After months in a Madrid hospital fighting the virus that almost killed her, Rosa Maria Fernandez is now learning the basics again: walking, speaking and using cutlery.
Progress is measured step by step for the 71-year-old, and even seemingly small victories are reason to celebrate.
"I could barely speak until a week ago, but now I can," says Fernandez, who was taken to the hospital on March 6 and gasped for breath and later tested positive for the virus.
"It's a surprise that I can speak and that you understand me," she says, sitting in a wheelchair next to her bed, a hint of pride in her newly discovered voice, which gurgles weakly behind a blue face mask.
Behind her, numbers on a screen carefully monitor their oxygen levels. The doctors hover nearby to see that she is not overworking in her willingness to talk.
It is one of more than 235,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Spain, one of the most affected countries in the world.
After weeks of fighting the disease, she feels happy to have escaped death in a country where more than 28,000 people have died from the disease.
"I thought I was going to die. There were moments when I was so hard to breathe that I couldn't communicate," she croaks in a barely audible voice.
"It was absolutely terrible. I was really beside myself … but God gave me a little bit more time," she says of the month she spent in intensive care when doctors at Gregorio Maranon Hospital struggled to get her on To preserve life.
"The angel of death passed me."
Although she is still very uncomfortable, she has come a long way since she was hospitalized.
Like many COVID-19 patients, she was heavily sedated, intubated, and ventilated before being released if she could breathe alone.
However, leaving the intensive care unit was just the beginning of a long road to recovery, which included extensive rehabilitation that has not yet been completed.
She has made great strides lately – after more than eight weeks in the hospital, she finally managed to sit up and eat on her own.
Survive but at a price
But survival comes at a price.
Long stays in the intensive care unit often leave a patient with problems that can affect their quality of life, from severe muscle loss, breathing difficulties and cognitive problems to language difficulties, memory loss and anxiety.
In such cases, rehabilitation is crucial, says Dr. Ruben Juarez Fernandez, the 39-year-old rehabilitation specialist whose job it is to assess a patient's needs when leaving the intensive care unit.
"It's about ensuring that they have the least amount of disability and after-effects in the future when they go home to their normal lives."
Physiotherapist Laura Garcia Montes, 30, helped Fernandez get her limbs moving again and taught her breathing exercises to improve lung function.
Although she can't walk yet, learning to sit up has made a big difference, she said.
"Rosa has been here for a long time, more than two months. Now she can do things, work more together and she is happier and more active, so the treatment is faster."
Working with COVID-19 survivors requires an extra level of care, as many change their position and experience nausea or difficulty breathing.
"Although it takes a bit of work, we want to get them back on their feet so that they can sit up without feeling bad or falling over."
"I want a normal life"
Rosa not only sits alone, but has recently used her hands again and is learning how to use cutlery, says 39-year-old occupational therapist Marta Garcia de Francisco.
"We see a lot of patients who can no longer use their hands as before to dress or even lift a spoon to their mouths," she said.
"They may have been immobile in the intensive care unit causing muscle weakness, or they may have neurological problems that we see in COVID-19 patients."
They also work on their core stability so that they can finally get up and get dressed.
It is not clear how long she will have to stay in the hospital.
"We take it week after week, now we see her sitting, next we see if she can get up (alone) and how she can cope with things like going to the toilet, getting dressed and eating," said Dr. Fernandez says.
"With every moment we make them more independent, that's why the rehabilitation service is here."
After her death, Rosa says that she only wants to "lead a normal life".
"When I see improvement every day, I feel better," she said.
"I still have a long way to go, but I'll get through."
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)