What Is It Like To Recover From COVID-19 In The ICU? One Patient Shares Their Story
Back in late March, Tim Noonan tested positive for COVID-19, it started off with a low-grade fever. But, just a few days later his fever spiked and he was having trouble breathing. After going to the Instacare in Park City, the active 61-year-old was rushed to the emergency room. His oxygen levels were dropping.
“I thought I was gonna die. And I’m not a scared person, and I was looking at Kellee and saying, ‘you gotta save me,’’ said Noonan.
His doctor in the emergency room happened to be a friend of his, Dr. Kellee Reed. Within an hour Noonan was intubated and air-lifted to Intermountain Medical Center in Murray. Noonan recalls his month in the ICU as a blur of hallucinations and nightmares.
“I knew I was in some kind of medical facility, but, kind of picture it like I’m in a bed or I imagine it’s a chair. It was in different places, in different cities,” said Noonan. “And I kept trying to get home, and I kept trying to get out of this bed and go home, so much so that I ripped out my intubation tube out of my mouth, the whole thing.”
“Then I was restrained, so basically I’m tied down to the bed, hallucinating, that was very, very disturbing,” said Noonan.
Noonan’s experience is not uncommon. Researchers estimate that somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of COVID-19 ICU patients experience some form of delirium.
“People are incredibly sick, they require more medications, they require longer ICU stays then we’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Julie Lanphere, medical director for the Neuro Specialty Rehab Unit at Intermountain Medical Center.
Many COVID-19 patients develop PTSD or anxiety as a result of their ICU experience, said Lanphere.
“Having all the invasive tubes really give them a sense that they've been, they've been terribly violated. And for those people, they continue to have flashbacks, or bad dreams that frighten them that wake them up,” she said.
And on top of that, unlike other ICU patients, those with COVID-19 can’t even see friends or family in person.
Dr. Lanphere and her team provide COVID-19 patients with psychiatric help right away. In Noonan’s case he received anti-anxiety medication to help him sleep and get rid of his nightmares. All of that is layered on top of the physical recovery from the virus.
“There's a lot that goes into function that we take for granted every day that these COVID patients are having to relearn,” said Lanphere.
“I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t balance, I couldn’t even take one step,” said COVID-19 patient Tim Noonan.
Even standing up can be terrifying for COVID-19 patients once they are released from the ICU.
“You come out of this, you stand up, and it feels like you’re drowning, you can’t get a breath,” said Noonan. “You try to breathe in and then you’re breathing in faster and faster, then you hyperventilate your heart rate is up to 120, and you think you’re going to die again. So, you start going into panic mode, every time you stand up, you go, if I stand up I’m gonna panic. So then you do.”
Noonan learned coping mechanisms to remain calm and to be able to breathe. He also learned how to walk and talk again. And after three months in hospital, two of which were in the rehab unit, he was released last week. He credits his recovery to the dedicated staff at Intermountain.
“Where the ICU saved my life, the rehab floor gave it back to me,” said Noonan.
Now, Noonan is back home in Park City. A health care aid and a physical therapist visit regularly, and he’s on 24/7 oxygen and has a trach in his neck, which he anticipates he will need for at least another year.
He’s got a message to those who aren’t taking the virus seriously: “This is real. It's very, very brutal, and it's very dangerous,” said Noonan.