Who knew that it would all start with a small glass of red wine, over a family dinner, at the end of a working week. That looking at my husband as he slurred his words, so unusual for him, would be the signal for our little family to be assaulted by Covid-19. Initially, I simply thought he was tired.
It took 10 days of what seemed like a daily battle – working out the symptoms, what to do. Supporting him, as on day seven we thought he was beginning to recover, when his temperature dropped and finally he seemed more himself. By the evening his temperature was rocketing to 39 degrees.
He’s stubborn, my husband. As my concern grew and I slept on the floor of our bedroom to be close as the nausea rose – the hallucinations caused confusion and the headache hammered his head. Our Son woke him hourly on the last night, before going into hospital to check he was ok. As I arose in the morning and went up to check on him, having slept on our sofa-I thought he had noticeably worsened. Calling 111 I awaited the Clinical callback, which I was told would be coming. It never did. I packed him a bag and drove him to our local A&E. Where at the door, keeping two metres away, watched the masked nurse take his temperature and said goodbye. Little did I know, that this would be the last time I would see my husband for 21 days.
On arriving at home, I thought it important to clean the house from top to bottom. I washed the towels and bed linen. With my daughters help, we cleaned the doors and door handles. Clothes were put away and hard floors wiped with sanitising wipes. The carpets hoovered. We hoped we’d eradicated the disease but were hoping to hear news from my husband quickly.
On the 7th April, he rang me around 4:20 in the afternoon to tell me, he was being taken to ICU – to be intubated and put on a ventilator to breath. I found out on his return home, that he was having a respiratory arrest and he would have died, if this was not done.
At first we didn’t hear from the hospital or know what was going on.
I don’t think ‘hard’ describes what we were all going through.
Suddenly the situation of our world be interrupted in its doings by Corona Virus, had turned into the most horrible nightmare for us. As I’m sure it is for many. Yet still I felt my husband close – we’ve been married for over 30 years and I know when he holds on or lets go – it primes a grief in me, to mourn-even when he is there. I understand it and the feeling didn’t waiver. I told our children that although I could be wrong. I believed he was going to be alright. That putting him to sleep in this way, gave him the best chance to fight what was happening in his body.
My sense of duty and love of family, led me to telling his siblings. Not an easy thing. I told the few I felt could pray and give their energy to him – in assistance to his fight. I reached out to an old friend, not seen for years. A safe place to rage through my grief in those moments where I needed to allow the pain in my heart to roar. Our little family held close together as much as we could – and with the difficulties such a profoundly difficult situation would ensue..
For a couple of days my daughter was without smell but felt ok. Our son a headache – his girlfriend similar. I myself had a temperature, felt fatigued in a way I hadn’t felt in a long time. Experienced hallucinations and a sinus headache which kicked me in the face. I cried out of fear, for me getting worse. For our children potentially needing to deal with their Mum and Dad being poorly. It was too much.
My husband – an EMT in the ambulance service had a plethora of colleagues reach out. Their grief I couldn’t hold when dealing with ours.
People kindly offered platitudes like ‘ Keep Positive.’
When you loved one has been intubated in ICU and you don’t know if the next call you receive will tell you that he is getting better, stable, getting worse or had died. Platitudes just don’t work. They are like a door being slammed in your face – in my face. It was connection I needed and fought hard for to get, from those who reached out. I was hurting – we were hurting and on a completely different level – in his medicated sleep. My husband was hurting.
We were living moment by moment. Finding ways to survive. Thank the lord for the sunshine. We all worked out. My daughter sun bathed and my son spent time with his girlfriend. Another victim of lockdown – thrown into a situation of a family going through their worst nightmare and being part of that too. We coped the best that we could, dealing with the difficulties which arose from receiving the small amount of information eked out by the hospital to us on a daily basis. We never knew when it would come or from who. It wasn’t till my husband had been asleep for 4 days did I finally speak with a doctor, who explained the enormity of the situation. But finally I’d spoken to someone. An english voice which brought as much information and offered a little comfort to the situation. The experience of not being able to visit, talk with my husband and reassure him in his medicated sleep whilst his body healed. Or rub the soft spot on the top of his head to give him comfort as he hallucinated his way through the process which kept him alive in the intensive care unit at Southend Hospital.
I both hated and thanked God for them on a daily basis. As they stopped me from visiting . Meaning I couldn’t keep an eye out for the things I knew which would matter to the man I’d been married to for 31 years. I couldn’t listen to their words or look in their eyes. It was simply a matter of blind faith and trust. They asked me if I would enter my husband into the clinical trials for a vaccine and I agreed, not being able to print the form off to sign it. I e-mailed and said I agreed. It was countersigned on the word by two doctors. One with the surname Lazarus. I knew this name from the bible. Lazarus rose from the dead. To me this was another sign my husband would survive. Although my mind had to be open to the possibility that he wouldn’t even more so – in my gut and in my soul I knew he would.
I couldn’t stand at our doorway and clap for the NHS.
Not until he’d returned home – then I felt able to do so without collapsing in tears. Without my daughter at my side I didn’t think I would have coped – maybe it would have brought me to my knees. Maybe not. I’m pretty strong emotionally but life likes to offer us tests sometimes. So many of his colleagues reached out – but I could not bear their grief. Ours was being held so delicately as we sat outside – I listened to pod casts and the soothing voice of American Writer Elizabeth Gilbert provided me small comfort. Someone – who when I listened to them was of my era, who knew my life as a woman, although we lived such a distance apart.
Keep your head up. Keep your heart strong. Keep your mind set… Ben Howard.
I listened to the song with those words in them on a daily basis. Another ritual which got me through. Another, doing the washing for our family on a daily basis. The ritual in itself providing comfort.
On our Son’s 27th birthday, exactly 17 days since we had last spoken to my husband. The phone rang and an alien voice with a tone to it we recognised said ‘hello’. It was their dad. My man. He was awake. He had survived. And now the next thing on my mind was our joy – the fear in my belly it provoked, the feeling of the weight on my chest being lifted a little and the happiness that came from him making sure he was awake and on some level present for his child’s birthday. We cried happy tears.
This is my story – I cannot tell my husband’s. That is personal and for him to share but there are nicks from this experience on the surface of our heart. This I realised the day my daughter and me went food shopping together for the first time since all this happened. They would not let us in together. It was hard, I nearly dissolved in tears. Being kept apart has left its mark. A soreness. A redness. As i’m sure there are dents and nicks in all of us from being kept apart from our loved ones through this.
But I know I’m grateful that he is alive and that he survived. We know many have not been quite so lucky.
Speaking to the Consultant and Matron in Southend’s A&E, I was able to thank them. To speak with them allowed it to become a healing process. I hope at some point I can visit and see where my husband was and what they did for him. So I can understand a little better the treatment he received.
Now all I know is that I feel I can be grateful again.
Now is the time to be positive, for those platitudes to be spoken, given with all the best intentions to early – to live in the present and look to the future. To find a way forward which suits us-in a world marked in a way not known in my lifetime. Now is the time to begin to move on…