9 (Kinda) Hilarious Lessons From My 99 Days on a COVID Ventilator
Be careful what you wish for—or at least be more specific.
Well, folks, I caught the COVID. And not just any type of COVID, mind you. The really scary kind. The kind that kills people. But somehow, after 99 days in a medically induced coma in ICU on a mechanical ventilator, I lived to tell uncomfortable jokes about it. Luckily, dark humor is kind of my thing.
Let’s rewind the tape to when this grease fire of a year kicked off. It was late February, and I was a 31-year-old comedian struggling to pay rent on my shoebox Manhattan apartment. While visiting my parents in Massachusetts, I developed flu-like symptoms and ended up testing positive for COVID-19. Despite having no pre-existing conditions, I landed in the ICU on a ventilator before being airlifted to a second hospital for a 99-day catnap powered by modern medicine.
As it turns out, a person like me can learn a lot from almost dying.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is no laughing matter, here are nine (almost) hilarious life lessons from my 99 days on a vent in ICU:
1. There are worse things in 2020 than a medically induced coma.
Like, being fully conscious during this shitshow of a year. Apparently, between the acceleration of America’s political existential crisis and racial reckoning, I missed something called “Tiger King.” How did you people get behind that? And then some Chinese bajillionaires invented this app called TikTok, and somehow even straight people started lip-syncing like they’re on RuPaul’s Drag Race. What the hell happened? I took a little three-month nap and everyone just lost their damn minds. I’m tempted to ask the doctors to put me back under until Christmas.
2. Be careful what you ask the universe for.
Like every comedian, I secretly wanted to become famous. My astrologer even told me that it would happen in 2020. So I put it out to the universe and manifested the shit out of it, and, well, it came true. Instead of getting my own Netflix special, I became known as the pitiful young girl who might die from COVID.
After arriving in ICU, my story went viral online and a whole bunch of blue-check celebrities tweeted their support for me. Even Amy Schumer and the famous hosts of my favorite podcast, Bitch Sesh, sent me a personal “get well” video. I got my five minutes, but not the way I intended.
So be careful what you wish for—or at least be more specific.
3. Always be prepared for the apocalypse.
If 2020 has taught us anything it is that you never know when something might happen that will irrevocably alter your life. So never leave important feelings unspoken, always tell your family you love them, live like today might be your last, blah blah blah.
But here’s another one: Just in case you accidentally end up in a coma, remember that your parents will sift through all your “personal items” when they clean out your apartment. My 67-year-old mother found my vibrator, and then publicly claimed “it was so big that it deserved its own zip code.” Won’t make that mistake again.
4. It can always get worse. And I mean, always.
You think your situation is bad because you can’t hug your grandma? Try waking up from a months-long nap and looking like a reject sex doll with your face bloated from steroids, your skin resembling a cracked potato, and your mouth resembling a withered sinkhole. And then you wake up, unable to move, only to puke and defecate on yourself and find out your call bell doesn’t work. So if you’re griping because you have to sit a few feet apart at a picnic after homeschooling the adorable tiny humans in your house, you can shut the actual hell up.
5. Health-care workers are heroes, but they are horrible dancers.
It’s no surprise that health-care workers are placing themselves in harm’s way to monitor the vitals, administer treatments, monitor medicine, and conduct therapies on people like me. But with no-visitor policies for COVID patients, they also function like families.
While I was asleep, nurses played me encouraging audio clips from my family, washed my face, and even braided my hair. When I woke up but was still incapacitated, they gossiped to me about the cute doctors while changing my diaper and wiping my ass. The nurses and I even had dance parties. And by dance parties, I mean that I slowly moved my chemically paralyzed arms to Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” while my nurses un-rhythmically gyrated their hips. (Keep your day jobs, ladies.)
6. Your family probably isn’t as terrible as you think.
If you’ve been stuck at home arguing with your husband and fighting with your parents to stay the hell home, that’s bad. I’m sure you’ve called all your friends to complain about how awful they are. But you know what? They still love you and you still love them, and I bet you’d probably be there for each other if either of you really needed help. But when my medication made me hairier than my Greek father, my sister had to shave my hands and pluck my nipples. Which means I’m no longer legally allowed to speak poorly of her until—and even after—her death. So try to keep everything in perspective, people.
7. No matter how bad, there’s fun to be had.
I’ve had time to catch up on all I missed these last few months, and I see you have been enjoying boozy Zoom “happy hours,” and launching Instagram Live shows, and baking mountains of sourdough bread. Sounds delightful.
But I should tell you that I also found ways to have some fun. If you don’t believe me, ask my music therapist. She’ll tell you about the time I shouted “Enough of this Beatles shit. I want the classics. Give me Britney’s ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time.’” I’m not Bocelli, but I still sang as loud as my decrepit, scarred lungs would allow—until the nurses told me that I was scaring the 80-year-old heart transplant neighbor.
If you’re alive, no matter your circumstances, make it fun.
8. Your friends are both better and worse than you assume.
Some of my longtime friends still haven’t reached out to check on me or they just sent cliché well-wishes. Meanwhile, acquaintances and even a few of my “frenemies” have been constant helpers. I always assumed my gay best friend valued me. But I didn’t know he cared enough to drive hours away in the middle of a pandemic to dress up in drag and provide some badly needed entertainment. He arrived, pretended to have diarrhea to cover up his conspicuously long time in the bathroom, and re-emerged in a full caftan, turban, gloves, pearls, and platform heels. You have no idea how committed your friends actually are, but a tragedy will tell you.
9. Practice gratitude, even when the world’s on fire.
After leaving the ICU, I was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital where I started learning to speak, swallow, and walk again. Today, I’m living with my parents, but I need a walker to move, an oxygen tank to breathe, and I currently take more than 25 prescription medications. I’m basically Betty White minus the financial stability. But I am still here, and I’ll never again take for granted a single step or even the ability to make people laugh.
It’s always a gift to be alive—yes, even in 2020.
Laura Lyons is a comedian and actress who has been featured in Time Out, Quickie Fest, and Comedy Cake. Before the world fell apart, she was a performer on BoogieManja and Magnet theaters and co-host of the Not Killing It podcast. Follow Laura on Instagram: @LauraLyonsComedy.