For several weeks, I had been in the hospital under intensive care. I usually don’t write about my (too private) experience in this blog but more for sharing ideas based on my reflection and meditation. This time, however, I want to share my experience – what has happened to me in the past weeks. That is to say, the reason why I could not add any new entries for weeks.
Now, I can call myself the COVID-19 survivor who recovered from a critical situation such as severe pneumonia. As of today, I still suffer from various post-COVID-19 effects. I don’t know if I am lucky or not. Perhaps, I should be fortunate because I am now under-recovery despite the life and death situation I have gone through with intensive care. Still, I am thinking about how I could avoid the situation in the first place. Should I have taken vaccination earlier? Or, because of the new variant, could I not have avoided the case even though I was healthy?
In the current prolonged pandemic circumstances, perhaps everyone could be a potential victim of unexpected exposure with infections. I thought I was in a relatively safe condition as I work from home and rarely go out. But the truth is that there is no such thing as 100% safe. As long as we live in this world, any potential risks are unavoidable. Death is the other side of the coin of life. So does disease or illness, while we think we are healthy and fit.
One day suddenly, we might realize that life is vulnerable and precious. That is more and more likely amid the pandemic we currently face in one way or another.
One thing I can indeed say is that I have learned lessons from my COVID-19 experience. Now, from the bottom of my heart, I can feel and say God allowed me to live another life. Life is a gift. It is His gift that we received as something so precious.
While life is one of the precious gifts from God, we tend to take this truth for granted because of our everyday busyness. When you almost lose it, such an experience could often be the wake-up call for our existential and spiritual realization. Like anything around us, we can see its value only when we are almost losing it.
Now, let me share what exactly happened to me in the past weeks because of COVID-19. The descriptions below were what I wrote to share with my friends on SNS with pictures. I cite them as they are here, only by tweaking some proper nouns and privacy information. This way, at least you can see the reality of my experience during those critical moments. And I added my reflections on them at the end of this entry.
Thank you to my family and friends for all your prayers and support. God allowed me to live another life. Now, I sincerely appreciate every breath of my life that I’m still alive.
Almost two weeks ago, due to acute pharyngitis, I consulted with the doctor, and she suggested having the PCR test. The result was positive. Together with my wife, we were ready to isolate ourselves at home for two weeks.
My condition, however, became worse as I experienced difficulty breathing. The Pulse Oximeter kept indicating around 80. We got the oxygen tank, and I inhaled 5 liters per minute. Soon, the tank got empty.
It was almost midnight. My wife tried to call all the hospitals in the city. Almost all answers said that mine was an emergency, but no beds in ER to accommodate us.
After several hours of her desperate efforts, finally, my wife confirmed a bed in one of the hospitals in the city. One bed in the emergency room was available, but no guarantee of a private room. The ambulance arrived, and I was almost unconscious due to lack of oxygen and shortness of breath, despite the continuous oxygen supplies.
Finally, we arrived in the ER. A group of doctors and nurses immediately put me on high-flow oxygen therapy. They connected me with all the medical equipment to check my blood pressure and heartbeat with intensive care.
They found I had severe pneumonia, which required immediate medications. Aside from the lungs, they also found some issues in my liver and other organs.
All the machines monitored my body for almost two days with various medications, from steroids, a blood thinner to the latest antiviral medicines. It seems that these particular medications are pretty advanced. If I got hospitalized in the same condition one year ago, I would probably not survive. Day by day, the efforts against COVID-19 are evolving.
After two days, they finally transferred me from the ER to the standard patient room for COVID-19. Together with my wife, I was supposed to stay here for two weeks until the symptoms disappear. Fortunately, my wife was not in my situation. I was the only one who went through this series of life and death conditions.
Due to my severe pneumonia, it will take time to cure my lungs entirely, and I will suffer from various aftereffects. Also, without my wife’s desperate efforts to get the ambulance that night, I wouldn’t survive at all. And yet, now I indeed feel that I am under-recovery. God gave me another chance to live my life. Life is so precious.
Also, I would like to emphasize that anyone would be in my situation. I thought I was healthy and protected myself very well with my mask and face shield. Perhaps, the new variants are so contagious. We must be cautious, and the vaccination is a must at least to avoid severe conditions.
Thank you so much for all your prayers, messages, and support. I didn’t imagine that my sharing would get such overwhelming reactions in SNS. I wanted to reply to each of you. But it’s too many. Allow me to express my best gratitude here.
The purpose was to share my experiences, which could be helpful as well for those who worry about COVID-19.
Now, I’d like to share the latest status.
The discharge diagnoses say, “COVID-19 Confirmed Pneumonia, Severe Recovered.” But the outcome of treatment says, “Improved,” not yet “Recovered.” We don’t have to isolate ourselves anymore, but my pneumonia is still under medications for one more month. The doctors will continue to check my lungs, which would still be a long way for a complete cure.
The main reason for this discharge is that now we can stay home without isolation, and the bed space in the hospital should be available for other patients who are now like my situation before. We agreed on this arrangement. Also, another reason is financial. We were fortunate to be able to use the total capacity of the medical insurance services. Still, cost matters a lot.
We have also experienced this reality of the “you can get the best if you can afford” system. If I could not get the best treatment from the hospital, perhaps I would not survive. The conditions would be diverse depending on the country. The US looks more libertarian, while the UK and Japan seem egalitarian. And yet, both parties face unique challenges causing medical, healthcare disparities. The issue is sociopolitical beyond our control. But I was not able to stop thinking about the dilemmas around them.
The practical suggestion is that both financial literacy and preparedness for healthcare are critical. While it sounds cruel and unfair, we can still save ourselves and family members and relatives if we can afford the best treatment. In this regard, I was so thankful for my wife, who sought all the options from healthcare services to life insurance even to selling the assets. We have to protect ourselves from this matter with correct information. Knowledge is power, indeed.
The default suggestion when you are the COVID-19 positive is to stay home, which needs a lot of consideration. We never know when and how we suddenly become in a difficult situation. Monitoring the oxygen level in your blood is so critical. I strongly recommend everyone purchase the Pulse Oximeter. If you see around 80, you must get hospitalized immediately.
Some doctors mention anecdotes about those who recovered at home despite pneumonia and shortness of breath to encourage us to stay home. While I may be biased, my suggestion is never to follow such optimism. Seek a second opinion immediately; otherwise, it will be too late.
Once you get hospitalized, you can get the best medications, which are now pretty advanced. I have been surprised by the number of medicines they injected into my body by checking the diagnosis documents. During the critical two days in ER, they forced my body to stay alive with the power of all drugs, from steroids to remdesivir to many others. They weren’t hesitant to use the latest antiviral remedies, which are still conditional under the WHO guidelines. That would never be possible if you stay home. Who could suggest that you should recover by yourself?
Again, if your symptoms are mild, that’s fine. If not, you must find a way to get hospitalized immediately. I have also noticed that some doctors have updated themselves very well; some don’t. The fights against COVID-19 are evolving day by day. We must seek the doctors and hospitals well updated.
While my pneumonia is still under medications, various aftereffects are noticeable. The most disturbing one is the brain fog, feeling lightheadedness. Gradually and mindfully, I try to work on each task. That is the only way to improve the situation. Also, I have lost a considerable amount of muscles, especially for legs. With shortness of breath, I still find it difficult to walk and stand firmly. Two weeks on the bed was enough to lose them. It will also require my patience for restoration.
Also, I would like to mention the spiritual moment during my critical situation. While I was in the ER, a somewhat sense of peace overwhelmed me. When my wife said that I had severe pneumonia, I recalled when my father passed away due to his pneumonia caused by dysphagia. I thought of leaving this world the same way my father did, which made me a bit calmer, even happier. I kept feeling the peaceful, blue sky with the gentle breeze, hearing the voice, saying, “You are enough, you are enough.”
After such a sense of euphoria, the busyness of the people in the ER brought me back to reality, suggesting as if I was not ready to leave this world yet.
Lastly, I would like to express my great appreciation for all the best efforts we received from the people in the hospital. They are real heroes. We have noticed that the new COVID-19 patients are endlessly coming to the hospital. They devoted themselves to all of them with kindness and care. There could be a lot of things we can do to avoid infections. I wanted to take a picture in the nurse station when I got discharged, but I was shy. So, the greeting card they gave me is my treasure for remembrance.
Life As His Precious Gift
Both “COVID-19 Confirmed” and “Discharged” are the descriptions I shared on SNS with my friends. While I was in the hospital bed under the high-flow oxygen treatment, I tried to find time to write my experience and reflections with my iPhone after recovering from a critical situation. Once I moved to the standard patient room, at least I had plenty of time for reflections, even though I suffered from various aftereffects such as brain fog, shortness of breath, and so on.
How should I understand this experience? I can say I learned something from it. Or else, is there anything that changed me? If so, what could be the things I learned?
As mentioned above, the way I see life should be one of the critical perspectives. In this Tom’s Blog, I wrote many entries here on this topic:
What is life?
It is one of the underlying questions I have repeatedly pursued through my blog entries here.
Now, one thing I should emphasize could be my near-death or dreamy experience. As I mentioned in the descriptions above, during the critical moment in the ER, the sense of peace somehow overwhelmed me while I suffered from the shortness of breath. Even I want to call it a spiritual moment.
Perhaps, we can explain my experience more objectively and physiologically. Most probably, because of various drugs injected into my body, especially the brain, and the lack of oxygen. My brain saw a sort of hallucination where I heard the voice saying I am enough, feeling the perfectly peaceful blue sky with the gentle breeze. Or else, the chemicals emerged from my brain to mitigate the pains; I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and euphoria.
My consciousness interpreted the situation that I could leave this world and enter heaven to meet God. In this interpretation, my sense of peace was almost at the culmination. I didn’t miss anything in this world. I didn’t miss anything material. The great anticipation of something next or something transcendent made me calm, happy, and joyful. The voice was saying, “You are enough.” That could be the same meaning as:
Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.Matthew 4:17
Did the chemicals and drugs in my brain create the kind of heavenly images and hallucinations? Perhaps, scientists can say, “Yes” to this question. And, once my body and brain become entirely dysfunctional, that means, if I am dead ultimately, I don’t have the consciousness to accommodate these images and hallucinations anymore.
Nevertheless, this type of subjectivity in my consciousness is real. It should be the same way that we imagine the vast universe with a glimpse of God’s consciousness.
We must rely on our subjectivity in our consciousness in the same way until the very last moment of death. So, we see the very temporality of this world. The life we have here is such a fragment. Nevertheless, or because of that, it’s so real and precious. Life is His gift. It is His real and precious gift. One day, we can return it to Him to go back to Him and merge ourselves into Him. Thus, we are no longer afraid of death.
Facing our death, we could hear the voice, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)