It’s amazing how much I have procrastinated writing this, and sorry, it’s a long one! I know it’s a helpful thing to do in order to process what’s happened; perhaps there is fear of what will happen if I truly allow myself to accept the seriousness of my illness. But here we go…….
I wasn’t going to get Covid. I remember the community hospital where I work as a CBT therapist putting signs out the front of the walk-in centre asking people with symptoms of covid to stay away and to call 111 instead. I remember thinking that this will likely blow over and that if I did get it I’d likely experience mild symptoms as I generally keep myself fit, I wouldn’t be one of those who really suffered with this.
I don’t know how or where I picked it up. I hadn’t been travelling. I hadn’t knowingly been in contact with anyone with symptoms. But on Wednesday 4th March I remember having a funny, not painful or disturbing, feeling in my chest. I decided to stay home that evening rather than to go out as planned. The next day my voice was a little croaky; I didn’t think anything of it…maybe just a standard cold.
By the Friday I’d lost my voice and decided to work at home and cancelled work with clients.
Then things began to change quickly.
On the Saturday the cough started, the kind of cough that was a response to not quite being able to catch my breath the way I’d normally take for granted. My chest was beginning to hurt. I called 111 just to be diligent, if this was covid I wanted to be sure, so I could make the right decisions. As soon as I mentioned chest pains they said an ambulance was on the way! The ambulance came, found I was not having a heart attack and advised me to continue with paracetamol for the symptoms. I stayed in the rest of the weekend hoping my symptoms would have eased off for work on Monday.
Reluctantly I called my manager to say that I wasn’t feeling good and likely wouldn’t be in for a couple of days. But instead of the symptoms getting better they got progressively worse. By Tuesday 10th March I was beginning to really struggle to talk in full sentences. I called 111 again, but things change quickly; it was hard to get through. Eventually I spoke with a nurse who was unhappy with the difficulty in talking and she sent a second ambulance. They came but since at that point my oxygen levels seemed ok, they were happy to advise me again to continue with paracetamol.
At this stage, my nights had become very disturbed. I would have bizarre dreams and think they were real and then keep waking in the night confused and not knowing what to do. At one point, my boss very nearly got a text to say I’d be late for work as I’d accidently blown up someone’s house when my car shot a fireball at it while I was fixing it!! I put a note beside my bed saying “You’re OK, go to sleep”.
But it was hard to sleep. The cough became much worse at night as I struggled for breath. Most nights I’d struggle with poor sleep and then wake at 3 and be awake watching the clock and coughing until morning came. I was exhausted.
Rachel, my partner, was amazing. She came to visit and bought me supplies of food and paracetamol. But by Monday 16th as I was waiting for a call back from 111 she decided enough was enough. She called 999 as I struggled to breath properly. This time the ambulance said they wanted to take me in as my oxygen levels were low.
Feeling like I was making a fuss I followed them into the back of the ambulance and donned the oxygen mask which became all too familiar over the coming weeks. But I hadn’t said goodbye to Rachel; she followed us in her car and bought a bag of things for me, but I didn’t get to see her again until I was out of hospital (briefly) ten days later. That’s a thought that troubled me later as I was in hospital….what if the last time she saw me was as I was bundled into the back of an ambulance, struggling to breathe?
A&E was frightening. Staff were in full protective clothing; there was a sense of fear that was tangible. No one had ever experienced anything like this. If I even thought about coughing it seemed that everyone would duck for cover. The medical staff were working under such strain and uncertainty; it was really unsettling.
Later that evening they admitted me to the respiratory ward…I’d thought they’d patch me up and send me home.
The next ten days were a mix of amazing support, cracking jokes with the nurses and doctors, denial, fear and utter loneliness. After about three days I finally got the diagnosis of covid. We already knew I had pneumonia, but now it was confirmed. They promptly put me in my own room. I remember thinking will they remember I’m here? Visits from staff were far fewer, simple pleasures like the tea round sometimes overlooked. Apart from the daily video calls from Rachel and my beautiful daughters, and occasional blood samples and routine observations, the days were alone. In those moments my mind began to wonder, so many “what ifs….”. The worst of which what if the last time I see my girls is over a video call with a canula up my nose looking generally rough. I’d quickly push such thoughts to the back of my mind; store them for another time.
On 21st March I was stirred to record a video message for friends on Facebook, urging them to take the virus seriously and to heed the governments guidelines. It seems a couple of people shared this in some groups. To date it’s had nearly 28k views!!
The amazing and unexpected thing was the frankly overwhelming love and support that began to flow. Literally people all over the world were praying for me, people I don’t know and have never met. I was getting so many messages of support, prayer and love, it was amazing. I can’t begin to name them all, but there were a group of elderly ladies in the States who gather to knit and pray together….I have no idea how they got involved, but wow!! My own church where I’ve been for about 18 months and still getting to know people were amazing too with so many sending messages, it feels like from the distance of my hospital bed I began to become even more connected with my church family. There are not enough thanks for all those who showed such love.
That support became a real source of comfort in the dark nights. I still wasn’t sleeping and was desperate for rest. I remember one night, from my quarantine, hearing the alarm go off (quite a frequent occurrence which formed part of the sound track of my stay) and the crash trolley being deployed with its various beeps and warnings. In moments like that where I was gripped with fear and the reality of this illness, when I had despaired of hope, I would suddenly feel surrounded; surrounded by the prayers of the saints and by the love of a Heavenly Father. I didn’t have answers, but quietly I knew a hope that was beyond the current situation. It was at that point that I began to write some lyrics for a song loosely based on Psalms 23, 28 and 118, a sense of praising Him from my valley.
What seemed like all of a sudden, my oxygen levels improved. The doctor was satisfied, and I was sent home. I was so glad to get out and to be able to see Rachel. I had nearly two days at home, but the cough was returning. 36 hours later my oxygen levels had dropped to 86%. Rachel called the ambulance again. This time I remembered to say goodbye. Then with a full face mask they put on the sirens and rushed me back to hospital (a different one this time). I was rushed into the resuscitation unit and put onto 85% oxygen at 15 litres per minute…I had previously only been on 3 litres at a low percentage.
Once again I was admitted. Things were different this time. For days I couldn’t crack a joke or rely on my usual denial to keep me “safe”. I don’t know if it was a lack of motivation or energy or both, but doing anything normal was often more than I could cope with. I remember being desperate for water one night. There was a glass full right beside me, but I was unable to reach out for it. This was perhaps the most upsetting and frightening time. I honestly couldn’t have told you where this was going or if I’d ever be coming home. The intensive care unit were monitoring me and had discussed the possibility of going onto a ventilator. I was beaten. Loved ones would send messages I couldn’t muster the energy to read.
A couple of days in they moved me to another ward; they didn’t say why. My mind began to race. On this ward I lowered the average age considerably! The man opposite lay still on his bed, mouth open gasping. He didn’t look long for this world. Also opposite me, a fellow who insisted on using his pee bottle sitting in his chair with no curtains drawn, it seems, every time I would stir and open my eyes. An image that is now burned in my memory!
And then it happened. As I woke early one morning it began to dawn on me that the bed next to me had had the curtains drawn for a long time. The elderly gentleman had been quite agitated and confused for a couple of days. Now he was at peace. The reality of this disease really hit home. Had they put me on this ward because I was in a similar state? A silly thought really, but exhausted and unable to sleep, and with too much time, thoughts often became very dark.
People continued to pray.
A couple of days later I remember waking and seeing the sun begin to rise; I was able to remember all those praying and once again became aware of my loving Father, my amazing God. Everything was still so difficult, it’d take me half an hour from thinking about sitting up to actually move myself. But there was once more a sense of hope, again, no answers, but hope.
I was now on the right treatment; the doctor had diagnosed me with a hospital acquired bacterial pneumonia in addition to the original covid viral pneumonia. But I was beginning to respond to the drugs and my oxygen beginning to increase. I have never been so obsessed with numbers as I was then! Little increments feeling like I’d achieved something huge!
My blood results began to indicate a reduction in infection and my oxygen levels were now in the low to mid 90s, not the best, but enough for the lovely doctor to say I could go home after having spent a further 9 days in hospital.
This time I managed to stay out of hospital and have made genuine progress. I am slowly recovering. My oxygen is near normal, but I get puffed out quickly and am tired from little exercise.
I am now so grateful. Grateful for so many things. The NHS staff simply cannot receive enough thanks. It’s been brilliant to be able to go outside and applaud them. But there is nothing like remembering the sacrifice and heroism that the nurses and doctors displayed daily. Experiencing their care and dedication was truly an awesome thing.
For the countless people praying, sending messages of love and care, I am so humbled and blessed.
For my daughters who would video call every day and play silly faces on Facebook messenger, you kept my heart beating and I can’t wait to see you again soon.
And to Rachel who has been my rock. Organising updates, keeping people informed, sometimes asking people to give me space, arranging various parcels for people to deliver with my favourite things (Milky bar buttons!!). Always there to speak with and to be real with, thank you for such love, despite your own difficulties with the whole situation.
Of course, the highest thanks and praise is to my wonderful Father in Heaven, without whom none of the above would have been possible. It’s his love in us that enables us to love like we do. I am so grateful that He has restored my body. I am so aware that this hasn’t been the case for so many.
However, the hope I experienced in those dark days was not in this world or life. It was in his eternal love and salvation; a salvation I know in Jesus. In those times I knew that whatever my body had in store, I was certain in the hope of eternal life with Him, a glorious hope and future, whatever this current situation might have told me.