‘Will never take anything for granted again’, says Covid-19 survivor, who ‘almost died’

Ria Lakhani (Courtesy: BBC/Ria Lakhani)
Ria Lakhani (Courtesy: BBC/Ria Lakhani)

“I almost died,” recalls Ria Lakhani, still struggling to breath normally, days after surviving a severe case of coronavirus that has killed over 7,000 people in the UK.

“It (breathing) used to be such a natural action but now I have to remember how to inhale and exhale,” she told BBC from her home in north-west London.

In self-isolation, she still cannot hug her husband, or see her parents and siblings. And she still wakes up at night struggling to breathe.

Lakhani, a sales executive, started to show symptoms of Covid-19 while in hospital, where she was admitted for an operation.

Seven years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare condition which makes swallowing difficult. The surgery was designed to help her manage this oesophageal disease, called achalasia, the report said.

Though her admission to hospital was supposed to be a routine one, the situation became serious very soon. She began to struggle with her breathing and then developed a temperature.

While everyone hoped it was just a side-effect of her surgery, a coronavirus swab test was taken as a precaution. But to the surprise of all, it turned positive for coronavirus.

Soon her room was cordoned off and the rest of the ward evacuated.

As her condition deteriorated, she required more oxygen. She was then shifted to one of London’s major Covid-19 treatment centres.

“Things went from bad to worse – taking a breath became as hard as climbing a mountain,” she wrote on Facebook.

“I could see the more and more concerned looks on the faces of the many heroes treating me. More and more doctors looking in, murmuring to each other – observations taken every minute and scrutinised incessantly. Scary, uncertainty, unnerving, so many feelings, so many thoughts in my head, questions I was scared to hear the answers to.”

“I almost died,” she told BBC.

“I almost didn’t come out of there. There was a point when I actually started to write difficult messages to my family. I almost died now I’m alive. How can life go back to normal after that?”

Lakhani is still not clear whether she developed pneumonia but says even now, from her recovery bed at home in Harrow she can hear a “crackling sound” in her lungs.

According to the World Health Organisation, most people (about 80 per cent) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.

Lakhani said her recovery was slow. In hospital, she had struggled to move, and was given morphine shots to manage the pain.

“Getting a sentence out was like running a marathon,” she said.

She also fondly recalled forging a bond with a 96-year-old fellow-patient named Iris, reflecting how fate brought them together in the most unexpected ways.

Lakhani praised the medical staff who treated her, calling them the “true heroes”.

“It was the small wins and things like the nurses making sure Iris had a constant supply of hot tea and a sneaky extra slice of cake that made me smile.”

At home, she has to maintain a distance from her husband and continues to be besieged by coughing fits.

Ria Lakhani with her husband (Facebook)

But she’s relieved that she was able to fight the virus, especially considering how many people have died.

The UK’s death toll in the coronavirus pandemic continues to rise and hit 7,097 on Wednesday – a record increase of 938 in a day. The government has urged the public to continue to follow strict social distancing rules before a decision to review the measures can be taken.

The UK also has over 55,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, putting immense pressure on the country’s medical system.

“I can’t explain the moment I left the hospital, I”ll never take anything for granted again,” said Lakhani.