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The Chronicle

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Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
AFTER spending a record 55 days battling for his life in an Intensive Care Unit following a bout of Covid-19 and losing over 20kg in weight, Layton Pullen has a lot to be grateful for and he feels he is a walking miracle.

On paper, he had been told that he had no chance of survival owing to the severity of his condition but he has lived another day to tell the tale.

Today, still on the road to recovery, Mr Pullen believes a force greater than medicine and science kept him alive when many have died a few hours or days after being placed on ventilators to help them in breathing.

Sunday News visited Mr Pullen at his home in Hillside suburb where he narrated his ordeal that he feels he was not supposed to come out of hospital considering his underlying conditions and his long stay in hospital.

How he got infected

“Around July 12, 2021, I came into contact with someone who I didn’t know had tested positive for Covid-19, that person later on passed away from Covid-19 and on the 19th of July, I was travelling to Bulawayo, I work in Collen Bawn so I contacted this person in Gwanda and proceeded to Bulawayo, that very evening when I got home, I started feeling tired and my temperature started rising.

I managed to spend the night at home and in the morning, I wasn’t feeling too good, movement was now difficult and we ended up going to the hospital for Covid-19 testing and I tested positive.

“After that I came home, was very weak and contacted a doctor who advised us to get an oximeter to check my oxygen saturation and it had dropped quite badly to 50 percent and we immediately went to Mater Dei Hospital and admitted into their isolation ward on 13 July where I spent a couple of days on oxygen,” he said.

Day 35 black out

“Prior to me getting Covid-19, I suffered from diabetes and kidney failure so I had those underlying conditions which was already a challenge because already that was a dangerous thing for me to get Covid-19 and have underlying conditions at the same time.

I was put on dialysis for my kidney failure, I did it on my third day of admission.

From there I passed out, I knocked off and I woke up on the 20th of August 2021, that is when I opened my eyes and I have no memory of what transpired in the days I was out.

I was placed on a ventilator to help me breathe as I could not do it on my own,” he said.

Mrs Renee Pullen’s account

“I was called in by his physician and she told me he was not doing too well and we went to the hospital so that we could consent to having him on a ventilator as he was not looking good.

The doctor was very honest and told me that no one had made it off the ventilator alive so I had to sign to put him on as he was very tired, his body was weak.

The anaesthetist then put him to rest for several days,” she narrated sobbing.

Mrs Pullen was informed that the procedure was very risky but the doctors wanted to see if he could not breathe on his own.

After nine days they tried to remove it to no avail. Doctors informed Mrs Pullen that they had never taken anybody off a ventilator before and it was a 50-50 chance of survival and all she could do was pray for her husband together with her sons.

The text messages to her ailing husband

“Every day I would send him messages to his WhatsApp but I had his phone with me, I would tell him how our day went, how we miss him and how we wanted him to come back, and he only saw these messages on Christmas Day.

And he asked why I had been sending messages, he asked what I was going to do if he had not managed to make it back home, but I knew he would,” she said.

She then tested positive for Covid-19 too with her sons and she was very ill but did not go to the hospital.
A few weeks later

“Around 17 August I was called by the hospital informing me that they were moving him to the Intensive Care Unit from the isolation side. They were putting him on and off the ventilator to see if he was able to breathe for himself.

I was informed that he was trying hard to breathe for himself and his brain activity was very good unlike other patients in his state,” she added.

Mrs Pullen said one day she asked the hospital to open a window for her so that she could pray for her seemingly dying husband as she was not allowed to visit him.

“I told God that if it was time for him to go home it was okay, let Your will be done but his children need him, there were things that still needed to be done,”.

However, he was still deteriorating but the hospital doctors never gave up on him despite the fact that his body was tired from the Covid-19 and dialysis.

Removal from the ventilators

“He was out for about 30 days and when they removed the ventilator he was shocked to be in hospital and I had been told by the doctors to tell him that he had had Covid-19 so that he would not be confused.

He couldn’t talk but murmured some things as the tubes were still in his nose and mouth,” she added.

Mr Pullen could not move or even turn his own body after he woke up from the coma and had to be assisted.

After a week he was removed from the ventilator and told to try and breathe for himself.

At this point he could only move two fingers only from his whole body.

Towards healing

“It was stressful, if I got tired of sleeping on my back, I could not even tell anybody that I wanted to turn.

So, I developed codes with the nurses who could sort of pick out signs that I wanted to turn, they had to guess what I wanted to do.

It was frustrating though.

The tubes were then removed, and because the tubes were in my throat for so long, my voice box was damaged so I had no voice initially.

I could not even drink water; I had a tube that was feeding me.

“After a week I started moving my legs, of which even the doctors couldn’t tell me my recovery days as this was new, so everyday when something happened it was news, if I moved a leg or arm but I was still using oxygen in the ICU and still doing dialysis,” said Mr Pullen.

The explanation as to what had happened to him started coming from the doctors as he was now feeling better. He eventually got discharged on 6 September 2021, 55 days later!

When he was off the ventilator but in ICU he had a tough time trying to sleep because of the beeping sounds from the machinery and lights that were constantly on, a situation that saw him exhausted as sleep was not coming cheap.

He then told the doctor that he wanted to sleep properly at home and they said the risk was high as he was still not able to move, walk or breathe without oxygen.

“I got a nurse aide to look after me at home.

They had to do necessary checks first because I had been lying in a bed for two months without coming out but I was given an all-clear to go home but I still could not do anything, they had to feed, bathe me and everything.

I later started doing physiotherapy and my body responded, I lost 20kg of weight when I was on the ventilator.

There were bones that were showing on my body so I needed to put on that weight back so that I had the strength and the muscle to move.

I started picking up the weight and I am almost 100 percent fine,” he said.

Mr Pullen however, says the stories of other people who survived from around the world are sad as some people failed to walk again, regain their sense of smell and taste, hair and memory.

Mr Pullen, who had never been admitted in hospital before, exhausted his medical aid during his stay and they are grateful to their service provider, doctors and the hospital who understood his unique case and have allowed him to settle his outstanding bills as he recovers.

He has however, resumed work but not full-time as he is still healing from the devastating effects of the virus.

He remains forever grateful at getting another shot at life as many of those that went into the isolation unit and ICU with him, never made it out alive.

He says news of his long stay on a ventilator filled the hospital corridors and doctors and hospital staff saw him as somewhat of a spectacle as none had made it that far after being infected with Covid-19. — NyembeziMu

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