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.