A-Z

Carl

Age at interview: 50
Age at diagnosis: 50
Brief Outline:

Carl was admitted to hospital and ICU in the early days of the first Covid wave in the UK. He had no contact with this family for 2 weeks due to visitor restrictions. During his stay he experienced terrifying dreams, was isolated and craved normality. 10 months later, his recovery was ongoing. Interviewed for the study in February 2021.

Background:

Carl works as an interior designer. He is married with two children (aged 13 and 15). White British.

More about me...

Carl returned from his ski vacation in France in March 2020 with Covid-19, a new viral infection that at that point was still largely mysterious to scientists and clinicians alike. Carl was 50 at the time and had never been hospitalised before and had (in his own words) believed that ‘it would not get him’. Coming home from the ski trip, however, he had a flu-like fever and a cough like no other, and ‘then he knew’.

When things got worse, his wife dialled 111 but did not get a response for over an hour, after which she dialled 999. Carl was taken to hospital and admitted to a Covid ward. He described feeling a sense of relief at being admitted as dealing with his illness was now “not his anymore” – as he had felt very uncertain as to what to do; now he was in a place where people would look after him.

Breathing continued to be difficult for Carl when he was in hospital. After a day or so he was told that they were going to have to intubate him. He remembers asking whether he may not wake up, and he remembers being told that there was a high percentage of deaths from this condition. He signed a paper that stated he wished resuscitation to be tried if this proved necessary. Then it was peaceful – like when he slammed into a wall with his motorcycle; the moment before the crash there was lots of time to think about life. He remembers being ‘wheeled along’.

Carl spent two weeks in a coma on the ICU, a period he recalls very little about – with the exception of very vivid dreams. The dreams were so vivid, that they are now like a memory to Carl, as fresh as if they were yesterday. And they were ‘horrendous’: about his business going under, his wife having left him, his parents and his youngest child dying, and of physical torture. There were dreams within dreams; he even slept in the dreams. The dreams were very confusing. Carl now understands these dreams as a consequence of the body being on medications and subjected to various procedures; meanwhile the brain is trying to make sense of what is going on – an insight he derived from a conversation with one of the nurses who took care of him whilst he was in ICU, and who later went through his chart with him, and explained what had happened. For instance, she linked the fact that he dreamt about waterboarding to the team having to give him huge amounts of drugs because the oxygen tube kept coming out, and they had to push it back down. This would have been when he was choking and struggling for air.

In contrast with patients in ICU pre-Covid, Carl felt the absence of any familiar voices while he was in ICU: hearing the voice of his wife would have made a huge difference to him. Carl was in ICU before the videoconferencing that was used with later patients had been set up yet.

What stood out in Carl’s account was his emphasis on how time felt very long: he felt he was in ICU, and ‘in isolation, for years’. Even at the time of the interview, ten months after his discharge from hospital, the period in ICU feels that long to him. Consequently, when Carl spoke to his wife on the phone for the first time (when on the ward), he asked her where she was living now, whether they were still married, and whether his parents were still alive. On the phone, he could hear birds and his kids in the background. None of his nightmares were true: his parents were still alive, so were his kids, and his wife and he – still married – were living at the same address. He describes the moment when she assured him things were okay as one in which “suddenly everything was normal”.

Carl’s dreams changed once he had been transferred to the ward. They were more about the ward itself. However, they remained terrifying, albeit they were no longer akin to ‘mental torture’.

On the ward, Carl describes longing for moments when somebody was close to him, even if it was just when somebody came to measure his blood pressure, which happened once an hour. He understands, and understood at the time, that nobody wanted to be close to him ‘because you have this deadly disease and the longer they are close to you the more likely they are to get it’, but he ‘craved human contact. He would count the moments until the next blood pressure measurement was due. He describes a trip to the CT scanner as ‘a holiday’: it was eventful to see something else but the ward, to see other people.

Carl felt a strong desire for ‘normality’. He recalls complaining about the window through which he could not see anything but the sky. He imagined what it would be like outside, and when he did see outside, it was very different to what he had imagined.

He tried to use his phone but could not see the screen very well. From fiddling too much with it he must have reset it to factory settings. He asked his wife to drop off a new one, but it was too confusing to have a different type of phone, and his poor eyesight and fatigue made impossible to use it, even if he had been able to recall numbers, which he did not. When somebody rang, it took him too long to reach for it and pick up – so he missed calls and could not call back.

On the ward, Carl regained his sense of taste and smell. His breathing got better every day. Initially he could not stand. He exercised his legs every day. The first time he could drink was ‘glorious’. “Little things like that are so precious to you”.

Patients around Carl on the ward were mostly older, and he describes them as getting worse. Seeing fellow patients get worse made him “determined to live”. He calls it ‘self-preservation’. But he also found himself crying for other people.

When he was sent to the CT scan he saw many other patients – a moment in which he wondered whether he may not be so well after all. But the nurses assured him that he was going to better.

Although Carl had felt safe going into the hospital initially, now he was eager to get out. He described wanting to go home so badly, that he spent what seemed like the whole day trying to remember the questions he was asked to assess his mental clarity: where are you, what is your last name, what year is it? But he could not. He wanted to go home so much that he tried to escape from the ward once. He was not very good at it, he admits, as he was so weak and did not get far. The staff installed an alarm bell on his bed. He refused drugs because he was so terrified of them, but ‘a doctor came and told him [he] had to take them and that was it’.

Upon discharge, he almost did not believe the ‘real life world’ in which people did things like shopping in the shops of the hospital. Arriving home was a big relief; it ‘boosted him up’. The dreams stopped instantly when Carl was at home. But the sense of isolation continued: first as Carl was in isolation from his immediate family after discharge, and then through the serial lockdowns. The first two weeks at home were really hard; not having the kids near him. But being at home was symbolically important: it felt like now he was on the mend. He drank a lot of tea, watched TV and called people at work, who were all lovely and supportive. There was also a lot of support from the people in the village where Carl lives. Carl has sought contact with two Facebook groups on Covid, which was great initially, until it got ‘clogged’ with many people who did not actually go to ICU or even had Covid, and who wrote hateful things. Also, the virtual nature of the contact did not match his energy level. He would attend if there would be something like this face-to-face in the future.

Carl has seen his GP, a speech therapist, and a number of NHS staff – all virtually. He continues to have symptoms: nerve damage in his arm and hand, tightness in his muscles in his legs. The pressure sore on his foot took 6 months to heal. Carl remained fatigued and confused for 9 months after discharge. This has had a profound impact on his ability to work and do well at work, even though there was a lot of support. But a sense of gratitude prevails: ‘I have survived’. Carl is grateful to the NHS staff, and for having access to healthcare services in the way that he did. As time passes and his health gets better, he is slowly picking up the follow-up appointments for these symptoms.

Carl has sent chocolates to the ward to thank the nurses who cared for him, partly because he felt guilty for having been scared of them when he was so confused, even though he knows that they probably knew why he did what he did. What he would like most is to see the ward, to see how it was, to make sense of what was ‘real’ and what was not, but at the time of the interview this was not possible due to ongoing visitor restrictions.

When asked what he would tell staff and patients, Carl stresses the point of creating opportunities for human contact wherever possible. That would have made the biggest difference to him. To patients, he’d like to say: don’t leave seeking help too long. He feels that had he gone in earlier he may not have needed invasive ventilation.

 

Carl contracted Covid on a skiing trip in early March 2020.

Carl contracted Covid on a skiing trip in early March 2020.

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I can remember, it sounds really awful now but it’s totally true, I was in a bar in [ski resort] and the place was shutting down tomorrow, it was packed to the brim, absolutely packed to the brim, and the bars were shutting down. The bar was supposed to shut down at 12 and he was going to keep it going till three regardless, and it was just absolutely chocka because it was the last night the resort was going to be open. That’s probably where I got it or the day before.

I was aware of the symptoms, but I was probably naïve to the fact of how serious it was. At the end of the day none of us should have been skiing, but it’s very easy to say that now. Loads of people were, the whole country was still working as normal and things. But it’s that thing of not believing it’s going to get you.

But I knew on the Monday that I’d got it. I usually used to get a cough, if I’d got a cold, I’d get a cough and things, but it didn’t feel like a cold, it felt totally different. And my body was aching. I had a cough, and it was a cough that was affecting my breathing. I can even show you on my phone. It was just like it was just sucking up your breath.

[Plays Video]

That was what it was doing. I’d never had anything like that before. It was just like suddenly you were trying to find air. And when I was coughing, I was trying to bring air in, and you just couldn’t do it. I suppose that’s when my lungs must be filling up with liquid. I don’t know. Is that what it is then? You are able to breathe less and less.

 

Carl’s cough was unlike any cough he had experienced before.

Carl’s cough was unlike any cough he had experienced before.

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Well, I suppose back in early March last year [2020] I was off to go skiing in France, and I went skiing in France just for a few days. This was when France, the weekend that they got locked down, so I literally came back from there on the Sunday night, a day early. On the Monday morning I felt like I had a bit of a cough, and I felt my body was all aching, a bit like flu. But while I’d been in France, I would say I was really tired as well. When I was out on the slopes I was struggling, I’d do a run, have to stop, wait for everybody, let everybody else do another run and then come back down. So, I don’t know whether that was just me or whether that was the start of it as well.

I was aware of the symptoms, but I was probably naïve to the fact of how serious it was. At the end of the day none of us should have been skiing, but it’s very easy to say that now. Loads of people were, the whole country was still working as normal and things. But it’s that thing of not believing it’s going to get you. But I knew on the Monday that I’d got it. I usually used to get a cough, if I’d got a cold, I’d get a cough and things, but it didn’t feel like a cold, it felt totally different. And my body was aching. I had a cough, and it was a cough that was affecting my breathing. I can even show you on my phone. It was just like it was just sucking up your breath. [Shows video of being breathless] That was what it was doing. I’d never had anything like that before. It was just like suddenly you were trying to find air. And when I was coughing, I was trying to bring air in, and you just couldn’t do it. I suppose that’s when my lungs must be filling up with liquid. I don’t know. Is that what it is then? You are able to breathe less and less.

 

Carl felt that he may not have needed the ventilator had he gone to hospital sooner.

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Carl felt that he may not have needed the ventilator had he gone to hospital sooner.

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I kind of knew it was serious. When I got into the ambulance, I tried to not stress, because I’d got my wife and my two boys there, they’re 13 and 15. And because in a fortunate way they didn’t really know much about it because it was only really the very start of it. Loads and loads of people were very worried, but I knew it was risky and I knew when I got in the ambulance this might be it, I knew that. But in the back of my mind, I was telling myself I’ll be okay, I’m going to be okay.

I actually do feel I should have gone to hospital, if I’d have gone in on the Wednesday or Thursday, I probably wouldn’t have needed the ventilator, but I probably waited too long. When I look at other people, I sometimes think that’s what other people have done, they’ve just left it too long. But it’s really difficult because everybody has a different threshold of where they are uncomfortable or pain threshold, and some people just hold out forever. But I just knew when my temperature was high, I would just collapse.

 

Carl was relieved when he got to hospital because he knew he was in the right place.

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Carl was relieved when he got to hospital because he knew he was in the right place.

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Then the ambulance turned up, a massive shot of paracetamol to get my temperature down. They put on their Covid suits for the very first time. Did a few tests and said, straight to the hospital. Got into hospital and they did the test to see if I had Covid. The swab test came up positive, but they needed to do a blood test. They gave me some oxygen, and it just literally got worse and worse to breathe as that day went on, so much so probably having oxygen all the time. And then I think it was the next day that I was literally taken into intensive care. And that was the start of going into the ICU.

I didn’t really know what to expect. I kind of was told that there was a high percentage of death with it. I can’t remember how it was put to me, but they said it was like 25 per cent or something like that chance, but because I was young, and no underlying problems things were looking really good for me. I must say when I got into the ambulance, or even when the paramedic turned up in the home, I felt relieved because the problem wasn’t mine anymore. And I felt when I got to hospital again it was like lots of people around me and I felt relieved, because when I was at home, I just didn’t really know what to do in the end. I’m not somebody that gets ill; I don’t ever get ill. It’s really the first time I think in my life really, apart from breaking bones and things like that, but the first time I’ve ever been ill to be hospitalised like that. I didn’t feel scared or anything, I just felt relieved to be with people that were going to look after me.

 

With clinical staff in full PPE, Carl craved human contact and felt very lonely.

With clinical staff in full PPE, Carl craved human contact and felt very lonely.

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I remember the door in the ICU, the poor nurses coming in there and having to put all their extra clothing on, and if they’d forgotten something they’d have to go out, take all their stuff off, wash their hands, go out, pick it up, come back, ten seconds later put all the stuff back on. I think this is the thing with Covid is the fact that you don’t have hardly any human contact, and I think that’s something that’s quite hard when you’re a patient. Because nobody really wants to be near you, and you’ve got no family can see you. It’s amazing probably how much difference that makes I think. It’s just really, really lonely. If you’re like me who’s somebody who’s very sociable and stuff it was really, really difficult. At the same time you're so confused that you don’t really say to anybody, this is what I would like, or anything like that. I’d never really spent any time in hospital before, so I didn’t really know what was right and what was wrong or anything; I just took each day as it came really.

But you’re absolutely craving…the trip down to the CT scan was like a holiday, like seeing the outside world and other people and it was amazing. It sounds really silly, but it was just incredible to chat to the porter on the way down, even though I was talking absolutely ludicrous things to him, he probably thought I was a complete fruitcake because I was hallucinating about loads of different things. I think I said to him I was designing parts of the hospital and things like that. Your brain goes just mad.

 

Carl was admitted to ICU in late March 2020, before videoconferencing was used. He felt that videoconferencing could have decreased this feeling of being isolated and confused.

Carl was admitted to ICU in late March 2020, before videoconferencing was used. He felt that videoconferencing could have decreased this feeling of being isolated and confused.

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I think just looking back on the whole thing if I could go back and ask for anything I think coming out of the ICU, because you’re so confused and so absolutely all over the place. As far as I’m concerned, I’d just been in another world for many years, and I know if somebody could have put like a Facetime or something with family, somebody from the outside as soon as possible to me it probably would have made a huge difference. I’m not complaining or anything, but I just know that would have made a massive difference to me. I know that first phone call was huge, it made a massive difference. I think that isolation from everybody else is something that I know I was so confused all the time, just didn’t really know anything. I just think that would have made a massive, massive difference. I could have easily asked for help, asked can you get my phone working, or can you dial this number – I wouldn’t remember any numbers – but could you do this for me, but you’re just so messed up that you don’t think to ask anybody.

 

Carl felt stronger about wanting to survive when he saw other patients deteriorate.

Carl felt stronger about wanting to survive when he saw other patients deteriorate.

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You look round and I could see everybody else how ill they were and then it sort of dawned on me that maybe I’m not that good after all, and maybe I’m just as bad as them, I just don’t realise it. And then I started asking more questions to the nurses and stuff, and they were like no, no, you'll be okay, you’ll be fine. But that was probably one moment where I really doubted, that I thought actually maybe I’m not good and maybe this is not…you think you’re okay but you’re in a false sense of security here because you’ve actually got a lot of things still wrong with you and looking round at other people.

Lots of things were flashing through my head. And you could see other people that didn’t seem to be getting better, they seemed to be getting worse, and I almost thought I’ve just got to survive this, I’ve got to get out of here, I must survive. It’s almost like self-preservation. It’s really strange how I probably get quite upset now when I look at people in the ICUs on TV and stuff, but I was just so determined to live. I had lots of other things wrong with me, my feet were black from pressure sores, I couldn’t feel my hand, I’ve got not much feeling in half of my hand and all the way down to my shoulder and stuff, arm and shoulder. And things like that didn’t bother me; I just wanted to just get out of there, just survive.

 

To Carl, speaking to his family temporarily made things feel normal again, and helped differentiate between delusions and what had really happened.

To Carl, speaking to his family temporarily made things feel normal again, and helped differentiate between delusions and what had really happened.

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The one thing I probably missed is if I, I know you weren’t allowed anybody in there, but I think if I’d have seen somebody from my family or heard them on the telephone or something it would have made a huge difference to me. Because I was just so confused and thought so many things had happened that nothing in the world makes any sense. And you have all these crazy dreams going on in your head that don’t make any sense. As much as I sit here now and I think that’s all completely crazy, of course it wasn’t true, but when your head’s full of drugs and stuff that seemed to be normality and all these things were true.

When my wife phoned me, and they brought the phone through it made a massive difference to me. It literally took me from out of ten feeling about two to nine. It felt absolutely amazing because so many things that had bothered me, I could hear the kids in the background, I could hear my sons, and suddenly everything was normal. She said my parents hadn’t died, she was at home, everything was normal. Even though she told me I’d only been there a few weeks to me I still felt like I’d been in there several years. And in my head for some reason, I kept going back thinking I’d been there years and so much time had passed. I kept seeing, and I, so I was just like the whole time, I felt so much better when she’d phoned me, but I soon drifted back into this hallucination thing. The nurses said I’d seemed a lot better when she’d spoken to me, but I drifted back into things and I could see, I thought one of my sons was a nurse and going round.

Things that happened in these kinds of dreams and things were horrible. It was like mental torture. It was like how can terrify somebody as much as possible. It’s like dipping into your deepest conscious of what’s going on in your brain and how you can scare yourself. I don’t really scare that easy, and it was just dipping into things that I couldn’t even think of to try and terrify me. And it was awful. But I seemed I felt better every day.

 

In the absence of anybody to talk to, fleeting chats with nurses was all Carl had to keep him going.

In the absence of anybody to talk to, fleeting chats with nurses was all Carl had to keep him going.

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Why weren’t you talking to other people? No energy or you couldn’t see them, what was it?

I don’t know. I’m so sociable. I talked to the nurses. The crazy thing is I couldn’t wait, I think it was every hour or something they come and check your blood pressure and temperature and stuff, I would crave that hour for that little two minutes of attention. It was absolutely lovely to chat to the nurse or something.

The thing is I suppose, as well, they don’t want to be really near me very much because you’ve got this deadly disease and the longer they’re with you the more likely they might get it. So, I understood. And they’re all masked up and everything. But most of the patients around me they looked very, very scared, they looked very scared, to the point where to me it didn’t look like they were going to make it. That’s how it looked to me; they looked really, really ill. And every day I was getting better, and they weren’t. It was very sad. You find yourself lying in bed just crying. You weren’t necessarily crying for yourself but other people because it’s quite upsetting to see other people so ill.

There was a time, especially when I was going in and out, they sent me a couple of times down to the CT scan because my lungs had still not healed. They were very infected on the bottom of my lungs, and you look round and I could see everybody else how ill they were and then it sort of dawned on me that maybe I’m not that good after all, and maybe I’m just as bad as them, I just don’t realise it. And then I started asking more questions to the nurses and stuff, and they were like no, no, you'll be okay, you’ll be fine. But that was probably one moment where I really doubted, that I thought actually maybe I’m not good and maybe this is not…you think you’re okay but you’re in a false sense of security here because you’ve actually got a lot of things still wrong with you and looking round at other people.

I think also to talk to other people, because people weren’t going next to each other, I think you felt maybe, even though all of us in the ward we didn’t have masks on or anything, well the others did because they couldn’t breathe, but I didn’t have a mask or anything on my face. But I think it was hard to talk really as well. I didn’t have any power in my voice whatsoever; my voice was just really, really weak. But I was absolutely craving attention, wanted to talk to people.

 

In his confusion, Carl tried to escape from the ward. Carl felt he would have been less confused had he heard familiar voices.

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In his confusion, Carl tried to escape from the ward. Carl felt he would have been less confused had he heard familiar voices.

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I dreamt like mad, I’d had all these dreams in the ICU. I felt like I’d been in there several years and everything was a memory, and it was real. I’ve talked about this with lots of people about the dreams and stuff, but it was very confusing. Going back into the Covid ward I didn’t really know, I thought I’d been in hospital and years and years had gone by. I thought I was much older, and I was very, very confused, completely. And I was probably like that all the way to even leaving hospital, I was still really, really confused.

I got into the Covid ward, and you could hardly move really, you couldn’t lift your arms up. And just looking around I felt like I was getting better because when I’d gone in, I couldn’t breathe properly and I’m breathing a lot better. The nurses and everything were really, really lovely, though I was really, really confused still.

And probably partly the dreams that I’d had as well had put all things in my mind, like my parents had died, my wife had left me, just loads of things had happened, my business had gone under, all these things had happened. And I’d been away, the dreams I’d had I’d been tortured, horrible things, really, really horrible things had happened to me, and it felt like they had, and it was really difficult to work out what was going on.

And then obviously I couldn’t talk. I knew roughly where I was, I knew I was in hospital. When people, I don’t think they asked me questions the first day or so, but I know I was hallucinating in the day and at night was horrendous; I was back dreaming different dreams and they were absolutely terrifying. The difference was the dreams I had when I was in the ICU were probably of physical torture and things, lots of things going on, really, really confusing because there were dreams within dreams and they all followed one another. I can still remember them like they were yesterday; I remember names, places and everything. But then when I got onto the ward, they were different: they were more dreams where it was more about mental torture.

But I was still believing, as I say, everything I just said with my parents, my wife and everything, the kids. In fact, I even dreamt that my youngest son had died. Every night it just got worse and worse and worse with dreams. I got to the point where I was so desperate to get out because I just felt I needed to get out of the hospital, the number one thing I need to do is get out of hospital, which is weird because I felt so safe going in. It was only because of these dreams that were messing me about.

And I was starting to become scared of people giving me drugs, so I started to refuse having them, especially at night, because I was terrified, I’d be dreaming. But a doctor came up and told me I needed to have them and that was it, which was quite right. And then one morning I think I got up, I put my clothes on and I tried to escape. But I wasn’t a very good escapee because it probably took me about half an hour to go down a corridor that would take somebody else about ten seconds. I was hanging on to everything for dear life because I could hardly walk. Obviously, they put me back in the bed and put an alarm on the bed.

 

Carl found the ward boring, and he “craved normal life”. Other patients were a source of support.

Carl found the ward boring, and he “craved normal life”. Other patients were a source of support.

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You’ve got a TV there and if you think you’re just lying-in bed for hours and hours and hours looking at the ceiling and just watching things happen. And that’s what you did, you just laid there watching things happen, and then it’s bedtime, and then you wake up and same thing again. You look forward to breakfast, you look forward to lunch, you look forward to dinner, and then you go to sleep, or you don’t go to sleep, you dream. The last thing I wanted to do was go to sleep. It’s very, very strange because that’s just not me to be like that.

But I felt the ward was okay, just boring. I think on my last day I was there I turned the TV on, and they had a quiz programme or something on. I turned the sound right up, and it was like a funny moment of the guy opposite me who was 90 years old he was shouting out the answers to the questions, he knew everything. And it was lovely, and you could see everybody else in the ward listening. It’s just quite strange.

And the one thing I do remember is hearing the outside from the window, just hearing things going on outside, and how you crave normal life. That was why it was frustrating because I couldn’t see. It sounds really silly, but I had an imagination of what it looked like outside the window. And then when I actually managed to stand up and look outside the window, I saw something different, and it was kind of very strange.

 

Carl was only discharged when his confusion disappeared. Coming home was a relief.

Carl was only discharged when his confusion disappeared. Coming home was a relief.

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I just kept pushing. I remember every morning they’d come along and ask me questions: what year is it? who am I? where am I? I didn’t do very well. Every day I couldn’t really remember the name of the hospital. I think I could remember my name. I couldn’t always remember my date of birth. I probably got the date wrong every day or the year wrong. It felt like I never seemed to get the year right because I was just very confused every morning because I’d just had a whole heap of dreams all night long. And that’s why I was saying earlier I was not letting the, I didn’t want to have any more drugs because I felt I’d fail the questions in the morning and then I wouldn’t get out of here. And I felt like I’m never going to get out of here because I can’t answer the questions. I remember sitting there all day long trying to memorise all the questions, which were only like, where are you, what year is it, what day is it, or something like that, really simple, but I just couldn’t remember. I often couldn’t remember my surname and things like that. My brain was just all over the place.

And to the point where eventually one morning they came round, and I could remember everything. But I sat there literally in the morning trying to memorise it and stuff. I couldn’t write anything down because I couldn’t use my hands or anything.

It’s quite weird how you can lie there. I’m somebody who’s got several businesses; I’m flat out, non-stop, I hardly sleep at night, I’m flat out all the time, to just lie in a hospital bed and look at the ceiling. I was next to a window but couldn’t really see much out of the window, only the sky, but I’m looking out everywhere. And I’m just to be almost watching the world go by for hour after hour after hour. If I could turn the TV on, I couldn’t because I didn’t really know what I was doing with it, I don’t think I’d have watched it because it was just too much to concentrate. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I felt really, really weak and I was just unsure.

And it was a nice feeling to be able to get out of the hospital eventually and get home. Arriving home, I could still hardly walk. I think probably, I don’t think they really wanted to let me go out of hospital; I was kind of pushing and pushing and saying I was okay. Literally in hospital I was saying every day, can I go home, can I go home, can I go home, desperate to get home. And eventually to get home was the relief. And sitting down having the family around me I just can’t describe to you how it boosted me up, even though I couldn’t really walk very far. I was still quite confused about the whole thing. But from that moment I never had any more dreams, no more hallucinations, nothing, it just instantly stopped.

 

Carl remembered coming home to an entirely changed world. He had to self-isolate upon discharge.

Carl remembered coming home to an entirely changed world. He had to self-isolate upon discharge.

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It was a bit like when I was being wheeled out of the hospital on my way out and I went through the downstairs in [hospital] where all the shops are and everything and everybody’s busy living their day-to-day life, and it was just really bizarre to see people. It was just really, really weird because I hadn’t seen anybody. And it was almost like I didn’t believe that existed anymore.

And the lockdown, you see I hadn’t experienced the lockdown yet because the lockdown started when I was in hospital. So, everybody had already been in lockdown for a month, and I hadn’t seen the shops shut or anything. It was really weird. I was like oh my god, there’s just normal people walking around and doing things, because I hadn’t seen any of that. It sounds really strange, but it was really weird. And then you come back out and obviously everybody’s locked up and the world was very different. The whole thing just messes with your head a little bit. But oh the relief of getting to the door and walking through the door and outside. It’s just like oh thank God for that.

And you said before when you went into hospital you felt really safe, but by the time you almost came out you really wanted to be at home. Then what was it like to be at home?

It was lovely. The first two weeks were very, very hard because I had to obviously self-isolate so nobody, my kids and everybody, nobody came near me. And what’s the first thing you want to do is hug your kids, isn’t it, more than anything. That was really… It was just relief to be at home because you felt like now, I’m on the mend. But I just stayed on the sofa and just basically drunk tea, watched TV, rang up people from work and made sure everything was okay and things. I was getting around and hobbling about, but yeah, it just felt so nice to be at home.

It was lovely weather outside. Late April was like summer last year. And then a few weeks later we had VE day and things like that and the whole village came out and everybody was sitting in their front gardens and that was nice. I had a little wander down and a chat to people and things. but I was still really, really weak, just so, I couldn’t stand for very long, I had to sit down, and I felt like a really old man, I just couldn’t do very much.

 

Carl had support from various health care professionals. Initially, he was mostly happy to be alive. When one symptom alleviated, he could tend to another.

Carl had support from various health care professionals. Initially, he was mostly happy to be alive. When one symptom alleviated, he could tend to another.

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Did you have any support at that time from clinical services?

Yeah, the GPs were phoning me up. Slowly bit by bit. I think the speech therapist was talking to me. There were various different people talking to me. It did feel like there were a lot of people from the NHS that were concerned.

But at the same time obviously you can’t, they’d given me loads, I was still on antibiotics for my lungs, and I had a load of pills and stuff to take, and they were making sure that I was doing everything correctly and stuff. But in a normal world they’d have come and seen you or somebody would have come and seen you, but you couldn’t have that. To be honest with you I looked forward to the hospital appointments because, again, you were talking to somebody and that was quite good really. Because talking to somebody on the phone is okay but it’s nothing like actually seeing somebody.

I think I didn’t really know what to expect. When I came out of hospital, I was still on the thing of just pleased to be alive, and I didn’t really care about, like both my feet were black, just completely black, and my right foot healed and my left foot had this massive pressure sore on the bottom of my heel that took months and months, probably six months to heal. It’s healed but it still doesn’t look 100 per cent. But was that bothering me; it was really uncomfortable to walk on and I was struggling to walk on, but that wasn’t my main concern. And my hand where I’d go the nerve damage and stuff, again my main concern was just being alive. I was just in more of a happy to be home, happy to be alive. And all the other things, my throat was still a bit sore, I couldn’t eat potatoes or biscuits or anything like that, anything that could get stuck in my throat wouldn’t go down, but that didn’t matter.

But then slowly bit by bit, which I’m still doing now, I was on the phone to the GP last week and actually even yesterday about my legs. I still get around but just they get tightness in the muscles and things. And I said to her it’s just been bit by bit, things come to more of a light because other things have healed, and these things are what are left.

 

Carl remembered a huge outpouring of support from fellow villagers when he came home from hospital in the summer of 2020.

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Carl remembered a huge outpouring of support from fellow villagers when he came home from hospital in the summer of 2020.

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But the whole experience has been very strange. I came home and the outpour from people have been lovely; the village I live in people were absolutely pouring out of their houses to talk to me and wish me well. Literally every single person in the village has some point has wished me well and things, people from work, just masses and masses of people just wishing me well and stuff. The outpour has been huge, just absolutely ginormous, which gives you so much strength. It makes a huge difference. But it does feel weird because it’s only probably now when more people are getting it that it feels a little bit different. Back in May, June nobody had met anybody that had had the virus really, let alone anybody that had had it bad. And even now when I talk to anybody still people don’t really know anybody that’s had it badly. Even though the cases are going up and up and up, but you feel a bit like a celebrity in a way, which is a bit weird. A celebrity for the wrong reasons.

 

Carl continued to have multiple symptoms in the year following his discharge from hospital.

Carl continued to have multiple symptoms in the year following his discharge from hospital.

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It took quite a long, long time and it’s been little steps all the time. Bit by bit things have got better and better. I still, as I say, when I think back to July, August, summertime when I thought I probably felt well, when I think back now, I can see how I was still quite confused doing things and I was probably making mistakes with things. I was still probably suffering with that fatigue really badly and it’s just messing with my head. But actually, in that time I thought I was really good; but now when I think back, and I might even think back in six months’ time oh in January I was still not quite right, I don’t know. And I’ve had to make quite big decisions in business and things, and it’s not been easy, because I look back and I think, oh I didn’t quite get that right and stuff, because my head wasn’t thinking straight.

But I feel pretty good now, apart from my legs and my nerve damage in my feet and arm and hand, but I feel all right. I go and walk five miles a day every day just to try and, sometimes just to straighten my head, but also, I want to get fit. But I find it’s quite difficult to exercise; I get out of breath really, really quickly. I’ve probably never been a big person for doing the gym and things like that, but my body still feels quite weak, even though I do lots and lots of exercise when I get up in the morning because I can hardly move, my legs are so stiff. I do loads and loads of exercises to get myself going. And, as I say, I walk five miles a day. I’m just trying to get myself in better shape.

I think it’s just, even though I don’t feel the fatigue so much now, I still feel concentration is difficult. Even with driving I used to race motorbikes and things, so I could drive very fast, drive really efficiently, quickly; I’m very aware that I’m not as sharp as I used to be. It’s not a bad thing but I just drive really carefully. I just don’t feel as sharp in those things, and I don’t feel as sharp in life as I used to be. But maybe that will get better and better, who knows.

 

Carl advised people to take Covid seriously, and to seek help if they have symptoms.

Carl advised people to take Covid seriously, and to seek help if they have symptoms.

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What I have said to people is about Covid is about being aware of, more so older people, because I can see how people were…I think I left it too long to go to hospital. And when I know people have got it, so when some of my staff had it, I was checking in with them every day, how are you feeling, getting them to check their temperature. They’d be, oh I’ll be all right tomorrow. No, no, because a lot of people will just ignore things. I said to people if you’re coughing and you are literally struggling to breathe you need to get hold of your GP or make sure you get somebody to look at you, because the longer you leave is the reason that you end up…to me if you get pneumonia in your lungs that’s it, you’re going to be on a ventilator. If you get in early enough that you don’t have that and you can have antibiotics or whatever they can do, give you the drugs and stuff to make it better. I’m not a doctor so I can’t say, but I think from what I’ve watched things on TV and listened to people about it and stuff and what happened to me is I think some people leave it too long.

But it affects people in a different way. Some people can feel really ill but… Actually, one of my colleagues at work he got it, he felt really bad, but he didn’t even get a cough, so it didn’t get to his chest. And then my other colleague got it and she’s still got it on her chest now really, she’s still coughing. She’s recovered but she’s still coughing, but it sounds more like a fluey cough than what you saw with me.

So, I’m telling people to be aware. And also, how easy it is, if you don’t keep your distance the chances are you’re going to get it, especially now. It is difficult because we’re human beings, we don’t like no human contact and stuff, just like me, so it is really difficult. None of us like wearing masks. It’s hard. But people just need to be aware it’s real.

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