You usually don’t know you’re about to die until it’s too late. In my case, I didn’t have a clue, I just didn’t wake up.
I was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday, January 26, 2022, after going to the doctor for what I thought was a sinus infection. I was in the middle of messaging a childhood friend when the unusually chipper Russian accented doctor returned and told me my diagnosis. Is she over-caffeinated or is she always this cheerful when telling someone they have COVID-19?
I called my husband so he could let his supervisors know and picked up the kids from school who would now have to be quarantined with me. Later that afternoon I picked up my prescriptions I had prepaid for from the pharmacy drive thru and returned home suddenly feeling worse. After coming home, looking back, I realize this is where things start getting hazy.
I made it through the weekend and that Monday felt better and thought I had turned the corner. There was a winter storm forecasted for our area so I went online and did orders and then had my husband drive us around to do pickups. When we returned home I was exhausted again and went upstairs to nap. I drank and ate less and started running fevers sometime during that week, but was still reassuring my husband that I was okay.
My husband found me in the bed on Friday, February 4, gasping to breathe. He called two of my friends to come help him get me out of the bed so he could take me to the hospital and to watch the boys. I fought against being made to get up, against going to the hospital, against getting dressed. I remember none of it. One friend looked at my hands saw that my fingers were turning blue from lack of oxygen and told my husband to call 911, they didn’t have time to fight me.
Base paramedics, fire department, and security forces all came to our home and my friend told them not to use the sirens because of two of our sons being autistic and she didn’t want the boys scared or their attention called to what was happening. Local paramedics got to the house and my oxygen level was around 30%, they got it to 40%, but it dropped right back down and they intubated me before ever getting me into the ambulance. I was still responsive when they left the house amidst the snow and ice outside, but by the time we arrived at the ER I was no longer responsive and they had cut my clothes off when my husband was able to see me again.
I was immediately put on the ventilator. I was in the ICU for two weeks and proned to help my lungs recover. After being on the ventilator for two weeks my husband had to make the decision of whether or not for me to have a tracheostomy. Once I was stable and no longer being proned I was transferred across town to a different hospital to their acute care ward. I fought off fevers, ventilator induced pneumonia, and MRSA. I began waking for snatches of time as I clawed my way to the surface from the medicinal fog of multiple sedatives as they lowered my dosages. I remember trying to talk and not being able to, mittens on my hands so I couldn’t pull at my trach tube and IV lines, someone getting mad at me for taking off the hated scratchy brown mittens, and some kind of boots they put on my feet that annoyed me so much that I kicked until I got them off.
I was in and out for a couple of weeks and didn’t remember visits from friends or even my boys’ school nurse who I had conversations with, physical therapy sessions, or even when my trach was capped and I was able to speak again for the first time. It was about March 23rd when I awoke and finally started being able to stay awake for longer periods of time and remember things from one time to the next.
I was very confused and disoriented when I first woke up for good because I had dreamed so vividly during this time I wasn’t sure what was dream and what was reality. This was made even more confusing because I had been able to hear the doctors and nurses talking to my husband at times and had woven things they said into my new dream world. Most of the time my dreams were horrible nightmares about being dead or trying to escape death for one reason or another and get back to my family. Some were outrageously crazy and at the same time utterly terrifying as I couldn’t escape what I had conjured inside my mind. Others I still enjoy remembering fragments of but as time has passed they have finally started to fade. Some of the dreams I added things to that I heard in the real world around me such as I knew that I had a breathing issue, there was something wrong with my leg, and because everyone was shocked I still haven’t figured out how I knew something was wasn’t right with my hair.
Knowing beforehand, however I managed to retain the information, made it easier to accept my new reality. A small fan was added to my room to keep me from getting too warm because every time I did I had horrible coughing fits and then would spiral into a panic attack because I couldn’t catch my breath. I cried at the indignity I felt at having to use a diaper because I could no longer walk after being in bed unmoving for nearly two months. Strength being gone from my legs was not the only reason I couldn’t stand and walk I also had a condition called Drop Foot which doesn’t allow me to bring my foot up into its normal position and I had nerve damage in my legs and feet.
We weren’t sure at first what happened to my hair because while I was first there the nurses were doing basic care things such as bathing me and brushing my hair. My husband came in one day and saw someone had taken the time to braid my hair in small braids in an intricate design. So when he came in another time and saw my hair tucked behind my head he thought nothing of it because they had been taking care of me. Somehow my hair was in knots all around my head all the way down to my scalp.
COVID-19 had not done me any favors and left me with plenty of parting gifts. ***********************************
Because of the length of my COVID-19 journey you’ll have to wait for the next in the series: In Sickness And In Health Part II: Recovery