Jeddah: It was 8 am on May 19 when I woke up, I realised that I could not even get out of my bed, with unbearable pain shooting through my entire body. Totally clueless about what was happening to me, and alarmed by the sudden development, I called up a colleague to drive me to a nearby hospital to consult my personal physician. One look at me and he advised that I should immediately go to one of the leading corporate hospitals that had Coronavirus testing facility. Since there were no apparent signs of corona symptoms, I was shocked by his advice and even resisted going for the test. My colleague, however, pursuaded me and drove me down to a leading hospital in Jeddah where they refused to conduct the test citing shortage of beds. We then went to another leading hospital for the test.
The following day, on May 20, I received a call from the hospital informing me that I had tested positive for COVID-19 and asked me to come immediately for admission and treatment. After two days, I was shifted to the ICU where doctors told me: “You are going to be put on ventilator for the body and lungs to relax, and you will off the ventilator in three days.”
Those were the last words I remember hearing.
I regained consciousness, or rather came out of constant sedation on June 20. I was delirious, I could not move my limbs and only my eyes moved, and to my dismay, my first sight was that of a nurse changing my diaper. One of the first things I wanted was to speak with my family back home in Jagitial district in Telangana State. The doctors at the hospital put through a video call, but before that, they counselled my family – wife, a son and two daughters – so that they would be prepared to see me in a situation that none would want to – lying in a hospital bed with tubes jutting out. I had also lost 27 kgs during that period, and my muscle mass had wasted away.
I have tried to piece together the happenings during the 30 days I was unconscious, partly through my subconscious memory and partly from what I was told by doctors, nurses, friends and well-wishers. I have no doubt that I escaped from the jaws of death only on two counts – the committment and dedication of the doctors and nurses to bring me out and the prayers of my family and well-wishers, some of whom I have not even met. I was told later that some people from my village broke 101 coconuts at the Kondagutta temple in Karimnagar district while others prayed in mosques. In Saudi too, people cutting across religions prayed for my recovery.
At the time of admission into the hospital, my oxygen saturation level was alarmingly low and I was not responding to treatment. Shifting me to the ICU itself was apparently a major task not only because of my condition but also because I carried a full load of the virus, thus posing a threat to other vulnerable persons including patients. The hospital authorities took the risk and shifted me to the ICU with manual resuscitator support in a different building of same complex where I was hooked on to a ventilator. At one stage, medics believed that I would die on the way to the ICU.
I came to know that during the semi-comatose condition I was in, the only person I responded to was a nurse in the ICU, who happened to be a Telugu woman, Laura, hailing from Tirupati. She spoke with me in Telugu, but I did not utter a word nor did I respond to any doctor. I suffered from severe delirium that I was later told occur due to abrupt changes in the brain that cause mental confusion and emotional disruption due to sedation in the ICU. I had dreams or hallucinations ranging from World War II to reuniting with my family.
Even after I was weaned off the ventilator and shifted to a room, I remained unconscious for a few days. I don’t remember much except one voice that became familiar to me as I kept hearing the same voice every morning, that kind of worked as a morning alarm for me. This was the voice of Dr Farhat Nazneen, a younger doctor hailing from Hyderabad, who treated during the post ventilator convalescence period. She was a bundle of humanity, stood by me when I tried to get up, caught and steadied me when I felt dizzy in the initial days. But for these doctors and nurses, I wouldn’t have been alive today.
Even at the time of discharge, I had difficulty in completing a sentence, I would be short of breath. The doctors told me that the focus should now be on increasing lung capacity, muscle mass and breathing exercise. My employer treated me like family, and employed a nurse and two attenders to look after me. I am also thankful to the Saudi government that bore the entire cost of my treatment in a private hospital.
And now, I am on the path of recovery. Whenever I meet the nurses at the hospital, it is emotional. Some of them who were at the ICU would ask: “Isn’t this the critical patient in bed number 9?”
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