'It felt like I had been buried alive': Langley woman recounts her battle with COVID-19

·4 min read
Sandy Rosen says there were moments in hospital when she wasn't sure she would survive.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Sandy Rosen says there were moments in hospital when she wasn't sure she would survive. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

When Sandy Rosen, 59, was diagnosed with COVID-19 last month, she knew she had a rough journey ahead of her, but figured her active lifestyle and lack of underlying health conditions would prevent her from getting seriously ill.

The Langley, B.C., dance teacher and mother of three imagined she'd beat the virus in no time.

But nine days after she tested positive, Rosen found herself in hospital, struggling to breathe and fearing the worst.

Now that she's home and on the mend, Rosen wants others to know that COVID-19 can take down anyone, regardless of how healthy they think they are.

"I would have thought I would have been just the flu version and it really turned the opposite to that very fast," she said.

'Suddenly things just started to turn'

For the first week, Rosen said she had flu-like symptoms that seemed manageable. She stayed home with her husband, who had also tested positive.

But as the days went by, more symptoms appeared, like loss of appetite, weakness, and migraines.

"Suddenly things just started to turn," said Rosen, who had not yet had her first dose of vaccine.

She was in touch with her doctor, as well as the province's COVID-19 hotline. Both asked about her breathing, which she hadn't noted because of all her other symptoms.

"Because of the nature of how awful I was feeling, I wasn't moving. So there was no opportunity I guess for us to take note of whether I was breathing well," she said.

They continued to stay home and isolate.

Rosen is pictured with her family.
Rosen is pictured with her family. (Sandy Rosen)

She said she knew something different was happening when her body "seemed incapable of lifting up."

She called the hotline and her doctor again.

"Probably around day eight ... I can describe it as suddenly it felt like I had been buried alive. I felt like the air was heavy, my body was heavy," Rosen said.

Still, they were not told to go to the hospital, so they stayed home.

Finally, about nine days after Rosen's diagnosis, they were advised to go to the hospital.

'Your lungs are failing'

She arrived at Surrey Memorial Hospital on April 21 and the reality of her situation came crashing down on her.

"They said, 'Oh my goodness, you have pneumonia and your lungs are failing and they're just not taking in oxygen,'" Rosen said.

The condition she was battling was hypoxia, a condition where the body is deprived of oxygen.

For the next four days, she said it was very touch and go.

"A fascinating scary time for all of us who are in the hospital, where we don't know which we're going to be. Whether we'll be the people whose lungs will suddenly start to function properly or whether we'll end up in ICU on a ventilator," Rosen said.

She was given oxygen and stayed out of the ICU.

She said the COVID wing of the hospital had a palpable sense of fear, with all the patients "hoping, praying that [they would] be the fortunate one."

After a few days her oxygen levels started to climb out of the danger zone.

On April 30, she finally returned home.

While Rosen's age group, 50-59, does not have the highest rate of positive cases, it has climbed from 8.8 per cent to 11.3 per cent.
While Rosen's age group, 50-59, does not have the highest rate of positive cases, it has climbed from 8.8 per cent to 11.3 per cent.(BC Centre for Disease Control)

'Unlike anything we've seen before'

Emergency room physician Navdeep Grewal said doctors are seeing patients' oxygen levels drop faster, though it's unclear whether it's due to the variants of COVID-19 or the progression of the virus in the community.

Dr. Navdeep Grewal says COVID-19 can take down those who are otherwise perfectly healthy.
Dr. Navdeep Grewal says COVID-19 can take down those who are otherwise perfectly healthy. (Dr. Navdeep Grewal)

Rosen's experience with hypoxia is an example.

"The frequency at which we see [hypoxia] with COVID is unlike anything we've seen before ... you see this white-out on their X-rays and their lungs," Grewal said.

Rosen said she wishes she had a pulse oximeter at home to test the levels of oxygen in her blood.

It's a small tool that can be bought at a pharmacy or online and clips on to your finger or ear to tell you how much oxygen is in to your bloodstream.

Grewal said it's a relatively inexpensive tool she would suggest people buy as the pandemic continues.

Rosen is recovering well, but still has a cough and muscle weakness. She and Grewal say her experience is proof that COVID-19 can be very dangerous.