200,000 lives: A Grim Milestone

This park in Detroit honors those lost to Covid-19.

 

“Breath is life. When the stakes are high and the challenge is hard, I come to my foundation for answers — breath.” Circus Performer LadyBeast. 
 
I stumbled on this quote while reading a blog about Creative Mornings and it hit me. 
Breath is our foundation.  We stop breathing and we cease to exist. 
I’ve been conscious of breathing for most of my life because I have asthma. So sometimes  breathing can be difficult. 
Every now and then, especially when I’m nervous, I have found myself short of breath. But I have never felt endangered. My asthma was mild. I knew I would feel better quickly. 
But my recent bout with Coronavirus changed my relationship with breathing.

At the height of my illness, I struggled with every breath. My lungs hurt and they weren’t working very well. 
Laying on my back, attached to leads to monitor my heart, a port in my arm and a mask strapped tight over my face I felt like I was drowning. 
I was working hard to get air and it felt as if the virus was suffocating me. Every breath was accompanied  by a painful sharpness. It’s hard to explain but when I inhaled I felt a cutting type pain. 
While I was frightened and afraid to sleep because I didn’t think I’d wake up, I was also keenly aware that I had to fight. 
I couldn’t really speak, but I wanted to yell out and say “no, I’m not letting go.”  
My mind raced from thought to thought. 
“No, I won’t let this be the end” and then “I can’t believe this is the end. I’m only 55. I have a wife and kids and a career and friends. I never said goodbye and I have so much more I want to do.”
I thought of my late mother and my beloved grandparents. I asked them for help. I prayed for G-d’s mercy and I wondered if I was in some sort of dream. 
My mind kept coming back to my mother. She passed at age 59 and missed so much. Now here I was four years younger. I would miss seeing my kids get married, I would miss having grandkids and I would lose all the things I wanted to do once I retired. While tempted to give in and let go, I just refused. 
Breathe. Just breathe. Keep breathing. 
And I did. 
 
 

I’m a little over two months into my Covid odyssey and here’s where I stand (or mostly sit).

 I am still on three liters of oxygen. I can go off for short periods of time, but when I dip below 92 on my pulse oximeter (always by my side) I have to go back to the O2 hose—you don’t want to starve your brain of oxygen.
For the most part my breathing is ok. But sometimes I feel like there’s something stuck deep in my chest. And  I still lack my wind.
My body is sore from what I guess is the therapy I’m doing after 39 days in a hospital bed.
But I also have a stabbing pain in my left thigh. I’ve been applying heat to the leg which also feels numb at times.
The stabbing wakes me some nights.
My neck is also stiff and my tailbone is sore which means that I need to sit on a lot of cushions. My friend Scott bought me a “donut” and I literally can’t live without it.
Best. Gift. Ever.
I’m not really sure if some of my soreness is the residual impact of the virus or the result of being in that hospital bed.
My sleep has been inconsistent, but I am not fatigued like so many Covid patients report.
I am, however, experiencing a fair amount of anxiety. There are some mornings when I feel very jittery. It fades as the day moves forward but I also experience pangs of fear and just overall dread that seems to come at me in waves.
When I get hit with the wave, I try to shift my mind to a positive thought. I’m so lucky that I can call friends or read messages and cards to lift my spirits.
I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love I have received from family and friends. I jokingly told my wife that I feel that I attended my funeral without having to pass.
But boy did I come close and that experience is both real and surreal.
To be honest, I’m still kind of processing the whole experience.
As a news junkie, I’ve always paid attention to what’s happening in the world. But these days, stories about Covid truly affect me on a different level.
The 200,000 plus deaths in America is not just a grim statistic to me; it’s a shockingly real kick in the teeth because I’ve now seen the enormous toll this virus has enacted on our country and on the families left to grieve.
I was one of the lucky ones.
So I wonder: why I was spared?  And I  wonder what I should be doing now that I’ve been given a a second chance. I realize how fragile life is; how easy it could have been to simply stop breathing.
The last few months feels like a dream to me.
I went to get a test at Bethesda Hospital and came home 39 days later.
In between, I wore masks to breathe, had morphine to dull the pain (it barely took the edge off) and struggled to even sit up. I had odd dreams, painful spasms and felt dizzy and disoriented at times. For a few weeks, my eyes burned and there were times when I woke up and wasn’t quite sure where I was. Sometimes things seemed to move in the room. I would see the TV on the ceiling but then realized it hadn’t moved. I was just confused.
I heard screams from a nearby room and thought to myself someone has it worse than me and I prayed they would find relief.
Since coming home I’ve had extensive therapy and it’s helping.
I am slowly getting my strength and stamina back. I came home with a walker and a hospital bed.  Both are gone.
I can climb a flight of stairs but I lose my breath and need a few minutes to recover. But it’s progress.
I am so grateful.
When I wake up I am reminded how fortunate I am to be alive.
I’m more appreciative of my friends, love my wife even more (she’s been my rock), cherish my kids and family and can’t wait to get back to what life has to offer.
I write these words to raise awareness and to urge people to be vigilant and safe.
Last week, we attended a virtual fundraiser to raise money for Bethesda Hospital’s Covid efforts. I was happy to see a brief video of my departure from the hospital as part of the event. The health care heroes that were highlighted that night saved my life and the life of many others. When I left Bethesda, I promised them I would try and spread the word.
And that’s what I plan to do.
I am grateful I have the opportunity to do so.
I’m here because of prayers and the talents of amazing medical professionals. We are blessed to have these people in our community.
Thanks for reading.

Comments

  1. David Reeves says:

    Thanks, Jeff

  2. Kathy Bohrer says:

    Thank you for your poignant words. You are Blessed. Utmost thanks to all the health caregivers both at hospital and at home.

  3. Bob Victorin says:

    Jeff, your progress is so encouraging, keep up the hard work. Importantly, your personal deep thoughts are reminders of how precious life is for everyone. Thank you for your valuable message at this crucial time for all. You are in our thoughts.

  4. PATRICIA SCIARILLO says:

    Thanks for your input and your recovery. I do wish more people took this seriously from the beginning. I, myself have been quarantined since March. I have been out to Dr. Appts. And having groceries delivered or using delivery dudes for takeout. Trying to keep some of our restaurants afloat. I have friends that think I am over doing it but I am 73 years old, and have an auto immune disease so I’m not taking any chances. We must all take precautions if we are to get rid of this virus. I’m glad you are feeling better. Take one day at a time.

  5. Mary Curtis says:

    Beautiful. Hang in there.

  6. Frances Bourque says:

    For all of us, and you too, just keep on breathing!

  7. Joe Dunleavy says:

    God bless you and your family and all the front line people.

  8. Darcy Tyson says:

    Jeff,
    Glad to hear you are getting well..slow and steady 🙂

  9. Joanne Collett says:

    Jeff without knowing it you have given me hope ….Thank You for your beautiful words…..The thoughts you have had while healing….are similar to mine….but as much as I enjoy writing I’ve never been able to describe what anxiety and fear have felt like…..I have suffered with depression and anxiety for most of my life….Thank you for expressing my anguish…… I have not endured the virus as you have…I’ve lived with chronic pain…..I WISH YOU A COMPLETE RECOVERY AND THE JOY THAT COMES WITH IT…may G-d bless You and your family…..My son would have been your age, however; he passed away four years ago from a rare cancer…I’m so happy your life has been spared..Enjoy the very best life. Joanne Collett

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Dear Ms. Collett:
      Thank you for your kind words. I’m so so sorry for the pain you’ve suffered and for the loss of your son. I will be keeping you in my prayers. I’m glad you are finding hope. It’s so important. Things will be ok…❤️ Jeff.

  10. Survivors guilt is something you will have to deal with and it is a natural. It is also tied very closely to the question what will I do with my second chance?? Our theaters were different but the same. Yours was Bethesda mine was Vietnam. Your 39 days..my 126 days. Both of us fighting infections that could have taken out lives but we survived. No one really knew my story and I kept it that way for a purpose. Just like you, the hard core pain meds and super cell antibiotics that I endured had me wondering if I would die in a hospital bed. The infection that set in was out of control and I was about to loose my leg. With the good Lords help I made it back home. What to do with my second chance??? To make a difference in people’s lives…this Delray Beach and a blessed career. Cheryl never thought I’d make it through the academy and I will admit there were a lot of tears she’d from the pain of doing 3 mile runs everyday. I was spared for a reason,the same as you. So I live my life for those who were killed in Nam with honor and commitment thus the survivors guilt I have had since 1972 is a bit more palatable. You have overcome a lot and like me you will continue to do so. It’s the paradox that drives us all. Don’t waste it.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      I’m going to have to process what you wrote Skip. It’s a very interesting perspective.
      One thing I can promise, I won’t waste it.

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