As I write this article, I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to be alive. My family and I fell ill with Covid-19 soon after Christmas.
After a week of suffering with the symptoms of fatigue, fever, dry cough, and mild chest pain, all gradually getting worse, and two days after a positive Covid test result, I became noticeably short of breath. It got to the point that I was breathing very fast and could not even sit up straight and I remember saying to my husband that I could not cope with it anymore. He immediately called for an ambulance and it arrived in less than 30 minutes. The paramedic confirmed extremely low blood oxygen saturation level and I was taken to Epsom General Hospital, Surrey.
It was scary to find myself in the resuscitation ward, then being attached to many electrodes to monitor my heart, and breathing from a nebuliser for an hour. I was advised to take as many deep breaths as I could, and it was difficult. I have had allergic asthma since childhood but have never required hospital admission or a nebuliser before. My asthma has been well under control since practising yoga for 16 years and I rarely use an inhaler, so it was a real shock to experience how this terrible virus takes hold. I remember the thoughts playing through my mind: “Will I get through this?”, “I did not see my son before getting into the ambulance … ”, and I couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my face.
All hands on deck
A nurse saw my distress and immediately calmed me down. I learnt that she was a paediatric nurse and during my stay I met a few staff from different disciplines who were reassigned to work in the Covid wards because of the overwhelming number of Covid-19 patients. It was busy in the ward and the emergency staff were working incredibly hard.
I was given an MRI scan to check if there were any blood clots in my lungs; I was relieved to hear there were none, though other lesions caused by the virus were apparent.
Later, I was admitted into one of the high dependency wards where I stayed for six days. I had to wear an oxygen mask to increase my saturation levels and for a few days it was on the highest oxygen concentration. When my blood oxygen level reached the target, the oxygen I received was gradually reduced over a period of days until I could maintain the healthy oxygen level without an oxygen mask – something we usually take for granted. Within a few days, as my condition improved, my husband’s condition worsened and, the day before I was discharged, he too was admitted into hospital.
Finding ways to cope
It was a worrying, distressing and difficult time for my whole family. I have never been admitted for this length of time before, and unable to have any visitors, you have to find a way to cope and so I wanted to share what kept me going during my stay.
Mental chanting was extremely helpful. I was aware of all the thoughts that were playing on my mind and mental chanting gave me solace amidst all the noise around me. I knew some health chants off by heart, and it was wonderful to access many other chants on the TSYP website, so I was very grateful for this resource.
Watching my breath, one breath at a time with nyasam was another tool I used too, and whilst I was unable to practise any formal pranayama technique with an oxygen mask on, I used visualisation of nadi sodhana for cleansing and balancing the system.
Service to others
The staff were amazing and whilst all of them showed such dedication, care and positivity, there was one Health Support Worker who spent some extra time to talk to me. His name was Roy. He worked previously as a lighting engineer and was made redundant due to Covid-19. His wife is a nurse and suggested he apply to become a health support worker. Roy said he could have either wallowed in self-pity or done something else to avoid this negative path. He talked about how much he loved the work he does, because it is in service to others, and the importance of having a good attitude and positive state of mind for our physical and mental health. Plus, he had learned to recognise the importance of how we behave towards ourselves and others and how we see things; and that how we show up every day we are giving or teaching something to others. Compassion, service, and gratitude bring forth emotional resilience. I was so touched by his humility. By this point he was aware I was a yoga teacher and I thanked him for his advice. As he went on with his duties, I smiled as he reminded me of a few yoga sutra-s that were helpful to me.
1.20 Unwavering faith to help us to keep going and work through obstacles. Having faith is the opposite to fear.
1.23 Linking to the path of service, not only to Isvara, but everything is Divine and an extension of myself …
1.33 Cultivating the feelings of friendliness, compassion, and joy to yourself, and to others, in doing so, bring peace of mind.
2.1 Self-care with appropriate Action and Awareness and how to respond to adversity with an appropriate Attitude. Doing your best and leaving the rest.
2.16 Reflect on past actions and the outcomes to inform your choices to reduce or avoid pain.
2.33 Through which lens do I view things, positively or negatively? Does it serve me or not? If not, reflect on what can I do to become a better version of myself each day.
When I could, I was able to practicse some side arm movements to open the side of the body for the breath, and the advice given by a physiotherapist was to lie in prone position as much as I could, a few times in the day. This was to work using the back of the lungs and increase oxygen saturation into the capillaries. It was amazing to watch the monitor and see my oxygen saturation increase and soon enough the nurses got me to sit up in a chair and then to try walking to improve my breathing capacity. By this point I was making great progress and was ready to move into a recovery ward in preparation for discharge. I said my goodbyes and thanked the staff as I was wheeled out.
The recovery ward was not quite as I expected, and I really did not want to stay one more night there. I was relieved to hear in the morning that I could in fact go home. Relief and excitement to see my son filled my heart, plus the peace and quiet to rest and recuperate. My family stepped in with food deliveries and home-cooked food which was a godsend.
As I write these words, I am feeling so much better. All the yoga practice I have under my belt has contributed to my recovery, but I am taking small gradual steps to get back to full health. My husband came home after two weeks in hospital and is also making progress.
I hope that what I have shared will be helpful to someone else. Please feel free to share with others who find themselves in a similar situation.
I feel so blessed and send huge gratitude and thanks to my family, friends, students for their well wishes of love and support, and to my amazing friends of the TSYP committee and Sunday Sanga for chanting for our return to good health.
I would like to finish with a poem that caught my attention – of support, hope, faith, positivity, and light.
Guide If you want to know how to keep your balance, where a pair of feet cannot stand together, ask me. I have come a long way from level ground. On that slope, jagged with the rough-and-ready steps of hope, I have found pickaxes and ropes less useful than a glance upward. Never look down. Believe me, I would have died, once, of vertigo, but for the outstretched arms of a rainbow. Vasantha Surya (In Search of Mind, TKV Desikachar)