I wasn’t living an exceptional life; I simply existed and performed my duties. My post COVID life might still be unexceptional, but I will sprinkle it with more love and tenderness as I perform my duties.COVID survivor featured in this story.
Disclaimer: All names and locations have been omitted to ensure anonymity, maintain confidentiality and protect identity.
I woke up surrounded by whiteness, sterile smells and beeping sounds. The bed felt unfamiliar. The lights were too bright. The curtains too white for my tastes. I thought I was dreaming so I willed myself to wake up. But then I heard a voice, “good morning sunshine, nice to see you! How are you feeling?”
I looked at the person speaking to me: the only identifier was her voice – female. She was dressed in cucumber green scrubs, a surgical facemask, a face visor, a white shower cap like forensic crime technicians wear, a plastic apron and gloves. I couldn’t even tell if she was black or white. I thought I was in the movie ‘outbreak’! “What the hell is going on?” I shrieked as I looked around me confused. This was hands down my worst nightmare.
“You are in hospital dear.” She said as she tucked my beddings and felt for my pulse.
“Wait… what?” I looked at her wildly, then around me and realised I was in fact in a hospital. The smells and the surroundings confirmed it all. This was no dream.
“What happened?” I checked my hands and wiggled various parts of my body to check I exist. ‘Maybe I’d been in an accident!’ I thought. But why was she dressed like that? Nothing made sense.
“You contracted COVID-19 and has been in hospital.”
“I contracted what? CO… what?”
Then it all came rushing back. Lockdown. Persistent cough. Ambulance crew in my house. Sirens and blue lights. Low oxygen. Medical staff covered from head to toe. My tears. My fears. A hospital bed. Tests and more tests. ICU. Coma. Blackness.
“How long have I been here?” I asked the nurse all the while feeling terrified. “Where are my husband and kids? “Are they ok?”
“The doctor will be here shortly, and I have called your husband and left a message. He will call back.” She was too calm for comfort.
I lay back in bed and folded my arms across my chest in a desperate bid to try and remember something. Other than the dreams, everything else was in a fog somewhere in my mind. I reached out for my phone that lay on the side table. I stared at the black screen before turning it on: messages flooded in. There was easily over a thousand messages. The pinging continued for several minutes. However, I couldn’t bring myself to read them or open any social media app, I was in a state of terror and confusion.
The nurse never left my side even when the doctor came, read my chart and smiled at me.
I had been in the hospital for over 50 days. For me, it felt like 3 days. I remember a lot of dreams. I was oscillating somewhere between the hospital bed and the pearly gates. One dream will stay with me forever – I was among a multitude of people walking towards a gate. The metal gate was high with pointed spikes and painted silver. It looked like the gates they talk about in fairy tales, like a palace or something. No matter how much I walked I never got to the gate. I have no idea what the dream meant but believers would like me to believe I was knocking on death’s door just it wasn’t my time.
When it all became clear that I had contracted COVID-19, spent weeks on a ventilator, was resuscitated several times, and mechanically fed oxygen I was amazed and awed. The doctors and nurses battled day and night to keep me alive. A few years before I had developed a bad case of pneumonia which left parts of my lungs weak and damaged. Therefore, when I contracted COVID-19 it was a matter of life and death.
Over the next few weeks as my friends and family celebrated my recovery with endless zoom calls, I fell into a deep depression. I could not feel the happiness they felt. I only wanted to stay in bed and turn the internet off. I could not shake off the feelings of guilt over recovering when so many others died. Why was I saved? Why did the NHS spend so much time, effort and money to save me? The whys kept coming no matter what anyone said. I was not special. I was not a scientist about to discover anything, I was not an inventor about to invent the next best thing, I was not a businesswoman about to revive the economy. I was a nobody. Why did they save me even when parts of my body were dead or dying?
My husband thinks my next stop is the ‘loony bin’ if this survivor’s guilt doesn’t stop. However, I can’t help feeling guilty for being saved when I don’t think I was important enough. It feels like a piece of my soul was left in my afterlife dreams.
A basic human need is life. The right to life. I have a family and I know they’d have been devastated if I’d died. My children would probably have developed psychological problems in later life if I’d died and so on and so forth. But the need to find why I was saved and contribute to humanity is too great to ignore. I must find and do something to make my life worth the work done by the doctors and nurses.
I later found out that the nurses went beyond their call of duty. One nurse, Ade, sat by my side every day to read messages from my husband and children. She read out all the cards I’d received. And secretly prayed.
The person that went into an induced coma and the person who came around to a smiling nurse is not the same person. I have been purified. I now realise the guilt of being saved is not guilt at all but a re-evaluation of my life’s purpose. Getting COVID-19 has helped me realise there’s more to life than being a mother, a daughter, a friend, a sister, an auntie, a wife. What is more important is that I am a citizen of this world and I have a duty to make positive and worthwhile contribution to society.
I was not saved to continue living on this earth to eat and consume oxygen. I was saved to fulfil my life’s purpose. To raise my sons to be the best they can be. For now, I will live my life to the fullest. I will be the best mother, the best wife, the best daughter, the best sister, the best auntie, the best cousin, the best friend, and the best citizen of earth. I will strive to make a good difference in someone’s life every day for the rest of my life.
The one thing I have learnt is that the struggle ends when the gratitude begins: the survivor’s guilt is easing the more I become grateful.
PS: I went back to the hospital and offered to clean for free, but because of infection control I couldn’t, so instead I swept the carpark and felt better. Every little helps. I will be forever grateful to the NHS.
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