It’s worse than we know in the UK…

I’m writing this sat upright in bed feeling like a sumo wrestler is parked on my chest, just short breaths in and out. I had been feeling a little unwell – a dry cough with a voice steadily morphing into that of Marge Simpson. Last Wednesday Richard & I went to bed just after 9 pm then I woke up around 1 am coughing & struggling to breath. The cough was persistent and I couldn’t catch a breath to speak to Richard who by this time was beginning to panic. I was just trying to focus on breathing in between coughing. 30 minutes in and I still couldn’t respond to Richard who was describing my symptoms to the Coronavirus help line operator whilst I gasped for air.

An ambulance is despatched, though as we live an hour away from any hospital it’s a couple of hours of persistent coughing and gasping before the paramedics arrive suited up with visors down. I know that I’m showing all the symptoms of Covid-19 – I had been slightly concerned how I was feeling for a couple of days. My doctor sister had been very sick three weeks prior when everything was starting here in the UK. My mum was convinced it was Coronavirus but they’re not testing.

I can’t breath, my chest feels like it’s being squeezed, and although my oxygen levels are good I’m really struggling. The paramedics are under strict instructions not to  bring in individuals displaying Covid-19 symptoms unless acutely serious as they don’t want to risk hospital staff. They are conflicted they don’t want to leave me struggling to breath an hour away from hospital, but also they don’t want to unnecessarily expose their colleagues. They step out of the room to call the hospital, by this time I don’t care – just trying to breath. They come back into the room having been told by the hospital doctor to bring me into A&E (Accident & Emergency) to check my lungs – yes I’m exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms.

Lead by the two suited paramedics I leave the house still coughing and gasping whilst Richard and the girls are left at home.

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Hospital staff are frightened

It’s a long drive, I just focus on breathing, coughing constantly, my temperature has risen slightly but despite my shortness of breath my oxygen levels remain ok.
A&E is a ghost town… I’m wheeled into a room wearing my mask with the staff staring. The very lovely paramedic has been trying to be upbeat whilst also sharing with me the fear the care workers currently have.

She goes outside to brief the nurse and is met with an aggressive tone, “I’m not being silly but why is she in here?” The lambasting escalates, it’s quite clear that the nurses, doctors, paramedics are all scared. I’m displaying the symptoms of Coronavirus and they all feel unprotected, the government are not testing NHS staff and they don’t have enough of the right personal protective equipment (PPE).

I’m still coughing continuously into my mask and struggling for air but my oxygen is good. The nurse when she’s in the room is nice to me… I know it’s just fear that is responsible for the abrasive manner of many of her colleagues but it makes her kindness all the more impressive. The policy is for one ‘clean’ nurse out the door and one ‘dirty’ nurse inside the room to perform the checks on the patient. They take blood and x-ray my lungs. The Doctor gives me codeine & paracetamol, the codeine helps with the cough.

I’m exhausted from the effort of breathing. A Couple of hours and the Doctor comes into chat.
‘It looks like you have Covid-19 – you are displaying all the symptoms but you have the healthiest set of lungs I have seen in ages. Policy wise I currently can’t admit you, you are better off at home which means I can’t test you.’
I struggle to reply ’That makes no sense, the statistics are wrong then?’
’I’m sorry I don’t agree with not testing and I certainly don’t agree with them not testing us [the hospital staff]’ the doctor replies.
‘So you’re saying you think I have covid-19 but my lungs are strong and I should be ok. – You can’t test because only people admitted are tested’ I manage to say between breathes… So that’s it I go home with my covid-19 though I’m not counted in the statistics…This is nuts!!!

I’m now home and still struggling to breath but assured by the Doctor’s flattery of my lungs. I’ve not got worse but remained the same – they said it would be a rough 4 days or so. What I’m concerned about is our government’s testing policy of basically not to test, there must be so many people like me in the community with schools only just closing & pubs, restaurants etc still open.

I know how I’m finding it difficult to breath, and I’m healthy – it doesn’t bear thinking about being older or having underlying health problems. One elderly patient arrived whilst I slowly shuffled along the corridor towards the exit coughing into my mask my chest still feeling tight as if gripped by a vice. However terrible I felt, he looked as if he was feeling worse. I hope he’s okay, he was frail and vulnerable heading towards the ward.

Test, protect and survive

“Protect and survive” was the UK government’s advice in the 1980’s against nuclear armageddon. With Covid-19 the government needs to add ‘Test” to its arsenal of sage advice and as such must start to test the NHS workers immediately. The doctor explained that they had seen a lot of people like myself with covid-19 symptoms that won’t be admitted to hospital. They expect there to be a lot more this week, none of which will currently be tested, none of which will appear in the official statistics. To confuse matters and consolidate frustrations the Prime Minister insists the government are aiming to increase testing when they are able to do so. It’s clear on the ground and to NHS staff that this isn’t happening and they feel exposed and unsupported.

It’s now a week since I was taken into hospital. I have continued my recovery with my husband and kids here at home in isolation. I’m still not right, comfortable when resting but immediately struggling from the slightest effort. Writing this piece has been a battle (I started it last Friday), and there is a lot more to say! I’m so thankful that we have kind family and friends nearby to help. Without them it would impossible to cope, just as it will be impossible for us as a community to deal with this without the support of our governments and the necessary equipment and testing for those care workers attempting to look after us.

If you do have Coronavirus symptoms

Just a couple of things that have helped me. Obviously consult a health professional if you have any serious concerns.

  • Siting up in bed, even trying to sleep slightly upright seemed to help alleviate breathing difficulties.
  • Codeine seems to really help with the cough & breathing.
  • Get yourself a finger oximeter to check your oxygen levels

Please keep safe and think of others by respecting the social distancing advice. Personally I’m terrified I could have given this to someone more vulnerable – if we minimise our exposure, we minimise the risk to others as well as ourselves.

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Feature image by Camila Carlow Buchanan