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Experiences of Covid-19 and Intensive Care

When more than one person is ill

As COVID-19 is a contagious viral infection, there was often more than one person who was ill within one household. However, Covid impacted people in very different ways. On this page you can hear people who became critically ill and went on to need treatment in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), partners or family members speak about multiple infections in their households, and how they sought to manage these situations.

Of the people we interviewed some members of the same household fell ill at the same time; others developed symptoms shortly after one another. Royston and his wife as well as Sadia and her family experienced infections months apart and could draw on their earlier experience to provide care for each other. As the pandemic progressed, some of those we interviewed fell ill with Covid twice.

 

Dana, her husband Mark, and their two children all had symptoms.

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Dana, her husband Mark, and their two children all had symptoms.

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Okay, on 20th of March 2020, which was the last day of school before the first lockdown, my eldest daughter, who is 16, called me in the afternoon to collect her after school because she wasn’t feeling well. It was her last day, she was supposed to be a GCSE year so there was a lot of emotion around it being the last day of school, possibly. And I collected her, and we came home, I took her temperature, she didn’t have a temperature, but she lay down for a bit and when she woke up, she did have a temperature.

Around the same time that evening, it was a Friday evening, my husband said he didn’t feel well and he had a temperature and the next morning I had a temperature. We suspected that it could be, at that stage there was very little information, it was right at the beginning of lockdown. And obviously we stayed home. I have a daughter who was, at that stage, 14 and a son who was 10 at that stage and they didn’t seem to have any symptoms. My 14 year old was trying to take care of the three of us who all stayed in bed for a few days. I got better after about four days and my oldest daughter also got better after about four days.

But my husband seemed to have symptoms that were lingering, largely a high temperature. He had no cough or any breathing difficulties, he had a high temperature and he just felt really rough. And we spoke to the GP twice that week, both of them said that the symptoms would either get better or get worse, usually by the ninth day. On the eighth day, my husband got up and about and was still feeling really bad and really hot from the fever which was still persisting now onto the eighth day. I suggested that he have a cold shower to try and cool him down and when he came out the shower, I noticed that his body was covered in a rash.

 

Sadia’s parents, husband and children all had Covid. Her husband was hospitalised. Later, her father was admitted to the ICU.

Sadia’s parents, husband and children all had Covid. Her husband was hospitalised. Later, her father was admitted to the ICU.

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So, it can’t have been easy to manage that? I can’t even imagine.

Do you know what? It was just one of those things. And bless it was my son that got Covid, the eldest got it first, and then, like I said, then I had it, and then my husband had it, and my husband ended up in hospital, and then it was home schooling as well. And like I said, at that point, and I still remember seeing my dad, on that 14th day, on that Saturday, I’d dropped in some medication for something, I can’t remember what it was, and in your mind you’re just think, oh, hopefully we’ve gone past it. ‘Cause my mum was quite unwell with it, she managed at home, but she was still quite unwell, and at one point we had to take her into A&E, and they prescribed her some antibiotics. So, you just kind of think you’d come out of it, and then when dad went in it was really hard, and especially on my kids are really close to him, so it was a real shock. And again, you kind of just thought, oh, it’s going to be similar to my husband, he’s going to get in, have a bit of oxygen, he’ll be fine. But then I think as things progressed, it was really hard.

 

Shireen and Yacoob developed symptoms in short succession. Shireen spent 8 days in hospital on a general ward, and Yacoob spent 3 months in hospital, including 6 weeks in ICU.

Shireen and Yacoob developed symptoms in short succession. Shireen spent 8 days in hospital on a general ward, and Yacoob spent 3 months in hospital, including 6 weeks in ICU.

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I went for my first vaccine. When I came back, I was fine, and he was fine. In the same day my daughter gave birth, the first child of a grandson. So, at nine o'clock, we got the news that she had a baby boy, and he was fine, and we went to bed about 11 o'clock and after half an hour, all of a sudden, he starts coughing. And coughing a very different way. So, I was particularly conscious of him, and he was coughing, coughing, coughing about one and a half hour, then he was fine. In the morning, I asked my son to go for his Covid test, appointment Covid test, and he had this in the afternoon. I took him there, he had his Covid test, and we got a result on the 15th in the evening. But since after the 15th, on 15th in the morning, he felt not strong enough, but he was fine. In the evening we got a result that, he has got a positive result. Then we had to close down the shop. And the same day I started a little bit of symptoms.

My symptoms were not coughing, just weakness and didn’t want to eat and I have got this diarrhoea problem. I've got so much diarrhoea and I've got to urinate so many times I have to use the toilet for the urine, and he has got the coughing and he's getting, he doesn't want to eat, and he feels dizzy, and I've got a temperature. My temperature didn’t go down, because one of my son’s is a GP. So, he was assessing by Zoom and everything. He asked my other son who is the eldest one, who lives with us. So, he's telling him to take the, all the, you know, oxygen air and everything he did, but it's getting worse and worse, instead of getting better. We are taking paracetamols but can't eat anything.

Whilst testing was not possible in the early months of the pandemic, later on family members were able to get tested to confirm whether they had Covid or not.

 

Alisha and her parents got tested when her mother felt unwell, and they were all positive.

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Alisha and her parents got tested when her mother felt unwell, and they were all positive.

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I’m interested in your story of this, your experience. So, if you could tell me when it all began from your perspective that would be wonderful?

Sure. So, it all started, I guess the very beginning was end of December. So obviously we had a good Christmas and all of that, it was really good, and the day after Christmas…I guess Christmas was the last day we actually had as a family. My dad was okay at the time, and we were all together. Then I think on Boxing Day my mum started to feel a bit unwell. She was not feeling good. She thought that okay, something’s going on, and just to be on the safe side…because my mum’s not the type of person that usually would say that she’s not feeling well, so we thought okay, it’s best to just check out if it’s Covid or anything like that. So, she went and got tested and, she was positive. So, we thought okay, if she’s positive, we’ve been at home for such a long time, and even Christmas the day before and everything, it’s very likely that me and my dad could possibly have that, though we had no symptoms at the time. But then one or two days later we also started to get symptoms, me and my dad together at the same time, and we went and got tested. If I remember correctly, we tested positive on 30 December, or 31st, one of those. I think me and my mum were quite quick to recover. We weren’t feeling great, obviously. We were tired quite a lot. But my dad was just extremely exhausted.

Of those we talked to, when only one person developed symptoms or tested positive for Covid people within the same household tried to socially distance as well as they could, particularly if they were considered vulnerable. Some, like Deborah and her husband and Royston and his wife slept in different bedrooms or stayed in a different part of the house with minimal interaction.

 

Deborah tried to keep her husband, who is immunosuppressed, separate from herself and their son when they were positive.

Deborah tried to keep her husband, who is immunosuppressed, separate from herself and their son when they were positive.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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In 2019, my husband was diagnosed with blood cancer, and he went through six weeks of chemotherapy, R-CHOP sessions, and then by the end of the year, he’d finished his treatment, and went back to work. We were informed though, that his immune system would be slightly compromised, and as he works in [city], we thought, right, just to be careful, he went back to work, edged his way in.

And then obviously, last March, I myself contracted Covid on 16th March, my son and I got it, there’s three of us living at home. My son and I had it, and I had quite mild symptoms in the sense that, you know, I was bed-ridden for a couple of days, and then started to feel much better.

And then, we were very aware that we wanted to keep my husband separate from us, because of his issues with his immune system. And then, I recovered, and we were having supper, Sunday dinner one night, literally two weeks after I had developed the symptoms, and then my husband said, oh, I can’t taste the chicken. So, I was like, oh no, crikey. And then for about two weeks he was in bed, quite poorly, had a bad cough, felt really rough, and he just kept taking paracetamol.

And then on the 5th of April, it was a Sunday evening, his cough had got worse, and then he started to spike a temperature, and it was very high. And so, we called an ambulance, and he’d had very, very high temperatures before he started his chemo sessions for the blood cancer, so he was quite frightened and worried and knew what was going on. And then the ambulance came and gave him the option of going into hospital or not. Because obviously of his cancer ongoing, even though he’d got the all clear, we were advised that unless you’re clear for five years, I think it is, there’s a possibility of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma coming back, but he was in such a state, we said, no, you need to go to hospital. So, they took him to the hospital, and he was admitted, and then they tested him, and he tested positive for Covid.

 

Royston’s wife stayed in a separate part of the house when she felt unwell.

Royston’s wife stayed in a separate part of the house when she felt unwell.

Age at interview: 77
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 77
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What happened is…and she’s, like, doing 13-hour shifts and she came in from work one night and wasn’t feeling right. And she’d always…she’d actually started a practice as soon as the pandemic thing, you know, as soon as the Covid thing first raised its head. She would come in, we wouldn’t greet each other, she would go straight upstairs, strip, shower, before then coming and giving me a kiss and saying hello. So, you know, we were being sensible like that because of the fact she was coming from hospital.

Anyway, on that particular night, she came in and things were obviously not right. And she did go up and that, shower, and she said she wasn’t well and we should…she should isolate. The word Covid didn’t come up at this stage. She wasn’t well and she should isolate. So she obviously didn’t come to our bedroom, she went to one of the other bedrooms which she uses as a dressing room. And fortunately, just down the passage from that bedroom there’s a bathroom, et cetera, toilet. And then I’ve got a separate toilet up on the first floor as well.

She lived in her room and only left it to go to the bathroom for a number of days. And what happened is, I had an antibacterial aerial spray which I used everywhere up on the corridor upstairs. I would wear a mask and gloves. I put a little coffee table outside of her door and I used to leave a tray of food or whatever she wanted. And the communications were via good old Facetime. And after a few days, she seemed to be getting better. But then things went downhill after that and, you know, I said, you know, you’ve definitely got something serious and you need to go to hospital. And so, I made the call, and she went into hospital.

Keeping enough distance from one another was difficult if the person who was ill with Covid required care, or if there was limited space. Whilst some people avoided getting symptoms, sometimes surprisingly so, others were not so fortunate. Before tests were available, people who did not have symptoms had no way of knowing whether they had Covid or not.

 

Paul’s wife took care of him when he was ill, but either did not get infected, or did not have symptoms.

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Paul’s wife took care of him when he was ill, but either did not get infected, or did not have symptoms.

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Did your wife and son feel ill at any point?

No. And this is what I don’t understand, how my wife didn’t catch it, or my son. We’re living in the same house. My wife was cleaning up after me when I was coughing and sneezing, with handkerchiefs. We’re sharing the same bed. Touching the same handles on the doors without cleaning them. You never knew. Eating at the same table. And she was okay. She wasn’t asked to come in for a test or anything like that. The only time she got a little unwell just with being rundown with the worry from me, but there was no Covid symptoms really. And my son was fine. He was fine.

 

Pete took care of his wife when she was unwell. Then he also fell ill, and both were admitted to hospital. She was discharged before him. When he came out, she was still too weak to care for him on her own, so she asked their son for help.

Pete took care of his wife when she was unwell. Then he also fell ill, and both were admitted to hospital. She was discharged before him. When he came out, she was still too weak to care for him on her own, so she asked their son for help.

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I think what strikes me in your story is you were both so unwell at the same time. So, when the ambulance came, they must have seen her…

Yes, they took me away and at the same time said to my wife I’m afraid your oxygen levels aren’t right, you’re not well, we’d better get an ambulance for you as well. So, we both got taken away at the same time. But she was definitely, that weekend, more poorly than myself. I was still moving about and doing things and then all of a sudden it seemed to hit me. Obviously, probably, because we were still in the same bedroom together and I, possibly earlier, should have gone into the other room. But at the time I was looking after my wife, so you just carry on.

Yeah, it is one of these things, right? It’s just very impossible to take care of somebody without being physically close to them, so… Yeah.

Yeah, I should have got all the gear on, shouldn’t I, and put the mask on and…? But you don’t start doing that, do you? We’ve been together a long time. We’ve been married 40 years, you know, and so we know one another. Which is important as well, isn’t it? And you can see when one another is not well or there is something wrong. So, you try to help the other person out and that’s how relationships work, isn’t it? So that’s what you do. And then next news, you know, we were both poorly, so there was no choice in the matter, you know.

Yes. And how do you think it affected your ability to take care of each other after you came back from hospital?

Well, it was interesting that my wife decided to get my eldest son involved to help me. She wasn’t fit enough to manage on her own and, like I say, she did say that she slept it off and she felt okay in herself. And she wasn’t as debilitated as me. She wasn’t breathless or… and the ironic thing is that as a child my wife had bronchitis, which was quite… you know, the chest and everything. That didn’t affect her in that way. So Covid’s a strange phenomenon.

Looking back, several of those we talked to found it confusing that the same virus could cause people to have such different symptoms and severity of illness.

 

Chris’ family members were all affected differently by Covid.

Chris’ family members were all affected differently by Covid.

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Yeah. So, I thought I was exhausted due to working at Christmas. Christmas was a bit of a blur; I don’t remember Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Then on the 27th I got a phone from my granddad who’d been taken into hospital and tested positive for Covid. So that night, myself and my family then booked Covid tests, and I struggled to get up to go and get tested. I eventually managed to get myself into the car, I got tested, came home, and within three hours we had to call an ambulance because I was struggling to breathe.

So, after working crazily up to Christmas we then tend to just have some quiet days at home. But those days were a bit of a blur for everyone. Everyone was just so exhausted and tired because we’d all worked the same. Just basically nothing really happened, we had a lunch but basically no one had any energy to do anything.

My dad was coughing constantly, and a clear, dry cough that meant he wasn’t bringing anything up, it was just a constant coughing. And again, he was bad with exhaustion. My mum again similar, she was tired all the time. Cold-like symptoms, runny nose, a small cough, feeling generally unwell. So yeah, they all got tested at the same time. And it was actually my dad when we got home from the test that called the ambulance for me because he could see that I was really struggling when I was sat there. So yeah, although he was struggling, he didn’t struggle so much with the breathing, his was more of the cough and the fatigue. Which is…was a bit weird, the fact that we’ve all…we all contracted Covid, but yeah, me and my brother suffered with breathing problems, my sister with fatigue, my dad with a cough, my mum was just generally unwell; to all have the same thing, to all test positive, but yet to all have a different range of things was also very confusing. Because it’s obviously something that’s not very well known about, and then we all had something slightly different.

Some family members of those who went on to become critically ill felt guilty, worried they had exposed their loved ones to the virus.

 

Despite efforts to stay separate, Wendy caught Covid after her daughter. Wendy’s nurse said to tell her not to feel guilty.

Despite efforts to stay separate, Wendy caught Covid after her daughter. Wendy’s nurse said to tell her not to feel guilty.

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So, all the way at the beginning, so you said you started feeling ill on 18th December, and your daughter had already been ill.

Yeah.

What did it look like for her?

Sorry?

What did her illness look like?

Well, she had a cough and a high temperature. She just kept herself away because she knew I was vulnerable, she just moved in…so she just stayed in her bedroom for about a week. And, you know, if we were in the same sort of area, we managed to socially distance. So, you know, just sort of, like, I’m coming down. Okay, I’ll get out the way. You know, and the windows open and all that sort of thing. But the whole house…we all had it, we all…it went through the house like a storm so, you know, it was unavoidable really.

And when I spoke to my ILD (Interstitial Lung Disease) nurse and sort of…because my daughter felt really guilty, and when I spoke to her and said to her, you know, my daughter’s consumed with guilt because I’ve got it and she had it, she said, tell her not to worry. She said, did you nip out to the supermarket? And I said, yeah, I’m afraid I did. Because it was coming up to Christmas and I knew I wanted to get the grandchildren some toys and there was a toy sale on at our local supermarket. So, I thought, oh I’ll nip over there, you know, it’s not going to do any harm. And then, you know, four or five days later, boom. So, and [Daughter] was well and truly over her Covid by the time I had it. So, yeah, I don't think there was a connection personally but…yeah, so, yes.

Similarly, Stephanie, who works in healthcare and whose husband fell ill with Covid, said she “obviously wore appropriate PPE at work and always really careful when I came home but, you know, I had these feelings of guilt that it could be me that’s brought it home to him, you know, but then I, you know, thought I really can’t beat myself up too much because he could get it from anywhere really, the shops, golf club, you know.”

When family members were ill themselves, it was particularly difficult to manage emotionally and physically when their loved one went into hospital. If they were not admitted themselves, it meant that they were in self-isolation and could not accompany their partner or parent to Accident & Emergency (see ‘When things get worse’). They struggled with their own symptoms whilst trying to stay in touch with the hospital (see ‘Staying in touch during the visitor ban’).

 

When Simon became increasingly unwell, Donna was in self-isolation so that their daughter had to take him to A&E.

When Simon became increasingly unwell, Donna was in self-isolation so that their daughter had to take him to A&E.

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So, I called the ambulance and that’s when they said could they speak to Simon, which they did, and they said they couldn't come, it was a day that was really busy, they couldn’t come. So, we had a bit of that before because when I was poorly six years ago, they didn’t come for me either.

So, I thought I’ve got to get him to the hospital, and I said to my daughter, Sophie, could you come from work, come and get dad and take him to hospital, because I’m self-isolating, he needs to go into hospital. I didn’t really think it was really urgent, I have to say. Even though I call the emergency services often for patients. I dealt with it straight away, then my daughter came, and Simon was upstairs, and it took ages, it took him about an hour to get ready. He was having a shower and getting ready, and I went up to say come on, we’ve got to hurry up, you’ve got to go to hospital now. So, my daughter took him into the local hospital, and I packed up some belongings and I just said to Simon, I’ll see you soon, thinking that I would see him soon, because I never really thought it was so serious. I just thought the oxygen and whatever, antibiotics. And that’s when he obviously stayed in, and we were all liaising as family. But I think it’s more difficult if you’ve got two people that have got Covid and are unwell because you’re trying to deal with it on your own without anybody in here.

So, then he went into hospital with your daughter?

Yeah. With my daughter. Little bit worrying. My daughter said, where shall I take dad in? I said, oh, go to A&E, leave him in the car, get out, go and ask at reception. He had a mask on, they both did. She knew the protocol. So, she then took him in, because he was a little bit wobbly. They went past A&E, so other people were sitting in A&E, and so you’re taking a Covid patient through A&E, past a red line, and then she has to leave him there because she wasn’t allowed to go in any further because of Covid. Because obviously it was back in January, there were more casualties, more people that had got it. So, she felt a little bit unnerved by taking him through A&E where there was people that perhaps didn’t have Covid. Then she left him there with a health professional, didn’t just leave him. That was it. Then we said we’ll keep messaging. He had his phone and iPad, which was really handy, and that was his lifeline in there.

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