The Malta Independent 7 May 2021, Friday

Watch: You start to think 'this is it’ – First ITU patient with Covid-19

Jake Aquilina Sunday, 7 March 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

When you find yourself testing positive for a virus at the start of a pandemic that no one really knows much about, you don’t know if your days are numbered and if you are approaching your final, staggering breaths. The Malta Independent met with Manwel Bonavia, the first Covid-19 patient who was admitted to ITU to get a glimpse of what it is like to face such a situation.

You were one of the first persons to go to ITU because of Covid-19. How did you realise you had the virus?

On the 13 March 2020, I had a high temperature, and at once thought I had Covid-19. In fact, I stayed at home and I told my partner to stay there as well. I phoned 111 and they told me 'if you didn't go abroad or meet someone who was abroad, you're low risk. 

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However, the high temperature persisted, so I phoned again as I also started to have other symptoms. On 18 March – 5 days after – I started feeling short of breath, so my doctor told me to go to the emergency room in hospital. 

They examined me and, at that time, they didn't really have a lot of protective gear, just a mask. I had an X-ray taken and they found out that I had pneumonia. They took my test and told me that day that I was positive for Covid-19.

They transferred me to Infectious Diseases Unit first and examined me there, and the next day they told me they were going to take me to Intensive Therapy Unit, as my breathing wasn't that good.

I was on a non-invasive ventilator – without the tube – so I wasn't sedated. But I started getting worse and worse every day. Then, after around six days in ITU, I started recovering, but in all I spent around a month and a half in hospital. 

I tested negative on 2 April, but I still needed oxygen, because pneumonia is a serious disease even without Covid-19. From ITU, I went back to IDU, and then they transferred me to St. Thomas Hospital.

 

Did it ever cross your mind that those might be your last final moments?

It was a shock at first, as there was tension around the country; no one really knew what Covid-19 really was. At first, I said 'I am perfectly healthy', and that this will pass as I was reading about it in international news. But it wasn't passing away for me... I was deteriorating fast.

I did think 'this is it'. Those few days were terrible, isolation bothers you, but in a way, I was saying 'if I die here, it's okay'.

 

How was your experience and the atmosphere in ITU?

I had a lot of attention from nurses. There you notice that the profession of nurses isn't simply a job but a dedication. After I got out of hospital, I phoned them to thank them, and there was one who said 'I will never forget you' because he told me that I was the first patient that he treated with Covid-19 and he had been scared.

Mobile phones were also very helpful throughout this period – fantastic. I was one who didn't like mobile phones that much but, in this case, it was extremely helpful to keep in touch with loved ones.

 

Has your life changed since you came out of hospital?

You would be grateful that you can say 'I still have a little bit more left'. You do look at life differently; you realise how short life is and how shorter it could even be. 

The lesson I learnt was that you shouldn't leave things in life unfinished, as they still worry you. For example, if I wanted to say something to someone else. You do start thinking 'who cares if I don't come out of here, I don't need to worry about anything', but you do care. You care for your family if you left something behind which is unfinished, something which is left unsaid.

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