Director, ARDS Alliance
One morning changed my life. A date I will never forget: 13th June 2019. That week, I had been doing my normal activities, going to work, seeing friends and enjoying life as a 21-year-old. However, on that Thursday morning, I woke up and I could not breathe.
I had always had asthma as a child, but I took my medication regularly and it did not usually bother me. At 4am, I woke up and experienced the worst asthma attack of my life – my inhalers were not working. I struggled until 7am at home and at that point I finally called 999 (hoping that I would just need some nebulisers). The paramedics took me to the local A&E department and before walking to the ambulance, I remember turning to my mum, hugging her and saying “well, this is inconvenient”, little did I know what was about to happen.
I struggled throughout the day in the resuscitation room and at 6pm that evening, the decision was made to put me to sleep and intubate me. I would not wake up for another 5 weeks. Over that Thursday evening, my lungs failed, my kidneys failed and early in the hours of Friday, I suffered a cardiac arrest. A referral was made to the regional ECMO service, and I was promptly placed on ECMO and transferred to Wythenshawe Hospital in the UK.
I spent 25 days on ECMO and a ventilator, followed by a further 10 days just on the ventilator. The recovery was both mentally and physically draining. I had severe muscle wastage and had completely lost my independence what felt like overnight. Slowly but surely, with intense physiotherapy in ICU and on a ward, I recovered. I went home on 16th August 2019. A year later, I was back at medical school where I am studying to be a doctor.
The full details of the experience I only discovered after reading my medical records. I felt compelled to fill in the gaps of what happened in those 5 weeks. I look at life differently now, and still have some lasting effects of the experience: a diagnosis of severe eosinophilic asthma and adrenal insufficiency from the steroids. These are manageable, and I feel very lucky to have had a smooth recovery, with limited ‘bumps in the road’.
The real issue with ARDS, is that it is usually not only ‘I’ or ‘me’. I am blessed to have such a supportive family and group of friends. The experience of ARDS was traumatic for me, but the real emotional pain came from hearing my family and friends’ experiences and reading the notes of discussions they had with the healthcare professionals.
Communication with relatives and friends is something I endeavor to get right in future, and I believe it is imperative that this is something which is done right for everyone impacted by ARDS. I hope for a future in which ARDS is described as something of the past. Until then, we should support and care for those who have experienced ARDS: directly or indirectly.
“I hope for a future in which ARDS is described as something of the past. Until then, we should support and care for those who have experienced ARDS: directly or indirectly.”