On the morning of Monday, November 2, 2020 I woke up, and for the first time in two weeks, it was for real.
Two nurses were in the room with me – one male and one female. The male nurse (I can’t remember his name) took the lead and began talking as soon as I came to. I don’t remember everything that he told me, but they welcomed me back and told me was that the doctors would be coming to take me off the ventilator – I had made it. I had survived what I had later discovered was the almost total shutdown of my body. I had survived covid-19.
The nurses were incredibly gracious; while they were doing whatever tasks they had to do, before the doctors came to remove the ventilator from my throat, they also spent a lot of time and attention focused on me. Because I was still intubated, I couldn’t talk, and I’m not sure if I was even able to make any sounds – if I was they would have been completely unintelligible. I don’t remember even trying to make a sound. The nurses had untied my hands (which were tied down because I had apparently tried to remove the ventilator tubes on my own, once again) and I was doing what I could to gesture with them, to try to communicate with them; however, after being on sedatives and paralytics for two weeks, I had lost all of my muscle, and I had no ability to control my body or movements.
Since the nurses told me that the doctors were going to remove the ventilator, I was desperate to know when that would happen. I felt completely miserable – the worst that I have ever felt in my life – and the worst part of it was what felt like a table leg that was lodged in my mouth, and down my throat. At some point, I managed to see the clock on the wall of my room, and between gesturing at that, and gesturing at my wrist (both of which I could barely do, since I didn’t have any strength or motor control – I think it was probably weakly flopping my arm (I couldn’t raise it) or pointing with my finger and tapping my wrist), the nurses figured out that I was asking something to do with time. They tried their best to figure out what I was asking them, and we worked out some rudimentary sign language (tapping my wrist for time); but they couldn’t figure out exactly what I was asking.
After we tried for a little while to communicate through my gesturing, the female nurse brought a small whiteboard and black dry erase marker over to me. She held the whiteboard and put the marker in my hand. I wasn’t able to actually see the whiteboard, since all of the equipment that I was hooked into blocked me from being able to move my head down to see it, but I attempted to write my question – when would the doctors come? However, I had no fine (or gross) motor skills, and so what I wrote was completely unintelligible. At the end of it all, the best the nurses could figure was to tell me what time it was – 8:30 am. After this, they had to leave, and told me they would be back once the doctors were ready. I once again was alone.
I was exhausted. I didn’t know it at the time, but the two weeks I spent in a coma had completely wrecked my body – I felt more tired, weaker, and sicker, than I did before I was intubated. I didn’t know where I was, I only knew that I was still at U of M; however, there were so many drugs in my system and I was in such bad shape that my mind couldn’t even process the wall that was across from my bed. I knew there was a clock at the end of the room and a window to my left, but outside of that nothing about the room made any sense to me. Even though I was looking at the wall my senses were so messed up from the drugs that I couldn’t tell I was still in the ICU. Because all I could make sense of from the wall in front of me was the white board in the room, I thought I was in a classroom at U of M – that they had moved me in the time that I was in hospital to an overflow site (I knew covid numbers were increasing when I went to the hospital, and since I knew about overflow plans and since so many of my hallucinations had me being transferred, this made perfect sense to me).
After the nurses left, I began to despair. My body was one step removed from being dead and had given everything it had, and more, over the previous weeks fighting covid. I was so exhausted, so drained, and so spent, that I wanted to give up, so that the suffering would end. I had nothing left, and now I was alone, waiting for the doctors to come to remove the tube (aka: table leg) that was shoved down my throat. During this period, which couldn’t have been very long, every second was agony and stretched on. I kept wondering if the doctors forgot about me, if they would come, and when they would come – I couldn’t take it anymore (although, there was nothing I could do about it – I was too weak and too tired to even move).
Eventually, I saw a group of doctors gathering outside of the door to my room, through the long window that spanned the entire room. They began talking – I’m pretty sure they were doing part of their rounds and were talking about my case – right outside of my room. I stirred and tried to move to get their attention, and some of them saw me and gave me a thumbs up; they all had huge smiles on their faces as well. I knew they were trying to reassure me, but at this point I was desperate – I wanted the tube taken out of my throat as it was torture every second I was waiting. After the doctors talked for a little while, two of them began putting on their PPE.
After the doctors had their PPE on, they came into the room, with the nurses, and introduced themselves. They explained what they would be doing, and told me that all I would have to do is breathe in when they told me to. After they were ready, they told me to take a deep breathe, and I did – as I was doing so they yanked the tube out and congratulated me. It was done – I was finally free (I’m not sure how, or when, they put the nasal canula on me, or how much oxygen I was on at this point; I think it may have been on when I woke up, but I really don’t know, and can’t remember).
[Note: This day is going to be a multi part post.]