Babak Khosrowshahi was taken to hospital with coronavirus at 4am on 22 March – a day many people in the UK had spent on FaceTime talking to their mums on Mother’s Day. The 61-year-old was finally discharged 86 days later.
More than 40,000 died of Covid-19 while Babak was in hospital. He says he owes his life to the NHS.
Here is his story of surviving coronavirus.
To be honest I haven’t got a clue where I got Covid-19 from. I’m still thinking back and it’s pointless. I was very careful. I was washing my hands, I never used public transport and always used my car.
But I do know where it all started. It was a Friday, Friday the 13th actually. My partner was coming to see me and I had this feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Looking back it must have been the fever but because my body temperature was so low it didn’t dawn on me, I just had a feeling.
When my partner came over I was inherently trying to keep away from her because Covid was on my mind. The next day I realised this feeling wasn’t going away and so I found an old thermometer and took my temperature, It was 38.5C. I saw that and thought “this is happening and it’s something serious”.
I called 111 and they said wait seven days before calling 999. In that time my temperature stayed high and my health was deteriorating. I was finding it difficult to go from room-to-room. Just getting up to get something to eat was very tough, it was pretty grim and eventually a friend called 999 for me.
My first day in hospital was 22 March. A couple of jolly paramedics took me into West Middlesex University Hospital. I was surprised how jolly they were because it was 04:00 (GMT). At the hospital I was put in a side room and a nurse served me food – it was chicken – and I was struggling to eat it.
That’s all I remember. That room, that last meal. I don’t remember anything else. Apparently, I made calls and sent texts to family and I spoke to the doctor before being sedated but I can’t remember that. Three-and-a-half weeks later, I woke up in intensive care.
In the time Babak was sedated he’d received a tracheostomy to aid his breathing, he was on a ventilator and had high oxygen requirements. His left lung had also collapsed.
I remember waking up and not questioning where I was or why I was there; I just accepted that I had to be there. I do remember wondering where my glasses were because I can’t see without them. I also couldn’t speak, and I was pretty confused.
The nurses gave me a pad of paper so that I could write down when I wanted something. I started writing down that I wanted water but looked at what was on the paper and it was just a squiggle.
They then gave me a board where I could point to the letters but if I wanted a W, I pointed to the next letter along. I couldn’t point to the one I wanted. It was a couple of days before I could write again. In ITU my physio told me something that has always stuck with me: ‘You’ll be walking out of this hospital’.
Part of my recuperation was to gradually increase my movement. First they asked me to sit at the end of my bed, then in a chair before gradually getting me to stand and walk. Eventually I was using a frame to navigate the unit with the help of a lot of oxygen. “Well done” he said, “you’ve just completed the equivalent of a marathon”.
“I’m 61”, I told him, why would I want to complete a marathon?
Around day 30 when the physio asked me to stand up I couldn’t stand up and I was thinking to myself ‘am I ever going to get better?’ I was out of breath, I was connected to a machine and the next day I did manage to get up and the physio said those words to me.
From then on that was the goal; I’m walking out of this hospital. I’m so grateful to him for saying that.
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After about 50 days I was moved to a more normal ward (acute frailty unit) to start getting me ready to leave the hospital. But after a couple of days I started to shiver and my fever returned. I called the nurse because I was shivering.
Within seconds there were four doctors on top of me and within half an hour I was pushed by my bed into the Acute Medical Unit (AMU) for more monitoring. It turned out I had an infection.
One of the reasons I stayed in hospital for so long was because the muscles in my throat were so weak. The medical staff gave me exercises to strengthen the muscles and tested how I was doing. I was given lots of sips of water because every sip exercises those muscles. Eventually the team were confident enough to take out my nasogastric feeding tube.
That meant I came home a free man without any wires or tubes attached to me.
There are only two things I get emotional about: the NHS and my family. I wouldn’t be here without the help of the NHS, they are just amazing. We complain about the NHS but when you need it and you’re in the system no expense is spared. They saved my life.
I can’t tell you what it felt like to leave the hospital. When I went into hospital the trees were bare and when I came back there were leaves everywhere. It was just an amazing feeling. I still see myself in the process of a slow recovery.
I’ve told my employer I won’t be coming back any time soon. I see myself as semi-retired. The virus is out, that’s for sure – I’m clear. But the effects of the being hospitalised – I’m still recovering from it and it’s going to take a while.
I’m still getting breathless after walking short distances and I’m still eating very soft food. When I came out of hospital I was eating puréed food because the muscles in my throat have been weakened.
I’ve put on two or three kilos since being home but I’m really missing the joy of eating an Iranian Kebab.