Haadi Shuaib was used to being on the other side of the stethoscope. So when the doctors told him that he couldn’t breathe because his lungs were failing and that they were going to intubate him, he fell asleep, afraid that he might never wake up again.
Nine days passed before Shuaib, a resident physician at Staten Island University Hospital, awoke from a doctor-induced coma. He was surrounded by family and friends, with a new perspective on bedside manners and on-the-job training.
Shuaib, 30, was reunited on Wednesday with the doctors who saved his life. At a press conference, she reflected on the challenges of being the one in the hospital gown.
“I was always the doctor,” Shuaib said. “Seeing it from the other side was a deeply humbling experience.”
March 18, 2022 began as a normal day for Shuaib, who began his 12-hour shift making the rounds at the hospital. The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus was spreading rapidly, and Shuaib was just as busy as he had been during the height of the pandemic.
During the day his throat ached and he felt a certain weariness which, under the circumstances, did not particularly alarm him. But when the blurred vision and laryngitis set in, he began to worry a bit.
His symptoms got worse. When he got to the emergency room, Shuaib was having trouble breathing and walking.
His condition turned out not to be COVID, but strep pneumonia and toxic shock syndrome.
“I had a really hard time convincing my resident program director and co-residents that I needed ventilation,” Shuaib said. “At this point, I allowed my colleagues to take over and take care of me.”
But putting Shuaib, who walked and lifted weights for fun, on a ventilator wasn’t enough. The hospital’s cardiothoracic surgeon, Frank Rosell, placed Shuaib on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, a device that takes over the functions of the heart and/or lungs outside the body and is the most aggressive form of life support.
“As you can imagine, he has the heart of an Olympic athlete,” Rosell said. “So, there was no need to perform replacement functions of the heart itself, so it was simply the replacement of lung function.”
But first, Rosell had to get past Shuaib’s concerned colleagues.
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“I was expecting, obviously, to find myself with a line of anxious, teary-eyed family members,” Rosell said. “Instead, I walked past a line of teary-eyed medical residents who were well informed that one of his colleagues was in trouble.”
But even with the high-tech heart-lung machine, there were no guarantees, so relatives headed to New York, including Shuaib’s mother, who had traveled from Canada.
Meanwhile, Shuaib was transferred to the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, which has an acute lung injury unit.
“He was different, he was a colleague,” said Mangala Narasimhan, head of the unit. “We were very concerned because he was very healthy before he got sick.
After nine days in a coma, Shuaib was disconnected from the machines that had been keeping him alive and released three days later.
Shuaib did respiratory rehabilitation work at home, and within a month he had his lab coat and clipboard on, and was seeing patients again.
“After everything that happened, I found a comfort level, a sense of security with my health intact,” Shuaib said. “It was more inspiration after what I went through. I’m back in action”