“They gave me the chance to live again. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Those are the words out of 55-year-old Rob Friesen’s mouth after he narrowly avoided death at the hands of COVID-19.
In late January 2022, the Melville resident started feeling all the tell-tale symptoms of the virus, such as shortness of breath.
“I had a hard time breathing at all. High fever, massive headaches, very weak. It almost felt like being poisoned,” Friesen said.
He had a few rapid test kits at his home but they were coming up negative so he waited a week before his health had deteriorated to the point where he checked himself into the Melville hospital.
The Melville hospital staff quickly had him shipped to Yorkton Regional Health Centre.
When he got to Yorkton, the unvaccinated Friesen had lungs that were full of fluid and blood clots.
Doctors tried to get more oxygen into his body but nothing would work. His lungs could not function to the point where they could keep his oxygen levels stable so doctors made the decision to put him on life support and in a coma.
Friesen was alone at the hospital, in isolation and he was told he had two hours to make any phone calls to family members to let them know he was going on life support.
“That was very hard because I honestly believed I wasn’t coming out. I phoned my son and told him: ‘They’re putting me into a coma to try and save my life as a last resort. Take care of the kids and don’t stop praying for me,’” recalled Friesen about his last moments before being put in a coma.
Friesen is retired and has worked a handful of jobs over his life. One of those was a three-year stint as a private nurse in Regina and Yorkton.
Throughout the pandemic, he was cautious of COVID-19 but figured he would get it eventually.
He thinks he got COVID-19 from a family member at a family gathering. He thought he was quite healthy and rarely gets flus or colds, so he figured if he ever got it, it would be a mild or moderate case.
After that family gathering, the virus went through his family, but Friesen was the only one to have a severe case.
He now says that the virus has humbled him.
After 14 days in a coma, Friesen woke up.
He said it felt like he had been asleep for maybe two to three hours until he was informed it had been two weeks.
“I was wondering, is this heaven? Is this hell? Or is this the hospital? It took about 30 seconds to realize I was in the hospital and that I’d made it,” Friesen said.
Friesen knows how lucky he is to have survived, with so many others losing their lives to COVID-19.
Just last week, another 22 people in Saskatchewan passed away from COVID-19 and the virus has taken over 1,200 lives in the province during the pandemic.
After coming off of life support, Friesen still had an uphill battle. He would end up spending 36 days in the Yorkton ICU and said he feels he owes his life to the staff of doctors and nurses there.
“It’s just amazing the amount of effort they put into keeping me alive and healthy and to help me make it through. The care is amazing at the Yorkton Hospital, the staff is amazing. The doctors were on top of everything all along,” the former nurse said.
Friesen was so grateful for the care he received that three weeks after being discharged, he returned to the hospital bearing gifts.
He spent around $500 on a giant gift basket that included flowers, candles and chocolates and delivered it to the frontline workers who saved his life.
“I couldn’t say thank you enough to them for what they had done. There is no way in the world I could be here without them,” Friesen said of the hospital staff.
Kurt Fahlman, a registered ICU nurse at Yorkton Regional, was one of the nurses who was by Friesen’s side during his hospital stay.
Fahlman recognizes that Friesen is a success story in that he was quite ill and definitely beat the odds.
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“The pandemic the last couple years has been very rough for everyone involved in healthcare,” Fahlman said.
“When somebody steps back and says, ‘Thank you very much, you have really helped me out and helped my family,’ it’s truly appreciated. You just don’t expect it from anybody ever and when they do, it really brings a smile to your face.”
Coming out of a coma, Friesen had to relearn how to walk and talk. He is now three weeks removed from his hospital stay, his lungs are still healing, and he still takes oxygen.
He said he is confident he will be getting vaccinated after his body gets stronger and he gets back to better health.