This year’s holiday season was different for Dimple Shah and her family. What used to be a social thanksgiving dinner with over 40 family and friends, was a quiet and a low-key affair with the family of four spending quality time together. But the gratitude is still multifold like never before.
With more than 62 million COVID-19 confirmed cases and over 1.46 million COVID-19 deaths globally, some still think this is a hoax. While the pandemic is isolating individuals and tearing families apart, there is yet more defiance to prove the non-existence of long-lasting effects of the coronavirus. This is only one such story that speaks for itself.
Dimple Shah, 58, is a mother, wife and a dear friend to many and what she experienced nine months ago still lingers in her routine to this day. This is her COVID-19 journey … and back.
“I want to share my story with people to let them know that COVID-19 is REAL. I understand that some people don’t take COVID-19 seriously, but this disease takes a toll on your mental, physical, and emotional health like no other,” says Shah.
It all started nine months ago when Shah was traveling home from a family trip she took with her husband and son in March. She believes it was something that she caught in transit because soon after returning home the symptoms started to show. “A couple of days after returning, it started with the cough which slowly turned into high fever. The regular medication didn’t really help and a few days later, I started feeling a shortness of breath,” she says. Adding immediately, “because this happened at the end of March, people at the time didn’t really know how dangerous COVID-19 actually was,” shares Shah, who was reluctant to go to the hospital thinking it was ‘just a flu’. Only it wasn’t. This wasn’t the easiest time for Shah and her family as her husband and son were also infected in the same month, where both had regular flu like symptoms such as fever and cough but nothing compared to Dimple’s situation who needed hospital to intervene.
“Within a span of a week of getting cough and fever, I began to lose appetite and eventually my speech got slurry and I was getting unconscious, when my husband called 911 and I was taken to the hospital,” says Shah, who’s oxygen level had dropped to 44 and with pneumonia in both her lungs she was put on the ventilator immediately. “It was days before I gained consciousness and when I did, I had no idea what was happening,” she admits, who used hand gestures to communicate with the only other person who was in her hospital room – her nurse. Her family was not allowed to be there so all communication with her nurse was in form of small notes as Shah could barely talk. After being on the ventilator for almost four days, they tried to take her off the machine but she couldn’t keep up and was put back on to the ventilator. If things weren’t bad enough, Shah also developed a kidney infection in parallel to everything that was going on.
With incessant medication and more than two weeks of hospitalization, the ventilator finally came off for Shah – only to realize that she was so weak that she could not walk. “I was sent home on a wheelchair with an oxygen cylinder and a prescription of occupational therapy to walk again,” says Shah pausing for a few seconds before nostalgia seeps into her voice. “This was unfathomable for me because I was quite active in my lifestyle with almost 4-5 miles of brisk walking every day,” shares Shah, adding, “and here I was barely able to walk – the psychological turmoil was hard.”
Shah’s pre-COVID-19 life consisted of morning walk routine that spanned miles followed by an afternoon of playing cards with friends and indulging in cooking. But things seemed different after she returned home from the hospital. “Doctors were worried that hospitals carried a higher risk of a relapse so I came home where the phase two of my recovery would start – with physical therapy to try and get the strength to walk again,” she says. But her friends continued to be her support system along with her family of course. “I’m forever grateful for my friends. They took on them to cook for me and my husband on rotation and for two months they didn’t let us worry about grocery shopping or cooking,” smiles Shah, sharing “these little things make such a huge impact on your life.”
Once she regained some of her strength, Shah also joined a Facebook support group called Survivor Corps, with more than 90,000 members. The group is a platform where people share their experience or reach out to others with questions that they may have. “Once I joined that support group, I realized that some people faced even worse symptoms and recovery that is so hard to imagine,” she shares.
One such story is of a COVID-19 patient who survived 120 days of hospitalization with multiple blood transfusions, dialysis, gastrointestinal bleeding, hypotension, fever that lasted for weeks, pneumothorax with chest tube, encephalopathy and more – all of this happening to a single person. “COVID-19 is real and we have to be careful. Wear a mask, it wont hurt anyone but it may save someone’s life,” stresses Shah.
Although Shah has recovered, she is still healing. Shah shares that it’s not only been a physical fall of her strength but also a psychological one with anxiety and mood swings, now surfacing – something she didn’t experience before. “I haven’t gained the strength to brisk walk yet, in fact I walk much slower now. I get tired very easily. But I continue to work on my strength both emotionally and physically and I will continue towards it because I look at life differently now. Anything can happen so I want to spend my time keeping my loved ones close and spend quality time with them,” she says, who insists that not only has she lost her strength but another after-effect has been losing her hair. “I used to have beautiful tresses, but have lost it all.” But Shah is quick to add, “I’m fortunate that it is only hair that I’ve lost and I’m still here.” Her gratitude is clear.