MEND Stories of Healing & Courage: Babar Khan
I spoke to my friend on video chat yesterday, it was the first time I had seen him since he moved from New York to London many months ago. The occasion unfortunately wasn’t a great one, as I’d asked him to do a healing stories podcast with me about his experience with being severely ill with COVID-19. Seeing my friend in his recovering state and hearing his story was jarring and elicited in me much more sadness and emotion than I’d anticipated.
Babar came onto video a few minutes after me, but prompt as usual. He was in bed, with the laptop tilted and camera pointed at his face. I hit the record button and greeted my friend, with sadness already filling my heart.
Babar’s face was sunken in, he showed me the scar in this throat from where the emergency tracheostomy was performed after his lungs collapsed. His voice was hoarse and weak. “So tell me what happened pal, I’m so sorry that I was so late to learn about your situation and to write to you”, I started.
The story goes like this. My friend, who lives in London, was healthy and well. He’s an active guy and told me he’d taken a spin class just a few days prior to his flight to Pakistan. He’s a regular runner and maintains a healthy lifestyle. His wife and kids were also well when he left London, so he hypothesizes that he caught the virus on the flight. “In hindsight perhaps I didn’t take enough precaution on the flight”, he said.
Finishing NYC Marathon With Wife & Kids Days Before Flight
About a week after landing, he began to feel flu-like symptoms, the most alarming of which were high fever, shortness of breath, and extreme fatigue. The world was now in the early stages of a global pandemic, so he knew not to take it lightly and to get tested immediately. However, the tests were negative.
He continued to decline and roughly four days after the test, he was in such a bad state that he had to return to the hospital. That’s when things went dark, he has no memory of what happened next.
For three weeks Babar remained unconscious. Unbeknownst to him, he was barely clinging to life, on a ventilator and being fed from a tube. At one stage, his doctors prepared his family, “In the state that he is in, the survival rate isn’t good.”
After three weeks, his eyes opened, he had no idea where he was. “Was I alive, was I dead, was I kidnapped?”, he remembers thinking, in a dark room with six tubes emerging from all parts of his body, he felt completely disconnected from reality.
“Eziah, it was the most difficult week of my life. I didn’t know where I was, I couldn’t speak to anyone. The room was dark with alien-like figures [PPE clad medical workers] appearing here and there. Bodies would be wrapped in plastic multiple times a day and taken from the ward as patients passed away.”
I found it very difficult to listen to the pain he went through. Babar was 165 pounds in a normal state, after many weeks in the hospital, he weighed 120 pounds. The virus had so severely eaten away at his body that even now, months after his affliction, he was still unable to fully walk and put weight on his legs.
“It’s a small miracle that I’m alive today. I’m deeply indebted to the incredible medical professionals that took care of me. The nurses, the doctors, the physical therapists, each of them an angel sitting on my shoulder watching over me.”
With the hospital staff at Agha Khan
My friend is a very accomplished person. He holds an MBA from Kellogg and a CFA. He’s worked as senior executive in mergers and acquisitions in the financial industry for years. He told me that he had zero thoughts of professional pursuits and goals after regaining consciousness. “All I could think about was my family and my kids. Professional accomplishments lost their meaning.”
Father & Son Bonding
His path to recovery is a long one, feeding his body healing nutrients and working hard on physical therapy. He spoke and shared some of the wisdom he’s gained during his nightmare ordeal. “Eziah, I felt such an outpouring of love. Calls, text messages and emails, from hundreds of people. Some who I hadn’t spoken to in years. Some from people I have never even met or heard of. I was really touched by the love. It brought into focus my priorities and showed me the better side of people. And I’ve gained a heightened appreciation for health, had I not been a generally healthy person, it’s unlikely that I would be here talking to you today.”
In home PT Begins On a long road to recovery
As he conveyed these stories of love and kindness, his voice cracked with emotion, I felt a lump in my throat and was very close to tears. I gathered myself and shared some reflection of my own: “As I listen to your story pal, I’m reminded that struggles such as the one you’ve been through – when one faces one’s own mortality – life and priorities do tend to come into sharp focus. If only we could sustain it, if we could carry that moment with us forever to keep us anchored, centered and present.”
I expressed my love and promised to visit as soon as he was strong enough to go for a walk, and perhaps have a cocktail. To learn more from the insights and growth that only an experience like his can provide. I hit the stop record message, and began to wander off into deep contemplation.
During our conversation, not once did Babar express sympathy for himself, he just expressed a gratitude for being alive and an appreciation of the simple things in life. When he’s strong enough, I hope to share an article written by him so we can all learn and grow from his experience.
– By Eziah Syed, Founder & CEO MEND Nutrition Inc.