I am a businessman. Last summer, I was on a business visit to Nursultan, Kazakhstan. The Coronavirus pandemic was just beginning. I contracted the virus, and I was diagnosed with Covid and taken to the city's infective hospital. At some point, I started to have difficulty breathing, and they took me to intensive care.
I was horrified. - I felt as if I had sunk to the bottom of a lake, waiting to be pulled out to take a breath... But no one was coming to lift me. My hands and legs were breaking. My head was exploding, and my eyes were about to pop out. The pain was intolerable. I have no idea how I had coped. I am not a hero.
After some time, my condition deteriorated. The doctors had a case conference and decided to double the doses of the drugs, despite the elevated risk of increased blood pressure and heart attack. They gave me a one per cent chance of survival. They injected the drug, and all they were left to do was wait.
In the evening, a doctor came to my bed crying. He said, "Igor, we have done all we could. But if your blood pressure does not stabilise by tomorrow morning, we will have to get you off the machine." - "I have seen the last of many people here. Just lie on your stomach and imagine your normal blood pressure. Give it a try."
The new Coronavirus was ruthless. People were dying one after another, despite the selfless efforts of the doctors. I was hanging on. Fearful, I was repeating to myself, "I am going to live. I will be all right. I chased the thought of death out of my sub-conscience." Not for a moment did I let myself think that I was going to die.
At times, I pitied myself. "Do I have hope?" I mused, "Will I ever see my grandchildren grow? My hopes and aspirations fulfilled? God gave me so many chances, but I blew them all." But I did not let myself stay in that kind of mood. I gave myself the promise to fight on. I imagined getting out of the hospital, spending time with my grandchildren, being a loving husband and father to my family and offering help to anyone in need. I pictured it every minute while on the apparatus, and each minute seemed like a year.
I saw myself at the church where my grandfather used to take me as a child; I visualised the icon and asked the saints for their help. As they told me later, everyone at that church was praying for me - the laity, the priests, my wife, mother and all my kin.
Suddenly, my pain was gone completely. There was calm and quiet, nothing was hurting, I was breathing effortlessly. On my right and left, everything was shrouded in complete darkness; just me and my neighbour were glowing amid the dark. I looked at my neighbour and asked, "Why are you not wearing your mask?" He stared back at me and said, "But why are you still wearing yours?" This peaceful scene lasted for around 20 seconds. We did not realise where we were.
Suddenly, I was seized with infernal fear that I cannot find the words to describe and cannot forget. I sensed that the demons had come after my neighbour, and they were tearing his soul to pieces. I did not see it, but I sensed it. I have no idea what that man's life had been like or what his name was, but I know that his soul went to the dark world. I was numb with fear.
I moment later, I was taken to a different dimension. It was a good, warm and bright place. It felt good. I met with my departed father, my father in law, my grandfather and my grandmother. They were all looking at me, and my grandfather and grandmother were smiling. My father was frowning. I realised that he was very upset because I had come to him too early.
I looked around and saw my grandmother Vera dressed in white, descending on me from somewhere high. She approached me and said, "Turn around, son." I listened and saw behind me some flickering lights that looked like the stars on a clear night. "See that light over there that just came on? Someone put up a candle for you, but we will not see it from here. See those bright lights? They are priests, monks and the people at church. We see that they are praying for you."
A prayer at a church or monastery is a direct plea to God, which He will hear. Then my grandmother told me, "Clutch your fist hard, as hard as you can, so it hurts. Keep it like that, and you will live. Do not loosen it, or you will die." My grandmother brought me back to life. She held the palm of her hand to my face and said, "Now, clutch your fist. I did what she said and woke up."
The young man next to me was already covered with a blue sheet. He had died. I realised with horror where he went. That was a world of evil, a hell. In the ward, everyone became agitated. "Kobzev's back! He is alive!" I kept clutching my fist until I left the intensive care ward.
The morning came. My hands and feet were numb, I could not move a limb or feel my body. But I kept repeating the same mantra: "My blood pressure is normal, 120 - 80." The doctors came to do the round. In pain and paralysis, I heard the voice of the doctor, "Lift him, take off his mask and shut off the oxygen". They do the procedures, my head droops, but I keep breathing. I expect every breath to be my last. They lift my chin, and I see my blood pressure reading - 130 - 90. All the nurses and doctors were in tears. I was alive.
They put me on a stretcher and took me to the convalescent ward. Everyone on the way cheered. After my discharge, I completed a long course of therapy in Kazakhstan and another long course of rehabilitation on my return to Belarus.
Each morning, I wake up with a smile and give my thanks to God for letting me wake up in the morning, walk around and breathe. I learned to see the goodness of people and recognise the image of God in them. I want others to learn from my experience. I want them to know that heaven and hell exist and that we will be held accountable for our earthly lives. Do good and be charitable to others. When our time comes, they will judge us by our actions. No one will ask us anything. The judgement will be quick, all the good and bad things that we did in our lives will be exposed for all to see. I have no fear of death, what I do fear is being lost in the dark underworld. I call on everyone: be worthy of your Creator; He wants us all to go to heaven.
Recorded by Olga Demidiuk
The photos used for this material are from the personal archive of Igor Kobzev
Alexey Kolesnikov is an artist and works in a monastic workshop. He is the head of a large and happy family. We interviewed him about the role of art in his family, maintaining work-life balance, and about the foundations of a happy family life.