Long COVID: My ordeal

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Long COVID is real. And it almost killed me.

It all started in February. I had trouble breathing. I was literally sitting up, catching my breath every 15 to 20 minutes, even at night. I would inexplicably fall asleep for up to an hour before and in between doing commentary for Pilipinas Super League. I went to a doctor and an X-ray showed that I had fluid in my left lung and an enlarged heart. The recommendation was to aspirate or drain the fluid. I went to the Manila Doctors Hospital for the procedure.

Upon admission on March 19, my heart rate had been fluctuating between 160 to 180 beats per minute, so fast that it was no longer reloading blood for circulation. They had to use the defibrillator to restart my heart and transfer me to the Coronary Care Unit. The next day I went into respiratory shock and 2D echo showed that my heart had 20 percent function.

The doctors said I went into respiratory shock they had to stop my heart and restart it to arrest the speeding up and avert more damage to my other organs. It saved my life for the moment. I woke up about three days later in the ICU with tubes down my throat, an intra jugular cut in my neck for hemodialysis and a dozen needles stuck in me. I couldn’t speak or drink, and I was being fed through a nasogastric tube. I was fighting for my life. I was under so much medication for 10 days that I started hallucinating and felt paranoid. When I would write messages to the nurses and family members, what was clear to me was unintelligible to them. To my memory, I almost died about a dozen times. Though I may have hallucinated some of it. I had respiratory failure, decompensated heart failure, secondary to dilated cardiomyopathy, secondary to viral myocarditis, cardiac dysrhythmia, and acute kidney injury secondary to cardiorenal syndrome. I don’t understand much of it, either. In addition, I acquired pneumonia. Quite a collection. All of these are shocking because I don’t smoke or drink or have any known illnesses.

After 17 days, we asked to be transferred to the Philippine Heart Center, since it was closer to home and my heart was the center of the illness. There, we finally found out what had struck me down: Long COVID. Apparently, once you’ve had COVID, it may quietly go to work on your body, and viruses love the heart. Inevitably, I was informed that my heart would never reach a hundred percent again.

The 2D echo now revealed that the partition between the chambers of my heart had stopped functioning and was still swollen. I needed a dual-chamber Implanted Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) installed in my chest. The device has a pacemaker function and has two leads (wires) attached by small screws to the thicker part of my heart. If it ever ran rampant again, I would receive a shock akin to being kicked by a horse. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.

In the meantime, I had to learn how to walk again after 38 days in the hospital, I’m on 13 different medications and undergoing physical therapy at the Heart Center. My left arm has been immobilized in a sling so as not to risk extending my arm and dislodging the wires in my heart. It will be a total of three months before I may engage in what resembles normal activity, but I hope to go back to work in June. I would not be here if not for all the people who went out of their way to help me, either financially, through prayers and positive thoughts, personal visits and more. I will be reaching out to all of you as my strength allows. I am forever grateful to you all. God bless us.

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