ICU PPE Smile Medical Staff
Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels Copy

Anna Lee Botha has been in the ICU with Covid for a few days now; this is the next phase of her recovery, needing a ventilator and witnessing the resilience of the Covid-19 ward.

 

South Africa (17 August 2021) – Anna Lee Botha found herself fighting for her life in the ICU with a Covid-19 diagnosis. She went from feeling normal one day to too sick to lift her arms the next.

Anna penned her entire experience, which we will be sharing here on Good Things Guy, in three parts. We published the first part yesterday; part two can be found below. Anna wanted to give a look at what happens inside the ICU Covid-19 wards and how she found her strength to pull through.

Part 3 – High Flow Ward and ICU

On 26 June, I was no longer doing well on 15 litres of oxygen, and they moved me to the high flow ward where they can give up to 60 litres of oxygen through a huge, thick pipe in your nose. I spent 1 night here.

On 27 June, I was struggling to breathe. I have asthma and had been using my inhalers and medication along with what they have been giving me, but nothing seemed to work. Each breath I took was so short my chest hardly moved, and they recommended I move to Medical ICU and get put on a ventilator.

By this time, my oxygen saturation was in the low 70’s. I immediately agreed on the ventilator when the doctor recommended it, as I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to breathe on my own for much longer. I couldn’t speak, so I couldn’t phone my husband to tell him what is happening or say bye to him and the kids. So I had to type a Whatsapp to them, and as I was so weak, it was a one-sentence message. It was even an effort typing on the phone. All I could type was, I’m going to ICU, and I love them.

Now here I need to explain something. Afterwards, when I was getting better, my doctor told me I made the right choice at the right time when I decided to go on on the ventilator. Had I taken too long, my oxygen levels would have dropped to the point where my organs started failing. There are so many stories out there about ICU and ventilators that a lot of people are scared to do it. Please don’t believe all the stories and rather educate yourself from accredited websites or speak to a doctor if you need clarity. My doctor told me that a lot of people are scared to go, and unfortunately, he can’t force them. He can only step in if they say yes or if they can no longer make the decision for themselves. By the time they get them on a ventilator, they are not only fighting Covid but organ failure as well. By the time I started to struggle to breathe, and they got me to ICU (about 3 hours), I had already sustained injuries to my kidneys. Now imagine someone waiting a day or more to decide and the damage done to their organs because they listened to a story told by someone about how bad ventilators are. Ventilators aren’t bad; they are life-saving if you get to one on time.

The nurses worked really fast, getting all my stuff thrown in my bags and then they literally ran with me down the hallways to ICU. When we got there, it was chaos. There were about 10 people waiting for me, each doing something different. One attached a small mask that covered just my nose and mouth. This mask provided so much oxygen that my cheeks puffed out. Another person was removing my clothing. I didn’t even care; I just wanted help. Another was putting in a catheter and another a drip etc. While this was happening, I talked to God and told Him how scared I was. I said that I would really like to meet Him, but for now, I choose life. I have 2 children who need me and still so many things I want to do. Just after that, they sedated me. I remember one nurse running her hand over my hair, and she said, “don’t worry, sweetheart, we’ve got you.” My husband says they phoned him to come to see me. They didn’t think I was going to make it. When I got to ICU, my oxygen saturation was 47 or 48.

My husband had to see me lying on my stomach, not moving and with a machine breathing for me. He basically had to say goodbye. But by the grace of God, I held on and started reacting positively to the treatments they were giving me. Enough so that they turned me onto my back, and when my stats held, they slowly started bringing me out of sedation. While I was under sedation, I don’t remember much. All I remember is floating in an orange-pinkish, cloudy and glittery (yes, glitter cause I’m a girl) sky and the heavy presence of God around me. My Mom and Aunt prayed for me during this time along with hundreds of other people, some of who don’t even know me and to whom I am forever grateful. My Aunt told my Mom she could see Jesus sitting by my bedside. He literally performed a miracle and saved my life as there were a few touch and go moments where my stats did not look good, and the staff thought they were losing me. I praise God every day for saving my life.

On 03 July, my husband sent a message to the family Whatsapp group to say I am now on 45 litres oxygen, slowly starting to wake up, and stats look good. On 05 July, the nurses told him that I was wide awake and on 40 litres of oxygen. The force they put the machine on to supply oxygen to my lungs was on 15, and they have brought that down to 14. They did that slowly to avoid any setbacks.

My hands were tied to the bed railings. This is because of the medications they were giving and to prevent the patients from waking up disoriented and pulling out the ventilator themselves. It was hugely frustrating to me as I couldn’t speak and had to learn to speak via sign language. Eventually, I figured out how to show them I want to write something. So they would untie my one hand and give me a board to write on. That’s where I discovered I had forgotten how to write. My first word was a C with a few dots. But I got it right eventually and could tell them of my needs.

I had many long days and nights in ICU where I could do nothing but lie there with a machine breathing for me, nursing staff cleaning me and just watch and listen to what goes on around me. I had times of despair and times I thought I was not going to make it. In order to heal, it is crucial to stay positive and not to be anxious or give up. The moment you are anxious or give up, your healing progress slows, and your stats start dropping.

Part 4 – The Mind Games and More on ICU

When you’re diagnosed as positive with Covid, you don’t just fight the virus but also your own mind. Your mind can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Whether you are dealing with this at home or at the hospital.

The medical staff always tried to keep me calm and positive when it looked like I was worried, anxious or depressed. Those things can set back your healing if you’re not careful. Being anxious causes your heart to beat faster, which means your lungs have to work harder. So it is very important to stay focused, strengthen your mind, stay positive and calm.

That is very difficult to do when you’re in ICU. You can’t really sleep; there’s things happening around you constantly. They wake you at 2 am to turn you over to put cream on your back. They are at your bed almost every hour to check your stats, and 5 am is wake up time. And in between, you hear patients coughing or screaming in panic that they can’t breathe. Being on the ventilator, there’s not much to do except try to sleep and watch and listen to what goes on around you. Because I’ve been lying still for so long, my muscles had gone very weak. I couldn’t do anything for myself, and the nurses had to give me a sponge bath in bed each night…bye-bye dignity hehe. I hated this as I want to do this myself, but at the time, my hands were still tied to the bed due to the ventilator, and I hadn’t yet realized how weak I was. I had a physiotherapist working with me, and during the day, I could do the leg exercises she gave me to do in bed but couldn’t do any arm exercises.

The part of the ventilator that went into my mouth had this hard plastic thing on the roof (palate) of my mouth. And it could move. So when the nurses washed me, they would turn me on my side with the ventilator in my mouth. This was not always fun as I would either start coughing or that hard plastic thing would move to my soft palate and make me want to throw up. And I had to sign language to ask them to move it back in place.

I’ve heard and seen people die not even a few feet away from me. I’ve heard people suffer from this disease. There were quite a few people in ICU who were not on ventilators but clearly needed to be. And I listened to them refuse the doctor every time he suggested ventilation until one day it gets quiet and you don’t hear them coughing anymore. Then the nurses close all the curtains around our beds, but I could still see a bit as they weren’t closed properly. The nurses were all super quiet and would form a line of respect for the deceased while that person is taken away. And when our curtains are opened some of them were crying.

And then the mind games start again. Where you get anxious about your own health, and are you ever going to make it and get out of there to see your loved ones again. That one is the hardest to deal with. There is no looking forward to seeing your family at visiting hours no matter which ward you’re in. That really gets to a person emotionally and mentally, and I’ve seen how that brings people down and slows down their own healing. I eventually asked for anxiety pills and sleeping pills which helped as well.

On the ventilator, when your stats are holding and you’re a bit stronger, they start switching off the machine so that you start taking over the breathing and do this by yourself. You still get the oxygen, but the machine is not doing this for you. And then, when you sleep, they would put the machine on again so you can sleep. By the end, before they removed the ventilator, I was on 15 litres of oxygen and doing all the breathing on my own day and night.

Those long days and nights spent in ICU (17 nights in total) I spent mostly singing praise and worship songs in my head, reciting scriptures in my head or just talking to God. Talking to Him in ways I had never done before. When things went downhill a bit with my stats or I was losing the mental battle and falling into despair, I would ask Him why. Why me? Why can’t He just heal me right now 100%, and why do I have to go through this. And then I would just feel this peace come over me, a peace I can’t describe in words. And then later, I would go back and say, okay, sorry about earlier; God, I was feeling a bit down. Then I would start to focus on those lying around me and start praying for them. God was my anchor physically, mentally and spiritually. And I truly believe that He helped me pull through during my time in ICU.

I had no contact with the outside world while I was in ICU, so I had no idea how many people were praying for me and cheering me on to fight. I want to send a deep, heartfelt thanks to each and every one. While God was my anchor, the love I have for my family and extended family and knowing their love for me…that was my strength, and I clung to that with every fibre in my body.

When you are in Medical ICU for more than 7 days, they allow 1 family member to visit for 10 minutes. Chris came to visit me on 07 July. I almost didn’t recognise him as he had to wear all the PPE the nurses wear. I recognised him by his eyes. He couldn’t touch me, but he spoke to me and told me about everyone praying for me and gave me messages from the kids and my parents and siblings. I was still on the ventilator, so couldn’t speak but managed to write a few things down that I wanted to say.

That was a big boost mentally for me. I wish there was a way family members could visit their family in the hospital. I saw so many giving up the battle because they got depressed. Seeing your loved ones is a huge boost of positivity and shows you what you need to fight for.


Sources: Anna Lee – Supplied
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About the Author

Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

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