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How I almost died due to COVID-19
Some quick facts about me:
- I live in Western Canada
- I am 53 years old I have lived with the chronic disease of obesity for the last 40 plus years
- I have also lived with type 2 diabetes since the age of 25 years
- I also have high blood pressure
- As a result of my type 2 diabetes, I live with complications including poor circulation and neuropathy in my feet which has caused opened wounds on both my big toes.
As a patient advocate who has worked globally, over the last seven years advocating about my journey with obesity, I have presented to the world that I am so in control, that I take excellent care of myself, that I am the perfect picture of what a patient advocate is supposed to be…
I am and have been an inspiration to so many people…
The stresses of my life, both work and personal, mixed with some poor health decisions, and coupled with the arrival of COVID-19, created the perfect storm that nearly brought my life to an untimely end…
How? You may ask…
To understand how I ended up in the hospital with another serious life threatening blood infection, we have to go back at least six months in time to August 2019, where I endured a series of events that deeply and profoundly scarred and affected me mentally and emotionally.
I thought that I was strong mentally.
I thought that my many years of living with obesity and the bullying that I had endured over the last 40 years would have prepared me… but alas, that just wasn’t the case.
The sheer power of the mind is so much more powerful than you think.
In August 2019, my heart was truly broken and as a result, my journey to the dark place began. I turned to an old and dear friend who had ALWAYS brought me comfort from such a young age…
Not necessarily a good, dear friend, but chocolate was a faithful friend who had always been there for me throughout all the bad times in my life… and now it would seem, that times were bad again.
That is how it started. One chocolate bar… oooh – it felt so good going down. It made me feel so good. The pain was gone.
September 2019 arrived, and with its arrival, the stressors in my life were even more prevalent. Along with my broken heart, I now felt my physical spirit breaking as well.
Mmmm… it was so freaking good eating that chocolate bar. Over time, I decided to have another… my head would spin. Euphoria. Before you knew it, two chocolate bars a night had turned into four chocolate bars a night. Every night.
My descent into the dark recesses of my chocolate depression did not take long… in fact, it happened rather quickly.
I was numbing my pain with comfort food. I stopped checking my blood sugar. I really wasn’t interested in knowing.
The only thing that mattered was the chocolate… it took the pain
away for me.
September turned into October, and that is when the final crushing
What little of me that remained; was completely and utterly crushed and defeated.
Sticks and stones will break my bones… and names, names will hurt me too. Words truly do hurt… as do the actions of others. In fact, actions can hurt even more.
At each stage, my mental health was broken bit by bit. I cared less and less, and as a result, my general health suffered.
I still didn’t want anyone to see my vulnerabilities. For all the spectators around the world I put on a show. Outwardly, I was freaking FABULOUS!!! But inwardly, there was hatred and self-loathing I was so incredibly ashamed of myself. I was spinning out of control.
Now add on the responsibility and pressure of my career as a paralegal in the Crown Prosecutors Office.
I was, physically spent as I prepared for a series of six homicide trials that would run from the beginning of February 2020 straight through to May 15, 2020. Every single day. No breaks between court matters. In some cases, two trials running concurrently. 75 days of trial. I was incredibly overwhelmed.
I returned to work after the Christmas break and worked every single day, late into the evenings, including Saturdays and Sundays, preparing for my trials. 72 days straight. 96 extra hours that I would NOT be paid for – just to get the work done…
I was clearly not getting enough sleep – about 4 hours a night.
My health was getting worse. I had pretty much abandoned taking care of my diabetic, neuropathic feet. There was just no time. I was taking only about half of my diabetic meds.
By this point in time, I was now eating 6 to 10 chocolate bars every night. The chocolate provided me with short-term comfort, and had to be repeated several times.
I had abandoned my good eating habits… and as a result, I gained weight. I was embarrassed and incredibly ashamed.
As I prepared for my marathon months of court matters – the stress was overwhelming. Each day would bring more stress; and with each new day, I would wake and my body would be just a little bit more tired than the day before.
Boys and girls, this is me… hurtling towards the Earth at 500 miles per hour on a crash course to slam head first into the ground. A perfect storm had been brewing… I could feel it in my body. I knew in my heart that things were not good, that I wasn’t well, and that I couldn’t fix this mess that I had created.
My body tried for weeks, giving me signs that things were bad. I
just wasn’t listening. It came to a point where my body just said to
me… “NO more Marty. If you aren’t going to listen to the hints we are
giving you, then you are going to crash in a spectacular way.”
The only thing missing from this perfect storm that I had created was the inclusion of some sort of sickness… a world pandemic…
You know; the kind of pandemic that had not been experienced by the world since the Spanish Flu of 1919 & 1920 – 100 years previously.
The arrival of the Corona Virus in Canada
Cue the Corona Virus for its big Canadian entrance… also known as COVID-19.
It started in China. Then marched in to Europe. Italy and the United
States were overwhelmed with this killing machine of a virus. Things
were incredibly scary.
People were dying at an extraordinary pace. COVID-19 was a new, scary monster and the local and international news did an incredibly effective job of reporting on COVID-19 and scaring out everyone, including me.
We all knew that Corona Virus was coming to Edmonton, we just didn’t know exactly when…
Now, for the Golden Girls fans out there, this is my Sophia Petrullo moment.
Picture it… March 12, 2020. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
COVID 19 had arrived in Edmonton a couple of days prior. Upon arrival, the sickness began to spread and leave its mark on Friday, March 13, 2020. Friday the 13th… it was to be the last normal day in Edmonton, Alberta Canada. Anyways, I digress.
I had risen out of bed at the ungodly time of 5:15 a.m. to start, what I thought, was going to be another day of preparing for the next court matter on my list. I was exhausted, with only a few hours of sleep.
My day started as it had for the past several months with a
I arrived at work at 6:45 a.m. My body was a bit achy, but otherwise it all seemed normal. Little did I realize that I would not see “normal” again for some time to come.
I worked the morning away and as I approached my lunch hour, I started to feel a headache coming on. I thought that maybe the headache was because I was hungry, so I made my way down to the cafeteria and ordered some lunch. I would eat at my desk so that I could keep working.
I sat down to eat and the headache got worse. POUNDING!!!
Now there were waves and waves of nausea.
The headache intensified – like my head was going to explode.
My mind immediately tried to recount the many news reports of recent days that listed the symptoms of the Corona Virus… did I have COVID-19? My heart rate increased, as did my worry.
At this point, my body started sweating profusely, which then became incredible waves of chills that literally shook me to the core. I could not warm up and I could not stop violently shaking.
This was bad. Really bad. Was I going to die? I am too young to die. What about my kids?
I went home and I immediately called the COVID-19 Alberta Health Services (AHS) help line. I was convinced that I had COVID-19. Hysteria had overtaken the city and the province in the early days of the pandemic.
Getting through to the COVID-19 Hotline took several hours of dialing, only to be told that even though I had some symptoms, I had not travelled in the last 14 days and I did not think that I had come into contact with anyone who had travelled in the last 14 days. I also did not have the persistent dry cough. I did not feel reassured.
I was still shaking uncontrollably with the chills. I had a fever. I had waves of nausea. It just wasn’t enough for AHS and on March 12, 2020 I was denied a COVID‑19 test.
I was very sick, and over the course of the next several days, I did not get better. My daughter was incredibly concerned. I was still shaking uncontrollably from the chills and I was sweating profusely. I couldn’t keep food down. She wanted to call 911.
I didn’t want her to call 911 because I did not want to go to the hospital emergency room (ER), as I was certain that I would get COVID-19. The reports on the news were that the ERs were absolutely packed. I was terrified to go into a petri dish of disease like the ER where I could end up getting COVID-19.
Eventually, as I got sicker, my daughter took control of the situation and she called 911. She is the sensible one. I am not. I admit that. Within minutes of calling, firetrucks, police and an ambulance arrived at my home.
It broke my heart that I was too sick to even enjoy the fact that I had a house full of firefighters surrounding me. Missed opportunities… LOL
I was shaking so badly, I could not warm up. My head felt like it was going to explode. I felt terrible. I was terrified that I was going to the ER.
The Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) assessed me and advised me that I was suffering from anxiety. That the chills and nausea that I was suffering with were because of anxiety. I was told to breathe and that everything would be fine.
The EMTs then advised me that they could take me to the ER, but that the ERs were incredibly busy and that I could get COVID-19 at the ER. That freaked me out. I said NO! to the EMTs.
I knew in my heart that I was sick and that something was definitely wrong, but I was so worried about getting COVID-19 that I made the decision to not go to the hospital. That decision would prove to be a disastrous mistake.
Had I taken the offer and gone to the hospital then, I likely would have caught what was happening to me early enough and not suffered as I did.
The worst was yet to come… over the course of the next several days, I went through periods of nausea and chills that shook me to the core. I suffered from fever dreams. I was hallucinating. I could not warm up. I could not keep food down and I was slowly dehydrating.
As well, I continued to endure the most brain-splitting painful headaches that just never went away. Nothing would help with the pain.
I awoke on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, and felt a familiar, yet unwelcome pain in my feet and in my legs. Flaming red and burning hot to the touch. This pain was a searing pain that I had not felt in over two years.
The last time I had these same symptoms, it was because of a life threatening blood infection that literally nearly killed me. I got up and hobbled to the washroom. I peed blood.
No… things just went from really bad… to much worse. The last five days of being sick were just the lead up to this… the grande finale.
I did not immediately tell my daughter what was happening. Clearly, I was not making smart decisions. I knew that she would immediately call the ambulance and I would be taken to the hospital.
Sometimes You Just Can’t Help Stupid
In retrospect, I cannot believe that I did not recognize the detrimental situation that I was now in and immediately seek the medical help that I so desperately needed. Instead, I continued to play the role of the stubborn male for a little bit longer. Sometimes you just can’t help stupid… and I was being STUPID.
I made my way downstairs to my living room. The searing pain in my legs was overwhelming. My daughter noticed that something was wrong. After pressing me, I finally told her about my legs and feet. I showed her my legs and right foot, which were flaming red and searing hot to the touch.
911 was called again, against my wishes. Same firemen, different police officers and different Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Another missed opportunity…
Things were much, much worse. The EMTs couldn’t get a stable blood pressure – they tried several times. Blood sugar levels were reading in the 18s – incredibly high. TOO HIGH! It was at this time I told the EMTs that I had peed blood. They could tell that I was dehydrated and that I was in a bad way.
It was their recommendation that I go to the Emergency Room (ER)… I still would not go. I did not want to get COVID-19. Clearly I was very sick, however I was not listening to reason. My fear of contracting COVID-19 has gripped me.
My EMTs spent the next half hour reasoning with me to, at the very least, go to a medical center where I could be both assessed by a doctor and have blood work done. Through persistence, and caring, and truly understanding my incredible fears… my EMT was finally able to convince me to at the very least, go to a medical centre.
My daughter saved my life. She really truly did.
I arrived and got in rather quickly. I recognized that I was very, very sick. They took my blood and gave me an IV to start rehydrating me. They could not regulate my blood pressure and on two occasions over the next several hours my blood pressure crashed. My blood sugars were still in the 18s. It was a very scary time.
My blood work came back; I had an infection, and my kidneys had certainly suffered some damage. Because I was so sick, I would be transferred to the Royal Alex Hospital.
I ended up exactly where I should have gone six days earlier. Stupid me. And I nearly died.
I was in hospital for 4 days and was on heavy dose IV antibiotics. Patients were moved out of the hospital as quickly as possible to make beds available in the event that there was a COVID-19 crisis. I was sent home to recover. I would have to travel back to the hospital for an hour each day for 15 days to receive a heavy dose of IV antibiotics. I would also receive wound care at the same time as my legs and feet were heavily damaged from the infection. When the IV antibiotics were completed, I received another 14 days of heavy dose oral antibiotics… it has been a journey.
My long standing battle with obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2D) has contributed to weakening me from time to time.
When you are stressed out beyond belief, and you are not properly taking your meds, and you are fighting a depression that has caused you to stress eat incredible amounts of chocolate to cope, and you are not following up on doctor’s appointments…
When you are incredibly fearful because COVID-19 has become and continues to be a global pandemic; sadly when you neglect your body, you allow it to become worn down, broken, and open to infection.
I was broken, and I didn’t listen to my body. As a result, I made incredibly poor choices. What happened to me happened because I didn’t take care of ME.
Self-care. It is so incredibly important. You DESERVE to care about you. No time is better than now to ensure that you are taking care of you. Make sure that you are following up on your self-care.
For me, I have been off the antibiotics now for 62 days. The infection is gone… and I trust that I will never get another one.
I have recovered from my depression… a medical scare can do that to you. I have followed up with every single medical appointment. I have gone for every single test that has been requested by my doctors - it is very important to do so.
I have embraced me and I have resumed taking ALL my meds. I am eating properly, and, I have not stress eaten or had a chocolate bar in 99 days. YAYYY for me! I have also experienced some weight loss… although I don’t recommend losing weight the way I did.
To those that live with diabetes it doesn’t matter which type, make sure that you are diligent about checking your blood sugars. Make sure that you are meticulously checking your legs, your feet and most importantly your toes. Diligence on your part will help alert you to future problems. Please stay on top of them.
I have spoken with my doctor about my depression and I continue to work on taking care of me. I am now walking everyday again and I am building up my stamina.
The last six months was a perfect storm of stupidity, fear and infection. Thankfully, I survived to share my journey with you.
I finish off with my Marty’s Words of Wisdom…
DO NOT be a Marty. Make sure that you are taking care of your health and your well‑being. It is more important than you know. Make sure that you are controlling your stress and make sure that you take care of you.
Most importantly, DON’T allow a crisis to get in the way of seeing
your doctor… or going to the hospital for urgent medical
And just for your information… while I was in the hospital, I was tested for COVID‑19.
I did not have COVID-19.
Preparation date: May 2022