6 days on a ventilator: Local columnist shares COVID-19 survival story

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SAN DIEGO – Longtime San Diego Union-Tribune Columnist Diane Bell is sharing her experience battling COVID-19 after 12 days in the hospital – including six in the ICU on a ventilator.

How she ended up there could serve as a wake-up call for all of us.

Well-versed from covering the pandemic, Bell purchased a small, inexpensive device called a pulse oximeter, which measures your blood oxygen level, after she noticed a minor cough and some fatigue. It’s that device that may have saved her life, because she says she was not feeling sick enough to go the hospital.

“(The oximeter) went to like, the mid-80s,” she told FOX 5. A typical reading is 92 or above. “(My husband) said, ‘Drop everything,’ and he took me into the emergency room. I was so glad he did, because I was there a day and went into the ICU and went on a ventilator for six days.” 

She has no memory of her time on the ventilator, but she does recall coming off of it. 

“I was semi-conscious and I heard … yelling from people in the intensive care, health care givers, they were just cheering because I had survived. And as you know not many people do survive coming off the ventilator,” she told FOX 5.

In her words, it takes a village to fight this disease. She is endlessly grateful to the medical staff that provided such kind and compassionate care. 

“It’s amazing to me how the health care workers were just so patient and so calm, soothing with all these patientsl,” Bell said. “It has to be so terrifically difficult for them to deal with that kind of scenario and there’s so many people that you cannot really help.” 

The hardest moments, she says, were hearing all the sounds of suffering around her as she willed herself to live.

“The scary thing was, people were coming through the door and collapsing on the floor in the ER — in the clinic.  I would constantly hear, ‘code blue’ over the PA system. Doctors would rush to help the patient wherever that patient happened to be,” the columnist recalled. “I was practically praying the whole time for the people around me.”

For Bell, breathing is still difficult. She doesn’t know how she contracted COVID-19 – she and her family strictly followed the stay-at-home guidelines – not even shopping for groceries. She also has no underlying conditions.

With that in mind, “I hope people become more vigilant and become more aware that this disease is very, very real,” Bell told FOX 5. “It really affects so many people, even if you’re not in that high-risk category.”

You can read Bell’s coronavirus column and more of her work on sandiegouniontribune.com. 

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