How I lost my mother to Covid-19

In the latest installment of our series Kahani Mein Twist, real life stories about life changing moments, Maida Sheikh shares the story of her family’s fight with Covid-19 in the USA. Maida’s mother became ill at the end of October and her powerful description of the following month resonates with the hope and despair of the illness and with the immense faith and courage of the whole family.

AsalaamOAlaykum everyone

It’s taken me a long time to write this out.I’ve been working up the courage in myself to talk about it.

Mama was called back by Allah some time back in Nov 2020. I say ‘sometime’ because we were never given a definitive date of WHEN she passed, her death certificate has her date of burial, which was the 24th of November.

So let me start at the beginning. We were diagnosed with Covid-19 on October 28th, 4 days after experiencing symptoms. We actually thought we had the flu because we were so careful. We sanitized, we cleaned, we washed our hands…everything. We didn’t socialize. But we plan and Allah plans better. We each had varying symptoms. Oh, btw, it was me, mama and my father. I also have 2 children who are (now) 4 and 2.5 and they were assumed to be positive because here in the States, you don’t have to test kids under 11 or 12 unless they show symptoms. Anyway. Mama (age 58) had chills, a bit of a low grade fever, aches and pains in the body. She couldn’t get out of bed. Mama always said that if we ever saw her in bed for long while she was sick, it was serious. When she didn’t get up for 4 days straight, I knew deep down, this was serious.

Baba (age 60) had a fever and flu like symptoms. He hardly complained ma sha Allah, he handled it well.

I (age 34)had severe body aches, the type that just got into your bones. I didn’t want to move but with no one else able to do anything, I mean i had to. I had two babies to think of as well as my parents. I also had a lingering headache. Loss of taste and smell – those symptoms fluctuated. No fever.

Oct 29th: Mama was getting ready for Friday’s Zuhr prayer and as she was leaving the area she was getting ready, she started to complain of the inability to breath. My dad brought her to their room and I looked her full in the eye and coached her to breath with me. She said it could have been anxiety. The oximeter revealed an spo value of 92%. It rose to 95. I calmed mama down and had my father call his physician and my mamu (a doctor himself) to get their opinions. Mom’s day was spent laying down and praying. After Isha, my body was having a hard time taking it. Mama walked over to apologize and help me load dishes in the dishwasher. My older child was crying and as I was scolding her, mama told me to give my daughter to her. I replied sorta curtly that I’d handle it but my kid opted to go with her bilatees (what she called my mom).

It was typical of my mum that she’d want to help even when she was feeling so unwell

At 7am the next morning, my dad knocked on my door and I opened the door to see mom exiting the house on a stretcher. I didn’t even get to hug her. But I was confident she’d be home soon. Later on dad told me her oxygen had gone to 82 % and he panicked and dialled 911.

At the hospital, Abu wasn’t allowed in, and after several hours mom called to tell us she had pneumonia. I still didn’t panic, I knew Allah would take care of Mama.

To make a really long story short, Mama’s condition deteriorated. Her oxygen saturation on her stomach was ok, but any movement caused it to drop. Her O2 monitor always bleeped and it scared me. Even then I thought she would make it. After she was hospitalized, she got steriods, she got remesdivir, she had plasma therapy…she felt so much better the night she got plasma only to tell me she felt ‘the same as before’ the next day. She began keeping her Whatsapp video on after day 4 of hospitalization. We were happy to see her, she was proned but she didn’t like being proned much. It was hard to stay that way for her.

She didn’t sleep much the first few days and then stopped sleeping altogether. She began to worry about forgetting to breathe if she slept. She’d take 10 to 20 min naps and jerk awake. My father spent his nights with her, awake, coaching her to breathe and reading Quran together. Mama was praying her prayers with her eyes at this point.

Her last night of consciousness… I will never forget it. It started out alright, she asked for some honey and dates from the house and some food to be delivered to the hospital and a nasal aspirator because she felt something stuck up her nose… She talked to my brother, then me; she told me she loved me, to spread Islam to her family, to stay in touch with them and to remember that life didn’t end. She asked me to ask forgiveness on her behalf if she hurt anyone. And then she kept raising her finger in shahada. At one point she told my father to bear witness that she had said the shahada.

And then all of a sudden, she turned over and looked at the ceiling and told Allah this was really tough. She had such a hard time breathing. This was her 9th day of hospitalization.

The nurses came in to ‘calm’ her down. But I was there on video, and we did breathing exercises together. She asked me if it was Fajr yet.

My dad took over and prayed for a while and when Fajr came, my 2.5 year old woke up. I put him back to bed and as I was lulling him to sleep, I sorta snoozed. I was awakened by my father screaming hysterically, ‘NO BABY NO NOOOO’… And this has haunted me in my dreams. To this day, I can’t sleep at night.

When I got to the room to see my mother on screen, she had removed her oxygen and was attempting to breathe on her own. She was fanning her face and I realized she was hot. The nurse told her she was sweating because her fever had broken. No one had informed us that she had a fever.

Once I calmed my dad down, I had to sleep. I woke up 1hr later and found my dad on the phone. The team had decided to put mama on a ventilator. They required permission.

Dad agreed.

At night they decided to transfer her to another hospital, 60 miles away from us to get her on an ECMO (life support machine).

When mama reached the second hospital, sedated and on the ventilator, her values seemed good. She was to be observed and then they would decide what to do. At this hospital, we got a lot of info. We found out what ecmo truly entailed and that her attending physician there wanted to avoid it as much as possible. Thankfully, Mama got a Muslim doctor and I say that only because he was then able to understand my dads religious side a bit better than if it hadn’t been a Muslim physician. Mama was at a Catholic establishment and I found the nurses to be fantastic here. They turned on the camera and allowed us to restart our Quran therapy as we called it. We would play Surahs all day for mama. The camera hardly was ever closed.

4 days after arriving to this facility, Mama’s CO2 levels shot up. The doctors finally decided that the time to hook up mama to the ECMO had come. So she was wheeled in and attached to the ECMO. Her heart stopped for a whole minute as they attached her.

And there we were, Baba and i, suspended in time. It was the slowest time of my life. I prayed like never before. But I knew Allah would help.

Several days – by this point, I had lost count- after ECMO, my dad received a call from the head Nurse to find out how he was doing. As my father talked to her, my gut told me something was wrong, but I prayed to Allah I was wrong. I had never wanted to be so wrong. The next day, the attending Physician called. ‘It doesn’t look good Mr. Sheikh, her pupils are too dilated… It doesn’t look good’, he said to Baba.

It took them 36hrs to try and get mama stable enough to do an EEG test. That didn’t detect brain activity. My father clung to hope that she was in a coma and nothing more. Mama was taken off sedatives… There was no response, just Mama ‘sleeping’ . ‘Miracles happen’ said Baba.

There was test after test to determine if mama was there, my father wasn’t going to give up on Mama, not without a fight.

My dad was called in on a Friday to hold Mama’s hand now that we had our negative Covid tests and Mama was declared noninfectious. It was November 20th I believe.

Dad came back home after the 3hr journey, after holding Mama’s hand to tell me I would go tomorrow, and that miracles could happen, I just had to PRAY.

And pray I did.

Saturday, I went to the hospital, with all my hopes and du’as. I walked into the ICU, I was dressed up in PPE thanks to an extra cautious nurse… And as I looked into Mama’s room from the nurses station, I was taken aback. What I couldn’t see on camera were the massive tubes behind Mama’s head of her blood being oxygenated by the ECMO machine. To me, she always seemed to be in deep sleep on camera.

I held Mama’s warm hand in mine when I got in, and I looked at Mama. Then I looked around the room…

I saw Mama’s body, but no Mama. I remember feeling overwhelmed, but I couldn’t cry because I was in shock. Where was my mother???

That’s when I knew she was gone. She wasn’t coming back. She looked radiantly peaceful, but her skin was turning yellow – Mama’s liver was failing.

I held Mama’s hand, I prayed for her and I imagined Mama’s soul prayed with me. When I was done, I gave her a hug (the nurse helped me move some of the tubes), I closed her eyes firmly, I touched her face
… And then I went to tell Baba the truth. She was gone.

Funeral preparations had to be made. We needed a place to bury her.

How all this took place, I don’t know. All I know is that Allah took care of us while we were sick, while going thru some of the hardest moments and I met some real friends along the way… We had no one there. And yet Allah sent people, He sent food, He sent love. Our family, so far away, the support I got from them was…. A blessing. Both my mother’s and my father’s side – everyone called and prayed together.

While going thru this, I tried to hold my family together. I think till Mama’s funeral, I did well. Maybe a little beyond that. But I have begun to crack. I didn’t get a chance to grieve properly, I have a host of my own personal issues to sort out, I have my children and father to care for, and I have relocated to Canada for the time being.

This house I am in was purchased for mama. I am reminded of her everywhere i go. I miss her like crazy.

And YET…
I believe that this is Allah’s will, I accept it. I am grateful she was my mama… I am proud of her. She held on to her faith, she practiced it, she lived it, she was a fantastic example.

I am proud of her having tried her best. She sent her best friend a video before going on the vent, telling her she was giving it her all but in the end it was Allah’s will Alhamdulilah.

I do ask myself how a vibrant, healthy, strong woman like her could go… But the truth is, anyone could go at any point in time, in any condition… And I draw solace from this : In Sha Allah, she is in a BETTER place. I miss her everyday and so do my children. But the way my father misses her… I have no words.

I leave you with an image of her handwriting. Mama converted/reverted to Islam 37 years ago and she worked so hard on her deen. I find old papers like this one all the time. Duas, surahs, asma ul husna… She tried to learn then all.

Please pray for her maghfirat, may Allah illuminate her grave, may Allah give her Jannat ul Firdous. May Allah give us Sabr. May Allah bless my father with a long, healthy life.

I hope my brother and I are good sources of sadqa jaria… We will have many firsts without Mama but as long as we live as she taught us, she will always be present. Till we meet again Mama.

Oh before i forget, my 4 year old has tested positive for corona… Please pray for all of us, we are in quarantine AGAIN (back to back quarantine!!) and will be tested after 10 days. The stress is high….

This article was first published on Maida’s blog and is reproduced with her permission.

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