'I didn't take pandemic seriously enough'-- ICU patient in Italy laments near-death experience

2022-01-18 13:15:28Xinhua Editor : Zhao Li ECNS App Download
Special: Battle Against Novel Coronavirus

While the number of intensive-care-unit patients has been inching higher in recent weeks as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads in Italy, it has not approached levels seen during earlier waves yet.

But at least one patient, recently released from Rome's Spallanzani Hospital after more than two weeks in the intensive care unit (ICU), warns there is no reason people should drop their guard.

"I could have died, and at one point I thought I was going to die," Roberto, a 61-year-old government worker, told Xinhua.

"I didn't take the pandemic seriously enough and I paid the price," he said. "My doctors said I was lucky to recover completely."

Roberto, a grandfather of two, was vaccinated in March 2021, around three months after Italy first started vaccinating residents. But as infection rates fell to low levels during the summer of that year, he said he disregarded messages from regional health officials for a second dose.

When a new wave of the pandemic started to push infection rates higher again in September, Roberto said he intended to ask his doctor about a new vaccine dose but never got around to it.

"I was just being stupid," he recalled. "I would hear about people getting sick on the television news and I thought it wouldn't happen to me. I didn't go out much and I usually wore a mask. I only spent time with my daughter and grandsons and sometimes a coffee at the local bar. I thought I was safe. But I wasn't."

Roberto said he started feeling sniffles in early November. When they didn't go away after two or three days, he asked his doctor if he should get vaccinated.

The doctor told him to get a rapid antigen test for the virus first, and Roberto said his fears were realized: he tested positive for COVID-19.

He recalled that symptoms were stable at first -- sniffles and a dry cough. Soon he started to feel dehydrated and got headaches.

The discomfort kept him up at night, and soon it started to become difficult to breathe. A few times he struggled to take in new air.

"The doctor told me to go to the emergency room and I went thinking they'd give me something to feel better, but I ended up staying in Spallanzani for 16 days," Roberto said.

Roberto was hospitalized amid a new wave of the pandemic that has seen the number of ICU patients climb dramatically. According to official data released on Monday, there are more than 1,700 ICU patients in Italy.

That is far higher than the low point of fewer than 350 such patients as recently as late October, and the fewer than 200 in the summer of 2021, when Roberto decided against a second vaccine dose.

But the latest numbers are still less than half of the peaks of more than 4,000 in April 2020, or more than 3,500 per day in both November 2020 and in March and April 2021. Any number above 3,500, medical experts say, puts a major strain on Italy's public health system.

Fortunately, for Roberto, he appears to have recovered well. He floated in and out of consciousness for three of those days, he said, and then started improving quickly.

Later after that, Roberto got a clean bill of health and his daughter took him home. He said he is determined not to repeat the mistakes he made in the past.

"Right now, I have coronavirus antibodies and so I'm protected. But as soon as the doctor tells me it's time to get a vaccine, I'll be first in line," he said. "I have a new lease on life, and I want to make the most of it." 

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