Brian's story - surviving Covid-19
As part of Volunteers' Week, we're catching up with the fabulous team who give up time to help in our Hackney day centre (when it's open!). We'll be asking about their experiences of volunteering, a bit more about their lives outside of Headway, and the ways they've been connecting with our community since lockdown.....
Today we're doing something a little different. We're speaking with one of our longtime volunteers Brian. Ordinarily he's helping with members in our art studio, setting up exhibitions, building frames, and working on his own pieces; however just as we closed our doors back in March, he began to feel unwell (with what he later discovered to be coronavirus). We're publishing his story in a number of parts - today is the first:
PART ONE: Where do I begin?
I was on my way to Headway East London on Tuesday 17th March. As I got to Stratford Kat (our Volunteer Coordinator) phoned me to say not to come in, so I caught the next train back. Opposite there were two people: one was coughing, so I moved to another seat. I believe that this could have been when I contracted the Coronavirus (Covid-19).... I returned home that morning after speaking to Kat.
That afternoon I felt unwell, I was in pain in my chest and both arms and finding hard to breathe. My wife decided to call 111 just in case I was having a heart attack or a stroke and they got a medic to ring her back – 2 hours later, when my wife spoke to the medic he took details about my condition and my general health and decide to arrange an ambulance. It arrived 2 hours later at 3.40pm and I was taken to the Royal London Hospital – my wife was told she could not come with me – due to the virus that I may have had.
On arriving at the Royal London Hospital I was taken to the Resuscitation unit (Trauma) to check my heart with an ECG trace, and also the Covid-19 mouth and nasal swap was taken. ECG was fine and there was no sign of a heart attack – thank goodness. The hospital then gave me Morphine for the chest pain – which they now believed to be from the continuous coughing, they sent me home after 6 hours of waiting for a decision – the hospital did try and get transport but without success (the hospital was very busy) therefore I had to walk home with great difficulty – though they gave me a mask. An hour later at 10.40pm I arrived home exhausted and coughing more – and I was told by the hospital to self-isolate with my wife.....
My wife and I decided that it would be best for me to sleep in our spare bedroom which I did. The coughing continued and my temperature was now over 39°C, I was taking paracetamol every 4-hours to try to break my temperature but the tablets were only working for up to 3 hours then my temperature would increase.
On Tuesday 24th March the Royal London Hospital called to confirm that I had Covid-19. They told me to continue with painkillers to help reduce my temperature. My wife and I continued trying to improve my breathing with a humidifier, but this did not work for me. I got to the point where I could no longer sleep due to coughing and a raised temperature.
By the 27th March I was unable to get out of bed and I could not keep water down. The following morning my wife phoned 111 again; it took 90 minutes to get an answer. A medic called back 40 minutes later; by this time, my skin was turning a purple colour as I could not breathe. The medic wanted to speak to me but I was unable to do so, he then said he would try and get an ambulance to me as quickly as possible. It arrived 25 minutes later.
On arrival the two paramedics were unaware that I had a confirmed case of Covid-19. My wife stopped them at our garden gate to tell them. They returned to the ambulance to dress in PPE.
They came into our home and went straight up to the bedroom that I was sleeping in. Upon seeing me, the paramedic called his colleague to urgently bring oxygen and a mask. I was unable to walk or stand at this point and the paramedic decided that they urgently needed to get me to the Covid unit at the Royal London Hospital. Unfortunately, my wife was unable to go with me because of the virus. In the ambulance I was given morphine for the pain and a paracetamol drip.
On arrival at the hospital I was taken to the Covid unit (trauma). When there I was treated by two specialist doctors who continued with the oxygen. One of the specialist doctors decided that the best chance for me to survive was to be incubated on a ventilator. I was taken to the 4th floor Covid-19 ventilation ward which is where I remained sedated. On day 7 there was activity on the monitor. The doctors believed that I had had a seizure while I was ventilated and decided that they had to do a CT scan to check that my brain was still active, which confirmed a seizure.
On day 8 the specialist doctors decided it was time to wake me up. The sedation was reduced and I started to wake up. I was then moved to the 6th Floor ICU recovery unit and put on a CPAP machine with a mask for the oxygen. I was told that it had taken two days to regain full consciousness, so I could understand what was happening to me.
I was very confused about what had happened to me and what day it was. The nurses and doctors spoke to me about the time that had passed and what had been happening to me during that time. I remained on the CPAP for 3 days. After these few days had passed, I was then I was ready to breathe the room air! I was then moved to the 10th Floor Covid-19 ward: at this time my temperature was still a little high.
I had started to receive physiotherapy each day to encourage me to walk. At first, I was using a Zimmer frame which took 3 days to get used to and regain my confidence that I was able to walk. This encouraged me to use my walking stick so that I could get back on my feet and go to the toilet unaided. Unfortunately, my stomach was not too well and I had a bout of diarrhoea and I had to be moved again to a small side room on my own.