This Article is From Feb 22, 2022

Blog: I Didn't Think I'd Leave The ICU Alive

2022. Last year, I feared I wouldn't be witnessing it at all. But here I am. New year, a new life and a new belief that the worst is over. I am a Covid survivor - I think I can say that now.

After almost nine months, I still can't run. I spent almost four weeks in the ICU - one in Covid ICU and three in the general ICU. I have tachycardia. On many nights, I can't sleep because of unexplained muscular pain all over my body. I look normal while working but no one knows that when I sit straight for even 20 minutes, my neck feels like it could break and my spine seems to be on fire. I have to check my food intake as I am unable to digest everything. With a mask, my breathing is laboured. My lungs may not ever be back to what they were pre-Covid but I am more than grateful to be where I am today.

In June 2021, when I returned home from the hospital, I couldn't get off the bed on my own, I couldn't stand, I couldn't walk, was reduced to half my size, suddenly half-bald, had a steroid-induced buffalo hump, painful haemorrhoids, a fluctuating platelet count. Even my emotions weren't in my control - I would have tears running down my cheeks randomly. Back then, if someone had offered me the condition that I am in today, I would have jumped at the chance, because it's nothing short of a miracle though a slow one, mind you.

After two years of us readjusting in a Covid-struck world, there are still a huge number of people amongst us who just don't care. And there are some who tested positive in every wave and wear that Covid tag as a badge of honour because they were simply lucky enough to be either asymptomatic or mild. It is not only callous or careless to do so, but it's an irreverent approach to every single person who suffered and each family who lost their dear ones in this pandemic.

If you still feel whoever died or had a severe case was an 'exception' or an elderly with a co-morbidity, and you are healthy and strong with 'good immunity', allow me to narrate my experience.

It was April 2021, vaccinations were still not open for people under 40. I was a 36-year-old, healthy, 6'2" man with no co-morbidities and with an active lifestyle, following all Covid protocols. Then the second Covid wave broke through our doors. After I tested positive, I followed the advisories,took my zinc, vitamins, steam and all other medicines prescribed by doctors. I was a healthy, young, non-smoker. But even on day 7, my fever wasn't breaking. My oxygen, that I was repeatedly asked to monitor, was a normal 98-99. No other discomfort.

Then a chest CT scan showed viral pneumonia with a score of 11/25. Mild, said the doctor, started me on a mild steroid as had been prescribed that week itself in the advisory for moderate Covid patients. Nothing to panic, continue medication and home isolation, continue to monitor vitals, I was told. Oxygen was a strong 98. I was a bit alarmed but stayed calm.

Next morning, I coughed up some blood. A few medicines were added. At 10 that night, my oxygen levels dipped to 94 for the first time. Proning was followed, doctors were consulted, nothing to panic they said.

The next day was a Sunday. My oxygen level suddenly dipped to 87. I was lucky to get an oxygen cylinder in the nick of time to survive the night, but one thing was clear - it was time to panic. By the next morning, I was 85 spo2 with 12 L pressure. Completely dependent on oxygen, pneumonia progressing rapidly and damaging my lungs aggressively. My body had gone into a cytokine storm, something we or even the doctors were unaware of at that moment. I was in urgent need for an ICU bed and nothing was more impossible at the moment.

I was admitted to the general ward of a hospital with the help of my colleagues. They managed to get me shifted to the ICU of the hospital late at night.

I was on 18L Oxygen support without which my oxygen would dip to 55-60.

A swarm of doctors and nurses took over me and I was covered with tubes, my whole body was pierced with cannulas. I was hooked onto several machines and put on NIV (non-invasive ventilator machine) with hot air blowing into my lungs.

What followed was 25 days of ICU, with the first eight spent in the Covid ICU - a place most people were not making it out of. I remember being on a bed round the clock, in a daze of fluorescent lights, faceless saviours in PPE suits, hallucinations, wired to noisy machines which were my lifelines. I saw and heard fellow patients dying. I had no sense of time or day, hope or despair. I was alone. No family was allowed. I blocked myself mentally from all my surroundings because what I saw there wasn't going to keep me strong. I turned negative a week later and was moved out of COVID ICU to general ICU for the next 17 days. While the major battle was won, many minor battles were to follow, each one potentially fatal. There were many moments where I was on the brink of not surviving despite being Covid negative. One of those would have been written off as 'died of Covid complications'.

I remember two distinctive moments when it got difficult for me to convince myself that I would get through. Once, when I got to know I had developed Sepsis and then when I had a nasal bleed and my platelets were plummeting. was going into acute thrombocytopenia. Platelets were arranged for transfusion. Doctors were trying, but for them, too, it was a new disease, they were trying their best. My family and concerned colleagues stood by me each moment.

After almost four weeks of the ICU ordeal, I was back home and for the initial few months, the struggle continued. Covid had done its damage. Each day was a struggle. I spent almost four months on steroids and ever since have been deconditioning my body to get all my markers and clinical parameters back within the acceptable range. Nine months later, that hasn't happened but I have come a long way for sure.

So please wear a mask. Properly. Take care of yourself and your family. Take it from someone who after a rebirth after a nine-month ordeal is still struggling daily but is so grateful to be here.

(Shashank Singh is Senior Output Editor and Anchor, NDTV)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.