'It is nothing short of a miracle that I survived': GP opens up about being hospitalised with coronavirus for 5 months

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Dr Anushua Gupta spent 150 days in hospital battling coronavirus complications. She is pictured with her then 18-month-old daughter in March 2020, around the time she is thought to have caught the infection. (Supplied: Dr Anushua Gupta)
Dr Anushua Gupta spent 150 days in hospital battling coronavirus complications. She is pictured with her then 18-month-old daughter in March 2020, around the time she is thought to have caught the infection. (Supplied: Dr Anushua Gupta)

A GP who spent 150 days in hospital battling coronavirus complications has opened up about the ordeal.

Dr Anushua Gupta, from Stockport, is thought to have caught the infection at the end of March 2020, a few weeks after her 40th birthday.

The mother-of-one – who was healthy aside from having mild asthma – endured a "persistent" cough, fever and "increasing" breathlessness for around a week, before being admitted to Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester on 1 April.

Writing in the journal Anaesthesia Reports, Dr Gupta has described how she "deteriorated in the early hours of 4 April", seeing "visual hallucinations of a black-winged figure everywhere".

Medics explained she needed ventilation, which would require that she be placed in a medically-induced coma. Knowing "there was a chance" she "may not survive", Dr Gupta video called her 18-month-old daughter before being sedated.

Read more: Long COVID patient 'recovered' after prioritising rest

With her condition continuing to deteriorate, Dr Gupta was one of the UK's first coronavirus patients to be put on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) – when blood is pumped outside of the body to a machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends back oxygen-rich blood.

Dr Gupta, now 41, began to improve on 13 May, with medics saying "it is nothing short of a miracle" that she survived.

After being allowed home on 1 September, Dr Gupta feels like she has been given a "second chance", but adds her recovery "is by no means complete".

Now home, Dr Gupta's recovery is 'by no means complete'. She is pictured on her 41st birthday with her husband and their daughter in March 2021. (Supplied: Dr Anushua Gupta)
Now home, Dr Gupta's recovery is 'by no means complete'. She is pictured on her 41st birthday with her husband and their daughter in March 2021. (Supplied: Dr Anushua Gupta)

Dr Gupta, whose husband is also a GP, knew she was at high risk of catching the coronavirus when the outbreak emerged.

After developing relatively mild symptoms initially, Dr Gupta became "severely breathless" while at Wythenshawe Hospital.

Dr Gupta was given oxygen via a face mask. Nevertheless, she knew her condition was serious when she saw her oxygen saturation level – a measure of the gas in the bloodstream – was just 80%, with 95% to 100% considered to be normal.

Read more: Personal trainer has health anxiety after one year of long COVID

"I was visited by a critical care consultant soon thereafter," she wrote later. "He explained I needed to be transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) for intubation [the insertion of a tube that opens the airways] and mechanical ventilation [a machine that helps a patient breathe].

"This would require a medically-induced coma and there was a chance I may not survive.

"My worst fears were coming true. 

"I telephoned my husband and asked to see our daughter on a video call as I thought I would never get to see her again. 

"I feared I would never get to fulfil the dream my husband and I had of living into old age together."

Later that night, Dr Gupta was sedated and "remained so for approximately two months".

Nine days after being admitted to the ICU, Dr Gupta "deteriorated further".

"I was referred, accepted for and placed on ECMO on the night of 13 April," she wrote.

ECMO helped to speed up the recovery of people who were severely-ill with swine flu during its 2009 outbreak, however, the machine's potential amid the coronavirus pandemic was less clear.

"I remained on ECMO with my respiratory system completely supported for 34 days," wrote Dr Gupta.

"Initially, my doctors had very little hope, if any, that I would survive. They told my husband there was little evidence about what strategies could be used against the disease."

Read more: Long COVID patient 'has good and bad days'

After gradually improving, Dr Gupta had a tracheostomy – an opening created at the front of her neck, allowing a tube to be inserted into her windpipe to help her breathe – on 23 May. 

"I received ventilatory support in one form or another for a further eight weeks," she wrote. 

"I have subsequently been told by many doctors and nurses that it is nothing short of a miracle that I survived."

Pictured in April 2021, Dr Gupta has called her daughter her 'driving force' towards recovery. (Supplied: Dr Anushua Gupta)
Pictured in April 2021, Dr Gupta has called her daughter her 'driving force' towards recovery. (Supplied: Dr Anushua Gupta)

Since being discharged on 1 September, Dr Gupta's recovery has been "exponential". 

"My daughter has been my driving force, underpinning my determination to get better," she wrote.

Dr Gupta returned to work, remotely, in November. She is far from back to her old self, however.

While in hospital, the GP endured inflamed lung tissue, blocked arteries in her lungs, high blood pressure and liver disease.

"A major challenge was weaning from the ventilator, as my respiratory muscles were weak due to many reasons, including the severity of the disease and the long period of ventilatory support that I received," she said.

"I had to learn how to sit upright, stand and be able to walk a few steps – like a baby in their first year of life. 

"I could not feed myself, brush my teeth or hair, wash myself or even hold a pen. 

"I had to be moved by hoist for two months despite being completely awake and alert.

"Eventually, I mustered the physical and mental strength to be able to pull myself to a standing position using a patient transfer aid. It took a further few weeks for me to progress to taking my first few steps."

Read more: Transplant patient dies after receiving coronavirus-riddled lungs

Dr Gupta was barely able to speak after being weaned off sedative drugs. 

"My voice was merely a whisper...I remember after a long day, my throat would often feel sore."

Dr Gupta also had to be fed via a tube until her ability to swallow had recovered. 

"I also experienced altered taste and smell, and oversensitivity in my throat which meant I thought food was getting stuck."

As part of her wide-ranging rehabilitation, Dr Gupta has learnt "coping mechanisms" to help her manage her mental health.

"I had difficulty sleeping, and felt very fearful about my health and recovery, which sometimes obstructed my rehabilitation," she said.

Pictured before the coronavirus outbreak emerged, Dr Gupta was healthy aside from having mild asthma. (Supplied: Dr Anushua Gupta)
Pictured before the coronavirus outbreak emerged, Dr Gupta was healthy aside from having mild asthma. (Supplied: Dr Anushua Gupta)

Seven months after being discharged, Dr Gupta still has "significant changes" to her lungs.

"It remains unknown whether these changes are reversible. I still get breathless, but this is improving and my exercise tolerance is increasing. 

"I was suffering with significant pains in multiple joints for many months, however, this is also improving as I become fitter and more active. 

"My mental health is much better. I try to keep a very positive outlook on life and I feel like I have been given a second chance."

Keen to raise awareness of the seriousness of the coronavirus, Dr Gupta adds: "It has given me immense joy, satisfaction and a sense of achievement to be able to tell the tale of my battle with COVID-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus].

"Writing this marks the one-year anniversary of when I became severely unwell. 

"I hope this report will raise awareness and give hope to others that one can have a good outcome - despite such critical illness."

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