COVID-19 survivor recalls nightmare struggle

Hams Rabah and Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Reuters

Posted at Jun 04 2021 09:48 PM

Abdullah Bashiti, a 38-year old father of four and who recovered from coronavirus disease, shows a scar caused by what he says was intubation when he was treated for COVID at hospital, as he attends an interview with Reuters at home in Amman, Jordan May 30, 2021. Alaa Al Sukhni, Reuters

AMMAN - Jordanian COVID-19 survivor Abdullah Bashiti still suffers disturbing flashbacks from his time in intensive care.

One of the most vivid is a vision of his doctors holding their hands in prayer as he regained consciousness after a sudden critical oxygen lapse.

The 38-year-old father of four recalls the hallucinations and delirium - from images of doomsday to a nightmare of a war zone - that beset him as he struggled for life during 37 days in the ICU ward of a private hospital in Amman.

After he regained consciousness one day, five doctors were at his bedside saying: "Abdullah say amen, Abdullah say dear God."

"I really felt like I was fighting for my life," Bashiti said, surrounded by his family.

In a moment of desperation in January, he sent a message to his closest friend, urging him to take care of his family and ensure a burial washing ceremony according to Muslim tradition.

"Tell my family to wash my body very, very well," the message said.

Bashiti was hospitalized during a second wave of infections that has now ebbed but which saw hundreds of deaths every week, shocking close-knit Jordanian communities.

Authorities scrambled to add hospital beds for fear of a collapse in the health sector as ICU wards were fully occupied and hospitals in many areas were close to capacity.

Like many of Jordan's hospitalized COVID-19 patients, Bashiti, a businessman, was more concerned with getting back to work than taking care of his mental wellbeing.

STRESS

Jordan's psychiatrists report COVID survivors suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, depression and post traumatic stress disorders that they fear may never go away.

"It is not enough to count the number of cases and deaths every day. Against every case and death there are thousands of psychiatric cases that they (governments) do not mention, count nor see. They are just abandoning people to fend for themselves," said Walid Sarhan, a leading psychiatrist.

The health minister could not immediately be reached for comment, but officials say a scramble to add hospital beds meant a lack of extra resources for mental wellbeing.

Nael Adwan, head of the national center for mental health, said the ministry had set up a 24-hour hotline to give mental health support.

Psychiatrists are seeing more patients among previously hospitalised COVID-19 survivors on top of those being treated for the impact of months of lockdown, Sarhan said.

"People get exposed to instances of unusual terror in the ICU," he said in a clinic in Amman overflowing with patients waiting to see him.

"A person who gets complications and needs extreme measures to be saved, sees death in his eyes, it does not differ a lot from having a building collapse on someone or getting his house hit by a rocket," Sarhan added.

Jordan has had 9,500 COVID-19 deaths, some after spending time in ICU wards. Total confirmed cases are around 738,000 out a population of 10 million.