When I first started reading about Covid-19 and coronavirus in China towards the end of 2019, I wasn’t worried. I certainly never thought that my life would be affected by it.
Never say never though.
A couple of months later, I found myself lying in a hospital bed in Spain with a raging fever and breathing through an oxygen mask.
I was sick for a total of 21 days — 14 in hospital and 7 at home. Not to mention the long recovery weeks ahead to regain a healthy weight and lung capacity.
Here’s how it all went down.
It all began on Tuesday March 10th. Towards the end of the day I had started to feel a slight scratchiness in my chest.
By that point, the coronavirus was already known to be spreading rapidly in Barcelona, so as a precaution, I decided to work from home the following day.
On Wednesday, I felt slightly under the weather, but nothing which would have hinted at what was to come.
From Thursday the 12th, the fever kicked in. And what a fever. Every day it got worse. At it’s high-point, my body temperature read 39.6C. My entire body ached, so much so, that one day I had to actually crawl to the kitchen to get my medicine because I couldn’t even bear to stand.
I endured this ever-worsening fever for five days, but on the sixth, I decided I could take no more.
This did not seem like a normal flu.
On Tuesday 17th I woke up at 5am with a still raging fever, showered, and grabbed a taxi to the nearest hospital — Hospital del Mar.
Things were still relatively calm when I arrived at the emergency room. They ran a number of tests, including nasal and throat swabs (or should I say, stabs), arterial wrist sticks, and a chest x-ray.
After waiting for a couple of hours, the ER doctor confirmed that I had pneumonia in both my lungs but gave no indication about how long I would need to stay at hospital.
I was moved to another room and hooked up to a bunch of monitoring devices and was told that the tests for “normal” diseases, like the flu, came back negative.
All signs pointed towards Covid-19 but it would take another day or two to confirm.
The first night was tough. I had been moved again, this time to a larger room with several other patients, all of whom were under suspicion of having Covid-19 but were still awaiting confirmation.
Some of these people were obviously much sicker than I was. The night was filled with the sounds of people moaning, gasping, and retching. You could really hear the fluid filling their lungs — it sounded like they were drowning.
On top of that, my fever was still raging on. I woke up in a pool of my own sweat. The sheets were soaked through and I had to ask the nurse to change them. This happened another three times in the same night and for many nights to come.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much.
Wednesday 18th was not a great day.
When I woke up, I was starving. Apart from a sandwich, I hadn’t eaten since I left home.
The first low of the day came when the nurse dropped my breakfast. I didn’t blame her, poor thing was exhausted. It did sting a little though, because they didn’t have any more. Later on, another nurse dropped my lunch. Luckily they still had a replacement, but by that point I had lost most of my appetite and my sense of taste.
After these two blows to my morale, the doctor came round to deliver the knockout punch. She confirmed what we had already expected — I had contracted Covid-19 and was being moved to another ward.
That wasn’t the bad part though.
When I asked her how long she expected that I would need to be kept in hospital, she said I was looking at around two weeks.
This came as a huge shock to me.
I was expecting to be kept under observation for two days, given some medicine, and sent on my way. The cognitive dissonance between my expectations and the reality of the situation was very upsetting.
It was a low point, mentally, for me. I just wanted to be back home.
Good thing I wasn’t though.
Coughing and breathing difficulties
Up until arriving at hospital I didn’t have a cough and could breathe fine. That’s why I waited so long before getting myself checked.
This started to change the day I was admitted. By the time I was moved to the ward, I was having full-blown coughing fits. Each cough was a total body experience — it felt like being run over by a truck and then being kicked in the head, gut, and back for good measure.
I was also constantly out of breath and feeling very weak. I had to wear an oxygen mask and use three separate inhalers just to help me breathe.
After several more sleepless, sweaty nights, the fever finally broke.
I thought I was on the mend, but further blood tests revealed that my oxygen levels had fallen to dangerously low levels and kept on deteriorating. Whenever I took off the mask, the oximeter showed my oxygen levels dropping by the second. My breathing was similar to that of a fish out of water — taking big gulps of air but not managing to hold on to any of it.
I was banned from going to the bathroom or washing myself alone for fear that I would collapse.
After a few more days going downhill, my oxygen supply was at the maximum level (50%) and the doctors debated whether to send me to the ICU.
There was one more medication that they wanted to try before having to make the decision.
From March 24th onwards my condition started to improve. The new medication seemed to be working and I felt myself getting stronger day by day.
A friend of mine even managed to deliver a care package with home-cooked meals, snacks, some books, and best of all — toothpaste! My appetite was back and I was able to wash myself.
I felt human again.
The coughing subsided and I was able to breathe more deeply with the oxygen mask. Over the next few days, the doctors and nurses progressively lowered my oxygen supply until I was able to breathe well completely on my own.
March 30th was my final day in hospital.
It started with an early morning blood test and the doctor said I could go home if it came back positive.
A couple of hours later, I was being wheeled out to a waiting ambulance which took me home.
My exit was quite unceremonious. Sadly, I didn’t see any of the nurses who had taken care of me, they were all busy taking care of the next wave of patients. I would have liked to thank them.
The streets were completely empty since Spain was on complete lockdown by this point.
It had been raining that day and I had a sense of starting fresh.
After two weeks of being in hospital (and almost three of being severely ill) it felt surreal to be back sitting on my sofa. But it also felt great to finally be back home.
Even though I had grown an impressive beard, I lost a total of 8KGs and looked like Christian Bale in The Machinist. My lung capacity and muscle strength were so severely impaired that my legs wobbled the whole time when I walked up the single flight of stairs to my apartment, and I had to lie down for twenty minutes to catch my breath.
I started working again two days after getting home and started exercising again after about a week. Judging by my condition, I guessed that it would be at least a month or two till I was fully recovered.
The Facebook Post
Throughout my time at hospital I saw many posts on social media of friends in Malta and Germany still going out and meeting in groups, despite clear instructions from medical experts to social distance.
After experiencing first hand what this virus can do to a person, I felt obliged to speak out.
I don’t normally post on Facebook, but I knew that I could reach quite a few people by doing so.
Here’s what I wrote:
The post garnered a lot of attention and my messaged seemed to be mostly well received.
The Media Onslaught
I don’t like being the topic of conversation. Coming from a small country, where a tenor serenading his dog makes national news, I knew that posting about my experience was going to be a risk.
I weighed my options and decided that using the Media to spread my cautionary tale was worth it, even if it did come at the expense of unwanted personal attention.
Within 24 hours of posting on Facebook, my post had been featured on all the major media outlets. There were articles on the websites of Lovin Malta, The Times of Malta, and Net News. There were a couple of newspaper articles and even a segment about it on TV!
Many of the media outlets contacted me for interviews, all of which I promptly declined — I had said all that I had to say on the matter and wanted to move on.
What I learned from this experience
Battling Covid-19 was one of the most challenging experiences of my life.
But with every challenge comes growth.
Moving forward, here are some of the learnings I’m taking with me:
- Relationships matter. Nurture them.
- Life is precious and most people have it worse than you. Be grateful. Be kind. Be positive.
- Don’t dwell on the past or a bad situation that is out of your control. Accept it, look forward, and take it from there — one step at a time.
- There are some incredibly altruistic people out there who deserve much more appreciation than they get.