I Just Got Out Of The COVID-19 ICU. Here’s How I Made It Through.

I Just Got Out Of The COVID-19 ICU. Here’s How I Made It Through. By Kelli Dunham.

I live with two unrelated roommates even though I’m 51 years old, I have multiple day jobs (nursing, and working with high school students) that support my art (performing comedy), and until two weeks ago I hated New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for a stunning array of well-thought-out political reasons but now I’m not sure whether I’m in love with him or want him to be my dad.

In other words, I’m a typical New Yorker. …

Last week … I found myself leaning against a stretcher gasping for breath in a local pediatric ER turned COVID-19 ER. I felt … the substantial terror of “Oh shit, this is serious.” …

I’d had a bad cough for a few days and then had grown steadily more short of breath. I hadn’t initially suspected COVID-19 since I hadn’t really had a fever. But red-faced with the embarrassment of, OMG, needing something and blue-lipped with lack of oxygen, I headed to the Manhattan hospital where I’ve received extremely competent medical care in the past. …

For a moment, it seemed like a regular Thursday morning in any emergency room. But then a tech clad head to toe in plastic protective gear called my name and motioned me to follow her. We stepped through a heavy door. …

And then I was in my own room, leaning against a stretcher, with an ER doc — who looked as exhausted as if she’d just completed the New York City Marathon even though it was not yet 9 a.m. — staring intently at me.

“I’m worried about how rapidly you’re breathing.” …

Tired and Kind Doctor (whose name I cannot remember despite having inquired about it three times) asked if I would be OK with being intubated. I can remember thinking that it was a weird time to have a theoretical conversation about such a serious matter. What was she doing, taking a survey? But then I noticed the gathering of health care providers outside the room, suiting up in their protective gear and circling like scrub-clad extraordinarily helpful jackals. This was alarming. …

I was lucky: I responded to non-invasive efforts, so the Helpful Jackals moved on to address the dozens of similar situations I heard going on around me. …

After wrestling my respiratory rate into something more compatible with ongoing life, the staff moved me upstairs into the ICU. The next few days were as unpleasant as you might imagine — struggling to breathe, reliving those terrible moments in the hospital with Cheryl and negotiating all the random death-related worries that popped into my head. …

After a little less than a week, I was able to breathe well enough to leave the hospital.