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Fight to Save Me from Swine Flu

ECMO April 2016: Jessica Dahan in the ICU, Netcare Milpark Hospital, South Africa

In 2016, Jessica Bachmann Dahan, who was born in Copenhagen, came to live in Israel at age 9, and moved to Sweden after serving in the IDF. She visited South Africa for a family reunion. There she suffered a life-threatening complication of Swine Flu - ARDS (Acute respiratory Distress Syndrome), the same complication the worst Corona patients suffer from. These days, CORONA has triggered a strong reaction which resulted in her writing the following letter to her father, Werner:

1st April 2020

My Post CARDS post

Woke up this morning with the feeling that something has hit me. Nothing new has happened but my hands are shaking as I try to write my thoughts down in this post.

Until today, I have tried to analyze my non-emotional-reaction to all that is going on in the world in these Corona times. My friends, family, doctors etc. have all been in contact asking me how I was doing. I have responded by saying that strangely enough I am fine...

Until today... Today I woke up in a different mode.

Today, four years ago, was the morning I was in the most critical situation a human being can be in and my family woke up to the news that during the night my lungs had collapsed and I was put in an induced coma. (ARDS is the same complication people with Corona die of).

I and my whole family had just spent the most amazing holiday in Hermanus, spent a few days in Cape Town celebrating Purim and gone to several family outings.

Jessica in 2017, a year after her illness

We ended the week with a Township tour, showing my kids how privileged we were. That same Friday we had a Shabbes dinner together at my brother´s house, where my father went around the table and mentioned each family member and why we should celebrate not only him turning 80, but the life of each and every one of us.

The next day I started feeling ill. I had fever and chills and was just sleeping while the rest of the family were enjoying the last few days in Cape Town.

A few days later and the situation had not improved, even after a visit to the doctor and getting some stronger medication to deal with the symptoms.

The day before our departure back to Sweden had arrived and I still wasn't feeling any better. I was having difficulties in breathing, and my father accompanied me and the girls back to the guest house where I almost couldn't walk up the few stairs to our room.

The girls fell asleep and I was awake feeling the chills, shaking, coughing and nothing was helping. I found myself sleeping a few minutes here and there in the bathtub I had filled up with warm water, but nothing helped. In the late hours of the night, I coughed up some blood. This was the point where I realized I might need to wake someone up to take me to the doctor again. 

The ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) team from Johannesburg arriving to save Jessica´s life

I managed to wait a few hours more until I contacted my sister-in-law who arranged to come and get me and for my father to come take my children.

Morning had arrived and when they came into our room, I was in such a bad state that I couldn't even speak to my father about what clothes the kids should wear, etc.

My sister-in-law managed to pull me out of the bed and slowly walked me down the stairs to the car wearing nothing but my yellow nightgown.

Arriving at the doctor's office I could hardly walk because it was too hard to breathe. I remember that walking up the few stairs to the clinic felt like trying to conquer Mount Everest.

Once at the clinic and after listening to my lungs I heard my sister-in-law and the doctor talking about calling an ambulance. I was trying to joke around while putting an oxygen mask on my face.

The route to the Christian Barnard Netcare Hospital was fast and the memories from there are not that many. I remember having my blood taken, I remember meeting a few nurses. My sister-in-law had arrived and since there were only a few hours to our scheduled flight home, she suggested that my children should fly home with my sister and her children.

I was still in denial and said that maybe they should stay because I would be out in a few days and we could then fly home together...

For some strange reason, I was convinced, trusting my sister in law to tell me what the best thing was to do. On one condition I said, that I want to say goodbye to the kids before they fly without me. Remember that they thought I was just going to the doctor again.

What an operation it was! The flight was only in a few hours. Papers had to be signed by me, their father and some authority for my children to fly back without me. Until this day we do not know how but my amazing brother fixed this while bringing the kids to me.

The nurses in the ICU couldn't find a wheelchair so when my kids arrived they pushed me out to a corridor on a big armchair hiding the oxygen balloon behind it. 

Jessica leaving the ICU after being disconnected from the respirator and ECMO

Thanks to my sister-in-law, I managed to keep myself together and tell my children that mummy's lungs are not feeling well and that I will stay at the hospital and then fly home and see them in a few days. Little did I know we would not see each other for another two and a half months.

Time was up and they had to leave for the airport in a rush. My children remember this as a fun ride at Liseberg amusement park since that was the reason my brother told them he was driving so fast out of the parking lot at the Christian Barnard Hospital.

The minute they had left,my sister-in- law and I burst into tears, not knowing anything about what was to come.

I do not remember much after this... I was in a worse state than anyone could imagine. I remember my brother coming back with a local SIM card for me and some magazines. I remember meeting more nurses taking my blood and talking to me. I remember sending a selfie with a Bipap (mask) on to my best friends telling them that we might need to postpone our planned trip to Copenhagen (haha).

The absolutely last thing I remember is a doctor telling me that I will be given something to sleep. I was so exhausted that it made me happy to be getting a sleeping pill or something.

Little did I understand that he meant that they needed to put me in an induced coma and put me in a respirator!

This post is only the beginning of my story. Or should I say - OUR story. Because it is not only mine, it is my whole family's story. Each and every one experienced the following days as a trauma. But for the following weeks, while I was asleep there was so much going on that I still to this day hear stories about "how they all fought for my life".

I cannot imagine what it feels like to be in their situation even though I was the patient. Or as I usually say to my friends and family: "I was just sleeping"!

This post was not written to scare anyone, but sometimes I just get the urge to write down and share my thoughts. But I would like you all to know that I was one of those who were skeptical of the mass hysteria in 2009 when the Swine flu entered our world, thinking that even if I got it, what were the odds that it would be serious.

The statistics do not really matter, I usually say about many things (Well they matter for the statisticians). But if or when you yourself become one of those in the statistics, it is for sure 100%.

I was 35, a mother of two daughters (5 and 8), when I became sick. And it is a miracle that I am still here. This is a feeling you carry with you each and every day, along with the dramatic, crazy, scary, funny, hectic, sad, hilarious experiences of the aftermath of that whole ordeal.

Now go wash your hands and take a deep breath!

Jess Ness

Best regards,

Jessica Dahan 

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