COVID-19 patients receive oxygen in a corridor at the University Hospital of the West Indies, last month. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
COVID-19 survivor relates her horrifying experience with dreaded virus

LAST month when the daily COVID-19 body count and cases spiralled and frightening images of overflowing hospital wards and patients bedding down on floors flooded the media, 36-year-old Jamaican, Elizabeth, who was isolated at home, watched with compassion from the edge of what she said was her own death's door experience.

She said two visits to the hospital during the “ordeal”, which saw her spending a night in a wheelchair on one of the outer corridors of the University Hospital of the West Indies and an entire day at Spanish Town Hospital surrounded by other coughing and equally miserable COVID-19 patients, gave her a bird's eye view of the hellish reality, even as she struggled to regain her health from home.

“I was hearing the news reports, I follow news networks. There were people close to me that were dying and I was getting the report. I saw what was happening worldwide. When I saw what was happening at the hospitals, I felt very sympathetic, I felt sad because I was there physically to see things happening. I was there to see people dying, I was there to see the nurses under pressure. I was there to hear people crying out for water. I heard people calling out, 'I am dying.' So when I saw the reports it brought back memories of where I had been,” she told the Jamaica Observer in an interview yesterday.

The young woman, who said for the past year and four months she has had to take biweekly COVID-19 tests due to her work environment, was aghast when during the week of August 8 she started experiencing symptoms of the virus which she initially mistook for the flu.

“The week before I started having symptoms, [and] the Tuesday I tested negative for COVID. Then on the holiday weekend (August 6) I started feeling ill, my throat felt very weird, I had headaches, cold sweats and by the following morning I could not move, pain was wracking my body. By Tuesday I couldn't walk, I was having a fever and I was coughing,” she recalled.

An antigen test confirmed her worst fears.

“I informed my employers and then got to my family and made them test immediately. They were negative, but on Thursday I started vomiting. By Friday I was coughing a lot, my chest felt like it was caving in and I wasn't keeping anything down so I was rushed to the University Hospital,” she said. After a night there being fed intravenously, she was sent home but only to end up at the Spanish Town hospital after she started having difficulty breathing. A chest X-ray showed an infected lung. She said she was given another set of medication and sent home.

That's when things took a turn for the worst.

“I got home but my breathing conditions got worse. Luckily I had a small cylinder with oxygen given to me by my company. I also had an oximeter and my heart rate was over 200, my oxygen level was going down. I was vomiting, I was gasping for air because my airways were blocked. I was blacking out,” she told the Observer.

“My nerves were affected by one of the medications. I couldn't hold anything in my hands, they were shaking. I had to be propped up on pillows. Every five minutes I had to ease up because mucus was coming up, it was blocking my windpipe. I was bringing up cups and cups of mucus...” she said.

The nights she said were the worst and most frightening.

“I couldn't sleep. I kept looking to see if it was daylight. When it became day my body functioned easier, but I was in excruciating pain. I felt like I was losing my hearing because my lymph nodes were swollen. Talking was painful, if I started speaking, I was gasping for breath and then I became too weak to speak. My sister would come and try to give me comfort and I would just cry,” the young woman said.

When that cylinder ran out, an oxygen-producing machine that was gifted to her family was her saving grace.

Now well on the road to recovery she gives credit and high praises to a vigilant family, caring friends, employers, co-workers, and two attentive doctors who supervised her care over the phone.

That road she said was littered with a line of medication of all sorts, as well as home remedies and warm beverages prepared by her mother. But prayer, she believes, was the real elixir.

“Prayer is very important. I had a lot of people praying for me in addition to the medication I got. People were really praying non-stop. This experience has taught me a lot in terms of looking out for other persons, even if you hear they have been diagnosed, don't take it lightly, call to check in, call a family member to see what you can do and at all times, vaccinated or unvaccinated, protect yourself. Sanitise, wear your masks and face shields, build your immune system. Help where you can, if you can financially help somebody, if you go to the supermarket to buy something extra, the nation has to come together as a family to help each other,” she said.

While the way how she contracted the virus remains “a mystery”, the young professional believes that she was partly to blame as she had allowed her preoccupation with her daily duties to affect her self-care.

“My immune system was down, I was just going non-stop. I was testing negative but wasn't putting anything in my system. I wasn't taking my vitamins and stuff,” she said, while urging people to ensure that they do not make the same error.

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

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