished a lot of growing up on your own, i wish you the best.

  4. Hi, Zolelwa. Thank you for sharing your story. I am a 4th year medical student in the USA. During my 3rd year of medical school, I had an acute MI (aka Heart attack) while exercising. MI is treatable, but it left deep scar inside of me, both physically and mentally. I spent several days in the ICU. The disease almost took my life. It did take much out of my life. So, I may be able to understand partially about your situation. As you mentioned, being in the position of a seriously ill patient during the medical training, is essential to your future as a doctor. The experience is nothing you can imagine by studying the text book. Things do happen, so why not take full advantage of the experience? Believe me, it was not easy trying to think this way, but I am slowly accomplishing it. I am sure there will be bright future for both of us!!

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. I really admire your courage. It sounds like you will be a wonderful doctor – the world needs good people like you!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  7. Very touching story. Try to relate to your dark times as that they will make you much stronger. The year is soon over and so is your treatment, soon you’re back in sweet med-student life! Take care and get well! / Swedish med-student

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I am going through something similar and I feel at times that no one understands what I am experiencing. You are an inspiration. I hope God blesses you and your family as you look ahead to a bright future.

  9. Wow Zolelwa. Very moving. Thank you for sharing. Keep up the good work and get yourself cured! I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

  10. You are an inspiration, Zoe!
    Hang in there and keep going. Your story will help so many others to heal.

  11. just yesterdy an Xdr patient took her own life, it can be too much I know..and people out there have no idea what kind of crap we go through.

    you are just beggining, you having 1st hand experience on TB and being a doctor soon. Come on everything happans for a reason :)

  12. Zolelwa, thanks for sharing your story. Really moving. Good luck for 2014 and a full recovery!

  13. Zoe!!! Wow what a beautiful story. We take so much for granted in our lives and often don’t realize how blessed we truly are. I was so moved by your story, you are stronger than you know and you have an amazing future ahead. Stay strong sweety and keep believing in God. Mmwah xoxo

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