We are now more than a year into this COVID ordeal, and I know that there are many lives that have been affected and have been changed. Some perhaps temporarily, but some permanently. For those people who died from COVID, there’s nothing more permanent than that. Being a lung specialist and an ICU doctor, I have witnessed the bad cases and worst outcomes of those poor people who received the brunt of this horrible virus.
But I don’t like to dwell on the sad cases, so today, I would like to share one of our best success stories.
He was in his early 50’s and has no significant past medical history. He presented to the hospital last November for bad COVID symptoms and was initially admitted to a regular hospital floor. Few days later, with increasing oxygen requirement, he was moved to the ICU. A couple of days more, with further deterioration in his condition, he was intubated and was hooked on a mechanical ventilator.
You might think that that may be really bad already, but no, his condition got even worse.
A few days after he has been on the ventilator, he required to be placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygen (ECMO), as being on a ventilator was not enough to support his life. ECMO is an intervention where we place large-bore catheters on the patient and have their blood flow out of their body and go through an oxygen-rich membrane and then pump it back to them. Technically the machine takes over the function of the heart and lungs.
A few days later, his kidneys shut down too and so he required continued dialysis as well. What else could go wrong?
Yet the Lord had not call him home and still had a plan for him, so his stay on this earth was not over yet. I am sure many were praying for him. His family and our hospital team did not gave up on him too. His wife was always on his side, even on his darkest hours. He was admitted during the time when the hospital had already relaxed the policy that even COVID patients in the ICU can have two family members visit them, as long as they put on a personal protective equipment (PPE).
The dark hours turned into days, and days into weeks and weeks into months, and our patient was still on life support. He was on ECMO for a total of 40 days, the longest case our hospital team had experienced. He was in our ICU for 3 months and was in a medically-induced coma for most of that time.
But even the darkest night would turn into dawn. Finally he moved out of the ICU and into a hospital floor for a couple of weeks, and then to our rehab unit, even though he still had the tracheostomy tube and was hooked intermittently to a portable ventilator.
Then dawn turned into sunrise. He eventually got better and was weaned off the ventilator completely. He learned to speak and also to eat, as for the longest time he was receiving his nutrition through a tube that goes into his stomach. He learned to walk again as well. By the time he was discharged from the rehab unit, his tracheostomy tube was pulled out, and he was sent home with oxygen.
After 5 months in the hospital, he finally went home to his wife and kids.
Few days ago he came for a follow-up in our clinic, walking on his own power though still carrying an oxygen tank with him. Since all of us, my partners in the practice, took care of him at some point, we were just so excited to see him on this visit. So four of us doctors, who were in the office that day, went to the exam room to greet him and his wife. Our eyes were welling with tears of joy.
As he came out of our clinic, we also told him that he does not need his oxygen tank anymore. He may still have a long road of recovery ahead of him, but certainly, a new day has begun.
I still believe in miracles.
(*photo taken in the Smoky Mountains)