Prayers for lone hospitalised patient answered
When New Zealand’s last hospitalised COVID-19 patient was sedated in ICU for over a month, doctors feared Lilian Su’a would not survive. Her family were told to say their goodbyes. But instead, they pulled together and prayed together. These are the foundations and values that build healthy relationships which help our families thrive, flourish and always PASEFIKA PROUD.
Lilian and Tofiga Su'a
Lilian Su’a is recovering at home. The 55-year-old Samoan woman from the village of Fugalei, Apia is lucky to be alive after battling COVID-19 in Auckland's Middlemore Hospital for more than two months.
Now that New Zealand is in level 1 having with no active cases of COVID-19, Lilian and her husband Tofiga from Sataoa, Safata are celebrating both their recovery and their 35th wedding anniversary this week. They say their battle with COVID-19 has made their marriage stronger than ever.
“I loved her when I first saw her. My wife is a lovely lady. She loves me so much. Her cooking is really delicious and she is very humble,” Tofiga said.
“Definitely he is the one for me, my lovely husband,” Lilian says.
“15th of June, 35 years our anniversary, so praise the Lord!”
Their first signs of the disease began just two days before the nationwide alert level 4 lockdown when Tofiga started feeling unwell.
“I got sick on the 23rd of March and it was just like a normal flu and I thought it wasn't that serious,” recalls Tofiga.
He attempted to get tested at the Mangere clinic in South Auckland, but was rejected because he didn't have a sore throat and wasn't coughing.
It took a further two attempts to get tested.
“By that time my wife was also affected with the coronavirus. I told the doctor after taking my test whether she can test as well, and he said no,” he recalls.
“He said just wait to get my results. We're both sick and only two of us are here in the house, so we are looking at each other and talking, trying to shake away the pain.”
By the time Tofiga's test results came back confirming he had the coronavirus, Lilian's condition was serious.
“That's where I feel the fever is coming out. I feel different and I was telling Tofiga. And it wasn't just the fever. It was the cough which it was getting worse. I said. “Just take me straight away to Middlemore. No other place, but just take me straight to the hospital,” Lilian said.
Because of the strict COVID-19 rules, security would not allow Tofiga to enter into the hospital with his wife, so Lillian went in on her own.
“There are security cars there waiting for me and said, 'No, you can't enter the hospital. You can go home now because you're not allowed to get in'. It was so sad for me and I was also very worried because she went inside by herself,” Tofiga recalls.
“So, I stayed in the car park for about 40 minutes confused and worried. I didn't know what to do. But thank God I just settled down because of our faith in God.”
Lilian said she walked into the hospital feeling weak, "They let me sit down on a chair and they said, “What's going on? What's happening?”
“I was just explaining everything I felt at that time and from there they took me straight away for tests and then to the ICU."
The pair both have a strong Christian faith. Tofiga said it's the only thing he could lean on during that time to stay hopeful.
“The next time I heard from her, she said, 'Please, I'm going to the ICU. Pray for me. Pray for my breathing'. That was the last time that I heard from her. I didn't say goodbye and that's the hardest thing about it. I just dropped her in front and said, 'I'll just park the car, then come and see you'. But I didn't know that was the last time to see her and I didn't even say goodbye to her. It was hard.”
Ministry of Health staff haven't confirmed where exactly Tofiga contracted the virus, but his family believe it's likely he got it at Auckland International Airport, where he works.
By the time Lilian went into hospital, the entire country was in lockdown and his symptoms had gone. Tofiga was left home alone, worrying about his wife and not knowing when he would see her next.
Lilian's condition was serious and she was sedated for an entire month. At one point doctors told the family they didn't expect her to survive.
Unable to breathe on her own and after the maximum permitted time on a ventilator, doctors performed surgery to connect the breathing apparatus to Lilian's trachea in a last-ditch attempt to help her breathing.
During that time their daughter Lily, recently returned from Australia and in quarantine, started a prayer chain, gathering family members and friends around the world to pray for her mother through daily Zoom calls.
Tofiga and Lilian Su'a with their grandaughter
“Alot of people prayed, they stood together and it was amazing. People that don't know God all came together and prayed. Now it's just like a new thing in my family,” said Lilian, who believes her family’s faith helped her pull through her two-month battle with the disease.
After four weeks in ICU she was taken off the sedatives and began breathing on her own for the first time in weeks. She recalled her first words.
“It was just 'Praise God!'” she said laughing.
“I didn't know how many days I was asleep, but when I woke the thing that come from my mouth was 'Thank you, Lord'."
Lilian moved to the COVID-19 recovery ward and Tofiga was finally able to see his wife again. It was the first time since he dropped her at the hospital more than a month ago.
“The first time I met her face-to-face, after all the time when she was at the rehab clinic, I was surprised to get a call from the doctors, who said, ‘Yes, you can visit your wife now’. I was so happy and hurried up and rushed out the door,” Tofiga said.
It was the longest the pair had ever been separated having been used to doing everything together.
Tofiga described their sweet reunion.
“I was very careful about the metres and things so I didn't rush. I took my time because there were nurses there, so they blocked my way so I finally got to her and yeah, it was a good feeling. Holding her, hugging her again and kissing her. It was quite a relief for me,” he said.
“We were just talking and joking ‘You've been gone so long you know, I've been waiting for you,’ I said. And then she said ‘Oh? How long?’ and I said ‘You were asleep for nearly a month or so.’
“And she said ‘Oh no! No!’ I said ‘Yes, yes you sleep for about a month’ and she said ‘All this time?’ and I said ‘Yes.’
“She said 'I thought it was only sleeping for a few hours!' and I said 'No, no you slept for about a month'." explained Tofiga.
On 4 May, Lilian finally tested negative for COVID-19 but she would spend the next three weeks recovering in hospital.
And there were many things she was looking forward to once she was able to leave hospital.
“Oh, straight away when we got out I said ‘Oh let's go to Nandos!’” she recalls laughing. "I said ‘Okay, let's go and eat and have some beautiful chicken!’”
The pair both say the experience has strengthened their marriage.
“There's that saying, 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder',” says Tofiga.
“We won't say anything against the whole process that we went through and the hardship. Because it brings us back together in a stronger way and our love for each other, wife and husband, is getting stronger.”
Doctors said it will be a few months until Lilian fully recovers from the impact the virus has had on her body as she undergoes occupational therapy to regain the movement in her hands and arms.
The couple are full of praise - for God and the health staff who took care of Lilian.
“It's just like angels that were around me. The whole time that I was in hospital was so amazing. I thank God for them, their knowledge and their wisdom," she says.
“It's amazing of their job and their care and support. So, I just say may the Lord bless them all in different ways and give them peace and joy!”
More than two months on since Tofiga and Lilian first felt symptoms of the coronavirus, these grandparents have only got one thing on their mind when the border finally opens.
“Just to see my granddaughter,” Lilian says.
Story courtesy of RNZ journalist Indira Stewart
It is important we continue to keep our families and children safe in our homes.
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Pasefika Proud is a Pacific response to focus on community-led solutions that harnesses the transformative power of traditional Pacific cultural values and frameworks to encourage violence-free, respectful relationships that support Pacific peoples to thrive and to build strong resilient families.