Having to trust a stranger.
The young man walked over to me, but his face was a blur. In fact everything around was a blur. He asked what was wrong and my only response was ‘ambulancia’. He tried to ascertain the situation and asked me to explain exactly was happening. Again, my mind was very alert, and I knew what I needed to say, but I was terrified when I heard myself speak. I could barely articulate the words and when they came out, it was a mixture of stammering, barely cohesive words. What I tried to communicate was that I had received the Pfizer vaccine 48 hours earlier and that I was not feeling well. I heard him call the ambulance and he left for a minute and returned with a bottle of water.
There were three things running through my head at this point:
- My six year old daughter was in school, and school would be out in an hour. I needed to arrange for someone to pick her up. Who could I call, who did I trust? My husband and I have no family or relatives in Spain.
- Franck my husband was in France attending the funeral of his mother’s partner. Even if he wanted to hop on the next flight back, it would be impossible. He would have needed a PCR test which took 24 hours (back then) and find an actual flight leaving immediately. Not to mention I would be taking him away from his grieving mother.
- We have two cats in the apartment that needed food.
He then asked if he could call any one for me. I remember pointing to my bag and he understood to take my phone out . At this point my hands and arms were flopped in my lap while the fingers rigid, and closed. So when he gave me the phone, I could not even hold it, so he said he’d call for me. Of course the phone was locked and the poor guy had to hold up my hand and my finger to key in the code while his other hand held the phone in front of me. Once the phone was unlocked, I got him to call my neighbour to ask her if she would come down to the plaza to help me. Next he helped me send voice messages to my husband, and another to a parent in my daughter’s class. The young stranger was very attentive, and repeatedly reassured me that everything was going to be OK. He did not leave my side.
Waiting for the ambulance.
Once my neighbour Ellie arrived, the kind stranger explained everything he had witnessed and done so far. He explained that just within that time he was with me, my condition had deteriorated. Ellie tried to ask me questions, but by this time, my speech was so slurred and the words come out as stutters. It was frustrating. I knew what needed to be said, but it was just not coming out. There was a clear disconnect between my brain and the rest of my body. Through my stuttering I managed to communicate that there were two parents I would trust my daughter with, and Ellie immediately called both to explain what had happened, and made clear arrangements for my daughter to be picked up and looked after, for the night if needed. She then called my husband to let him know that she would be with me and to keep him updated.
It felt like an eternity waiting for the ambulance to arrive. At this point, everything was blurry. I knew a few people had gathered around and could hear them talking, but my eyes could not focus. My fingers looked like they had fused together, rigid. The pins and needles were so intense, and ran all throughout my body. Electric shocks shot upwards from my legs, hands and even upward into my back and neck. I was completely limp and felt so nauseous. I was so afraid. All I could think about was my daughter and my husband.
When the ambulance finally arrived the paramedic immediately tapped on my knees, shook them to get a response. He then shook my shoulders and kept asking me to tell him what happened. I could hear every single word but was unable to reply. He shook me even harder but still, no words came out. My inner dialogue was ‘i know what you’re saying, but I can’t speak.’ Ellie conveyed all the info, and the paramedic kept saying, ‘ No, this can’t be the vaccine.’ Or ‘No, it’s not the vaccine. She must be just anxious.’ He even told Ellie that he had his vaccine and was fine, there was no reason to believe the vaccine would do this. I remember getting frustrated very quickly when he prodded me again. I managed to articulate ‘what the fuck’ - possibly because of the confusion I felt that that moment. But it could well be due to how rough they were with me – pushing, prodding, shaking…
Finally, the two paramedics pulled me up and tried to get me to walk to the ambulance, but it was impossible. They had to hoist me up and put me on a chair to move me. Once inside the ambulance the paramedic kept asking me questions. I was able to give one word answers in my shaky voice. During the journey to the emergency clinic, I kept sliding off the chair and my eyes were transfixed on the floor. The paramedic kept snapping his fingers in my face to get my attention. But my eyes were so heavy, and it was impossible to look upwards. Throughout the entire journey, he kept saying that this was anxiety, and not the vaccine. I started getting upset with him because this felt nothing like anxiety. Of course back in June 2021, I hadn’t yet learned about the term gas-lighting. A term I would soon become familiar with.
Emergency room 1 – Outpatient Clinic
Upon arrival at the emergency clinic, the paramedic explained the details to the nurse, and added his two cents about his anxiety diagnosis. I was quickly wheeled into one of the emergency booths where a nurse did a swab test, and the doctor proceeded to do some standard neurological tests. This is when I noticed my neck could not hold up on its own. My legs and hands were fine; meaning, I had sensation in them. She then ordered a blood panel and I could hear Ellie’s voice in the distance. A quick note; It was still the height of Covid and hospitals or clinics did not allow non-patients to be there. They allowed Ellie in only because I was unable to speak.
A few hours later the results of the blood work came back inconclusive. The doctor explained to Ellie that she did not have a clear picture about what was happening, but with my physical symptoms, she felt it was best to send me to the main hospital for further testing. By this time, I was able to stand up and walk assisted a few paces. Some speech had returned. Ellie informed me that the parent that picked up my daughter had already told her that she would be having a pyjama party at their home. Our girls have been best of friends since kindergarten, so it was a relief. Her first night away from both parents, oblivious to all that was really happening.
Emergency room 2 – Hospital de Sant Pau
After being loaded into another ambulance, I was sent to Hospital Sant Pau, a leading research hospital in Barcelona. It was nearly 8pm at this point, and I was exhausted, confused and emotional. The orderly quickly wheeled me in to a pop-up emergency area, set up for the covid crisis, and I can only guess that this was a covid-free zone. There were two rows of beds separated by standing curtains and lots of beeping medical equipment under blinding florescent lights . Ellie had managed to get back to the apartment, feed the cats and pick up the charger for me. They would not let her through this time though.
Nurses came in an hooked up the EKG machine, as well as check on my blood pressure and temperature. Everything was normal. A new doctor then scanned the documents on me and carried out the exact same neurological test, and blood panel. I wondered what they actually expected to find different. I was able to explain that my legs gave in, and that there was all these electrical sensations and pins and needles all over my body. And on top of it, the ‘disconnect’ between my brain and my body and how I lost my ability to speak. I could see that the doctor was annoyed and kept repeating her questions, ‘Why aren’t you able to walk? Why is it difficult to speak?’ I finally replied ‘how should I know!’. She made me stand up and walk, and at this point I was able to wobble across a few steps. She too kept saying that I was just exhausted because of the vaccine and that this was totally ‘normal’. At 11pm a technician came in and handed me the results of the blood panel, and again it was inconclusive. They discharged me around 11pm with a diagnosis of Post Vaccination Asthenia. I was told to take paracetamol for the ‘pain’ and there was no follow up ordered. When I reached my apartment, I was already able to walk albeit the constant pins and needles, sharp shooting pain. After having a piece of watermelon, I immediately went to bed. I was woken up in the middle of the night due to the intense pain and the burning sensation in my muscles.
The entire night was a nightmare, and I woke up to my left side tingling yet numb. My appetite had not returned, hands still ‘floppy’ and weak, and my fingers alternated between having spasm-like sensations and cramps. Walking remained difficult, and I noticed the most curious thing; my left foot was dragging, not walking! I had to look at my foot and actually tell it to lift up and take a step. It was like my left foot forgot how to walk! Ellie showed up not long after to check on me. She was concerned, and livid that the hospital did not do a CT scan or further investigate the situation. She literally scoffed at the diagnosis and muttered some expletives before convincing me to go to a private hospital.
Emergency room 3 – A possible lead
I decided to go to the nearest private hospital near my home. It had to be close in case Ellie had to come by, or my daughter had to be brought to me. Upon arrival, the triage nurse assessed my situation and took notes from the previous blood panels taken. Two doctors came into the room and explained that they suspected a neurological problem and ordered a CT Scan and a lumbar puncture. The lumbar puncture would help them determine if I had developed something called Guillane-Barre Syndrome (GBS). Neither doctors were dismissive about the symptoms and said that there were incidences of GBS post-vaccination. Unfortunately, the tests weren’t conclusive. The doctor was apologetic and did mention that the hospital did not have a dedicated neurology department as such. I was instructed to have complete rest and continue with the paracetamol. I would need to monitor my symptoms closely.
By the time I was discharged, school had ended, and my daughter was already at her friend’s home again. I hopped into a taxi and headed straight to her. She was excited to see me of course to her and it was all a fun adventure having a sleep-over. But she was ready to come home. The parents that hosted my daughter asked me to stay with them until Franck returned. But I was just too disorientated and needed to be comfortable in my own home. Because I did not make a journal entry, I have absolutely no recollection of how I even fed and looked after my daughter the following 48 hours. I suspect I may have called a taxi to take her to and fro from school the next day.
Landing at Death’s Doorstep.
The following two weeks, more symptoms appeared and my condition worsened. I now experienced tremors, recurrent muscle spasms, ongoing pins and needles, shooting nerve pain , muscle weakness, joint pain and every single step I took was accompanied by jolts of pain. My arms would become limp, and too weak to do any thing at all. At night I would be woken up by unbearable pain. I felt like waves of weakness would overcome me, and the sensation left me feeling like I was sinking, and out of breath. I finally called an acquaintance who is a doctor to ask for help. She spoke to her husband, a neurosurgeon at another hospital and got me booked in for an appointment with the neurology team there. The neurologist booked in a plethora of tests and said that he too suspected that I may have GBS, but little did I know I would not even manage to make it to any of the tests. That very weekend, after multiple waves of weakness overcome me, each bigger than the previous. I decided to record 3 video for my daughter, husband and another as a record in case anything happened to me.
After making the recordings I could feel my breath weakening, and I realised that I was not breathing normally any longer. I had to now tell my lungs to breathe – I had to keep repeating 'breathe, breathe, breathe...’ I knew I was at deaths door and felt myself slipping.
More to come in Part 3