Gloria Levi lives in VancouverPicture of Gloria Levi

I’m 89, with a heart condition. I had open heart surgery 3 years ago. When I realized that I was having increasing difficulty breathing, I presumed that my heart was acting up. However, my granddaughter, the nurse, insisted that it was COVID-19. “It couldn’t be,” I replied. “I’ve been so careful.” Finally, after two weeks of increased breathing difficulties, I relented and agreed to go to the hospital.

I entered Vancouver General Hospital on April 1st, 2020. As I slipped off all my clothing and donned the hospital gown, I realized I was shedding my personality and entering that institutionalized depersonalized state of ‘patient’. In spite of my computer, iPad, and cellphone, I was alone. Health care personnel only entered the room when they had a specific function to perform, dressed in their protective gear, and then left. My three adult children FaceTimed with me every day. But I struggled for every breath, grew weaker and complications set in. I felt profoundly alone.

I was constipated and tried every suggestion to improve the situation, to no avail. I forced myself to eat food, which was atrocious. Walking with assistance three times a day from bed to bathroom was exhausting. Day turning into night and night into day made each day seem maddeningly long. A nurse suggested I might have sleep apnea. I worried about all the new diagnostic labels the healthcare system might throw on me. I needed oxygen and constantly looked at the oxygenation markers to see how low they were. I couldn’t go home until I could breathe on my own without oxygen. Try as I would, I could not take a proper deep breath.

Breath! What is this phenomenon ‘breath’? “God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and the creature became a living being.” Breath meant life! The last breath a person takes before death is an exhalation, to expire, not an inhalation. I could not inhale without help from oxygen nasal prongs. I was trying so hard. I was so tired of trying. I said to myself, “Could I just let go?” Just let the exhalation come and it would be over. I closed my eyes to see what that would feel like. Peaceful…but dark.  I couldn’t be in darkness. I hungered for the blue of the sky, the colour of the inlet waters I can see from my window, the green of the trees, the dark reds of rooftops, the promise of the rainbow….the WONDER of this world! The preciousness and beauty of this planet. And I knew I wanted to live, to love, to engage.

By day 14, a physiotherapist worked patiently, teaching me how to control my breathing, to take air to the very bottom of my lungs. I could change the oxygenation markers on my own! On day 16 I left Vancouver General and returned home.  I had overcome the coronavirus.