Patient describes life-changing experience with COVID-19

LAREDO, TX (KGNS) - Loneliness, despair, hopelessness... that's what some patients experience when having a machine help them do the most basic human function: breathing.

For one local man, he realized the family he had waiting for him at home made him want to fight to live on.

"I mean, I know I was me, and I kept saying I know I'm alive cause I can see the walls, I can see the ceiling, but it was kind of weird."

After 28 years in healthcare, never did Natividad Santana figure he would see those same walls through the eyes of a patient.

After several weeks ago, he and his wife tested positive for COVID-19.

His wife was a much milder case. However, Nati was not as lucky.

"And he was transferred to the COVID intensive care unit, extremely short of breath," said Doctor Ricardo Cigarroa.

His doctor said he needed to be intubated and placed on a ventilator, a machine that would keep him alive.

Knowing exactly what this meant, Nati asked Doctor Cigarroa for a favor.

"They tell me that I asked you to tell my little girl that I love her, and you dialed the number to my wife and I told her, my little kid, that I love her a lot... and that would be the last thing that I would say because they were gonna put a tube in me," Nati said. "And I guess I was scared, I mean, this is it- I'm gone."

A cold chill came upon him as a realization set in that he would have to be doing this alone.

"There's no phone, and I was intubated and you can't talk with that thing inside of you, so no communication at all."

As a nurse assistant, he knew this ventilator was the one lifeline he needed to see his loved ones again.

"These are the only people I have."

So he left his fate in the hands of his doctor and his nurses.

The next 14 days proved to be the most difficult and challenging of his life, walking along the line of life or death, he didn't know if the visions he began to see were real or not.

"Seeing the reaper right next to me… and people that I don't know... the lady sewing next to me, it was kinda… I don't know if I was going crazy or it was the medication…."

According to a recent stud by the journal of the American Medical Association of Neurology, one-third to more than 80 percent of ICU patients experience what's called ICU delirium.

It causes confusion, the inability to comprehend what's around you, memory loss and even lack of focus.

Those on ventilators are even more at-risk due to the powerful sedation given to minimize the pain and discomfort of intubation.

While this may explain what Nati was experiencing, for him it didn't matter because at that moment it was real and it made him fall back on instinct.

Two weeks passed, finally free from the ventilator, Nati was strong enough to make that call in his own voice to speak with the wife and child he fought to survive for.

"I love my wife and my kid more than ever," Nati said. "I mean, I used to love them, but not like I do now."

Having seen death in the face, and lived to tell about it, Nati has a message for anyone who might find themselves in the same situation he was in.

"Not to give up… at one point, I think I was letting myself down, but when I would think about my little girl and my wife, I can't go, I mean I need to be here. And if you have family, tell them every day that you love them because when you're gone, you're gone."

While Nati was on the ventilator, his daughter turned nine years old.

He may have missed this one, but his fight to make it back home will now give him the chance to be there for many more birthdays to come.