Facing down the virus

From infection to recovery, two thankful patients offer first-hand accounts of beating Covid-19, and speak of their hopes and fears

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The media focus during the coronavirus pandemic has, understandably, been on the politicians and frontline workers whose job is to keep us safe. Unless it has touched our families personally, for many of us stuck at home the reality of what the disease entails can become dangerously abstract. So what is it like to contract and eventually beat this terrible disease? And how does it feel to emerge from hospital into a society that has been radically reshaped by a global health emergency? Here, in their own words, two of the patients featured in last week’s Hospital Special on BBC One offer their hopes, fears and personal experiences of facing Covid-19.

Peter, 88, retired wine merchant

I started with a dry cough which lasted over two weeks. This was followed by a week of temperature at fever level and even basic exercise became uncomfortable. My reaction was to contact my GP surgery and call 111 for advice. I probably caught the virus after a friend dined at my house. They tested positive shortly after.

My GP called suggesting that he would arrange for me go to A&E at the Royal Free for an assessment and I would be collected very soon. So soon, in fact, that I left without giving my wife a cuddle. A&E was empty, so I was seen almost immediately. My initial test result was not very good, which was depressing. I was asked if I was willing to be interviewed with pictures, to which I agreed, before being wheeled away to await further tests.

Notwithstanding his original diagnosis, the consultant kept me on the ward and pulled out all the stops to get me well again. This optimism lifted my spirits, as did all the nursing staff, with their care and dedication. In my ward everyone was expecting to recover so there was a feeling, much encouraged by the nursing staff, of great optimism. There was not that much talking, mainly reading books and smartphones.

Once I was settled in the ward, I was kept going by contacting family and friends, and the wonderful positive attitude of all the nursing staff and the consultant’s positive daily medical updates. My darkest moment was when the consultant told me that I would probably not be able to see my family again for goodbyes if the worst came to the worst.

I was in hospital for 12 nights. The world certainly looked different when I emerged. There is sufficient information about the disease on the radio and in newspapers to keep people fully informed. People have to understand how vital it is to follow the rules, which are designed to keep you well and safe.

What can one say to doctors, nurses and all staff in Ward 10 West who have successfully worked to give you a second chance? You are wonderful, your care and dedication superb, and I hope that you will understand that just two words, “thank you”, encapsulate the love and affection that my family and I feel for you all.

Sabina, 22, full-time mum

I was 35 weeks pregnant when I became ill. Once I knew the virus was in England, I only went out for two midwife appointments and some groceries. I hadn’t travelled recently, and I wasn’t in contact with anyone who’d been out of the country, not that I personally knew.
I have no idea when I got infected.

I started having symptoms on Thursday 19 March. I remember baking some blueberry muffins in the kitchen and constantly feeling out of breath. I didn’t think too much of it because I thought that the baby was pushing in a different position. I started having a bit of a cough and feeling a lot of pain in my entire body, especially on my wrists. I went to bed hoping that I would feel better once I got some rest.

I woke up at 2am, struggling to breathe. My vision was blurry, my fingers were swollen, and the cough was more intense. I had a high temperature, so I called maternity triage and the midwife told me to come in. At the hospital I was told to come through the emergency entrance. When I arrived, both me and my husband were given masks to put on before entering. My pulse was very high, and I had really low blood pressure. They took a swab so they could test if I was positive for Covid-19. My husband stayed with me until the morning. He didn’t have any symptoms, so they advised him to leave and look after my daughter. I felt really bad on Friday as I was waiting for the result – my mind was racing with all kinds of thoughts. All I could see on the news was people dying from the virus.

In the afternoon they told me I was positive. I remember video-calling my husband in tears and telling him I was Covid-positive, while watching my two year old see me cry and not being able to change anything. I texted my family and told them I wasn’t feeling very well and the only thing they could do is pray that I get better.

My darkest time was on Friday night. I was alone and I felt really scared. I just needed someone so badly. I remember starting to cry so a midwife came as close as she could and comforted me. She was so nice; I wish I could remember her name. It was at that point I realised this is how the other people died. You just feel so out of breath. Every time I had dark thoughts I was thinking about my older daughter and the baby. I said to myself that they need me and I will fight for them.

My pulse was high, and my oxygen levels were low so they gave me oxygen until Saturday night, after which I started feeling better and just really wanted to go home. On Sunday, I was stable, so they let me go home to self-isolate with my family. Monday was a really good day, but then on Tuesday and Wednesday I had trouble catching my breath again and on Thursday I could barely walk. I was coughing a lot. I just couldn’t stop. When my husband touched me in my upper back, I felt so much pain. I knew it wasn’t normal.

I went back into hospital where they did an X-ray and my lungs looked worse than before. They said they would have to do an emergency C-section as I was deteriorating. I needed all the strength to fight this virus and with a baby in me that was much harder to do. I called my husband and he brought my hospital bag and I went into the operating theatre at 6pm. After the surgery I felt so much better, my pulse was normal and oxygen level was 100 per cent. Honestly, it felt like a miracle from God. I just can’t find the words to describe how thankful I am for the wonderful care that I received. They deserve so much more than what they are getting now. I truly hope that people realise who are our real heroes. They deserve gold medals.

I was in hospital for seven days. We left on a Sunday and everything was just so empty. No people on the streets, no traffic, no shops open. It felt really strange, like a bad movie trailer. All my friends who brought me food left it at the door. I showed them the baby through the window. This is not the way we wanted it to be. I didn’t leave the house for four weeks and when I finally went to Sainsbury’s to clear my head, I felt more overwhelmed than before, seeing queues at the entrance, hearing the speakers constantly reminding people to keep
their distance. It makes me sad that maybe it’s the new normal. For me
and my family the hardest thing of all was not being able to go to church. I miss being in a room full of people and enjoying our Sunday service.

From my experience I think people should not treat this as a joke. We must follow the government’s advice and stay at home. Some people are being stubborn, not realising they might put someone’s life at risk. You will be able to enjoy a day out again; the sun will still shine but you can’t bring the dead back so please reconsider if it’s absolutely essential that you leave your home. We need the nurses and doctors for the most vulnerable ones so let’s respect the rules a bit more and this too shall pass.

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