ROUEN, France (AP) — Slowly suffocating in a French intensive care ward, Patrick Aricique feared he would die from his diseased lungs that felt “completely burned from the inside, burned like the cathedral in Paris,” as tired doctors and nurses labored day and night to keep gravely ill COVID-19 patients like him alive.

A married couple in the same ICU died within hours of each other as Aricique, feeling as fragile as “a soap bubble ready to pop,” also wrestled the coronavirus. The 67-year-old retired building contractor credits a divine hand for his survival. “I saw archangels, I saw little cherubs,” he said. “It was like communicating with the afterlife.”

On his side were French medical professionals who, forged on the bitter experiences of previous infection waves, now fight relentlessly to keep patients awake and off mechanical ventilators, if at all possible. They treated Aricique with nasal tubes and a mask that bathed his heaving lungs in a constant flow of oxygen. That spared him the discomfort of a thick ventilation tube deep down his throat and heavy sedation from which patients often fear — sometimes, rightly so — that they will never awake.

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