“My battle with COVID-19”

Posted on 13 Dec 2021

John Chandler spent 60 days in the COVID ICU at Mediclinic Nelspruit. He has nothing but praise for the medical team whose expertise saved his life.

When Mpumalanga business owner John Chandler joined a group of friends for a weekend away in July 2021, he had no idea it would lead to a medical nightmare that almost cost him his life. “Two days after our trip, my son tested positive for COVID-19 and told everyone in the group,” he recalls. “I had not yet been vaccinated and unfortunately my wife and I both contracted the virus. Things went pear-shaped from there.”

Within days, John was battling to breathe. “We hired an oximeter at home – but when my doctor friend came to see me, he told my son to take me straight to the emergency room at Mediclinic Nelspruit.” John’s heart rate was 200bpm and he was immediately admitted to ICU. “They told me they were putting me to sleep for three days,” he says of the ICU team’s decision to put him in a medically induced coma. “I woke up three weeks later.”

In total, John spent 60 days at Medical Nelspruit. Dr Jo-Ann Vosloo, a critical care specialist at the hospital, describes his serious health complications. “When I was first asked to see him, John was on high pressure settings on the ventilator, and I could see he was in trouble,” she says. “Most COVID-19 patients in ICU who have been on the ventilator for more than seven days eventually develop secondary infections,” she explains. “They tend to be more prone due to the steroid treatment they receive and the fact that the virus affects the immune system. It also increases clotting in the blood vessels.”

Although John initially responded well to the antibiotics for the bacterial and fungal infections he’d contracted, Dr Vosloo explains his body was weakened by prolonged ventilation. “It’s a vicious cycle,” she explains. “Prolonged sedation leads to problems with muscle wasting and weakness, which makes patients more prone to infections.”

For John, the experience was both physically and emotionally draining. “When I was moved from ICU to the COVID-19 High Care Unit, I was emotionally up and down,” he says. “Many people died while I was there – which made me so heartsore. Although the curtains are drawn, I could hear nurses rushing in with equipment and telling patients to breath. Then you hear people switching machines off and family members crying and screaming while the person takes their last breath. Even though I was sedated, I suffered from nightmares and couldn’t sleep at night.”

Dr Vosloo explains that after almost six weeks on a ventilator, John was extubated. “He did well for two nights, but then we had to re-intubate him as he was in trouble,” she explains. “This time, we weren’t sure if he would pull through, but fortunately we have an excellent microbiology laboratory on site and we were able to test for invasive fungal infection and treat accordingly.”

When John was eventually discharged – with oxygen – after 60 days in hospital, he continued with physiotherapy at home. He’s subsequently been back in hospital with another infection. “It’s a long road to recovery,” he says. “I lost 30kgs and at the moment, I have no muscle tone. I have to work hard at improving my lung capacity – and although I was an avid mountain biker, I now need to take it easy. It is going to take me at least a year to recover fully.”

The father of three has only praise and admiration for all the staff at Mediclinic Nelspruit. “They are all angels,” he says. “Working as a medical professional isn’t a job – it’s definitely a calling. You lose your dignity and these people look after you – you cannot imagine what they go through on a daily basis. Dr Vosloo and her team saved me and the nursing staff looked after me 24/7. When I was down in the dumps, the sisters would tell me to be positive otherwise I would not get well. This helped me manage my emotions, which were all over the place.”

Dr Vosloo’s message to other doctors is: “Never give up  – always look for an answer. Yes, offering critical care minute by minute is taxing on your private life, but it’s a high-demand environment. It’s good to work in a team, working in the same direction for the same goal.”

And to patients? “Although there is growing evidence that protection after vaccination is only partial, it is still essential to vaccinate in order to stop the pandemic,” she says. “If we don’t, it will destroy the economy and result in hunger and poverty that will outperform the pandemic.”

Published in Business