Loved Back To Life
One of the doctors held my hand and stroked my forehead: “Honey, you're really unwell, we won’t have a test result for a few days but we need to get you straight into treatment and treat this as suspected Covid-19”.
I'm 31 and studying a Master’s in Occupational Therapy with a hope to go on to medicine afterwards. Before lockdown, I was attending university five days a week, seeing my friends, enjoying socialising and basically just loving life. The day lockdown came into force was the day my first clinical placement was meant to start. I felt like the rug was pulled out from under my feet. We had worked so hard to complete our exams in preparation for starting our first placement and we were all incredibly excited. Then the news came that it had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. Emotionally and mentally, it was very, very painful.
I was just about to start volunteering with Oxford Together when I contracted Covid-19, I got it very severely. I struggled to stand for more than a minute and it was when I was changing my bed sheets that I realised something was very wrong - I literally couldn’t breathe and my heart was beating unbelievable fast. When the paramedics put me into the ambulance my heart reading was all over the place. They took me straight onto the respiratory ward and put me on drips. I don’t remember much, but I do remember being wheeled through a corridor lined with doctors and nurses - they were looking down wearing masks, and I couldn't see their expressions but I could see fear in their eyes. This was probably because I'm young, and I was really very unwell. At this point, I started to fear for my life. One of the doctors held my hand and stroked my forehead - which she didn't have to, bearing in mind that I was most probably Covid-19 positive at the time - and she just said, “Honey, you're really unwell, we won’t have a test result for a few days but we need to get you straight into treatment and treat this as suspected Covid-19”.
The hospital team asked if they could contact my family or friends, but I said, ‘No’. Even if my parents were to drive to Oxford, not only would they be breaking the lockdown rules, but they'd be putting themselves and others at risk, and they’d never be allowed into the hospital anyway. I wasn’t able to concentrate or stay awake for very long and I was in so much pain. I was unable to use my phone, and I knew that if my family and friends were told I was in hospital then they would want to hear from me. They would ask me questions like, “How are you” and “I'm worried because you're not replying”. I was playing it all forwards and thinking, “No, I just can't say anything because I don't have the mental capacity or the energy to respond to them.”
While all this was going on, I had a university exam to sit - it was a medical case study one, really difficult. As it was during lockdown, the exam was online. I wasn't able to do very much revision - it exhausted me, and the multidisciplinary team at the hospital said, ‘you can't sit the exam’. I think it was a day before the exam that I asked to be discharged. I didn't tell them I was going to sit the exam because I was worried they'd say no. I felt I was doing much better, and they agreed to discharge me. The anxiety of not sitting this exam was greater than the anxiety of sitting it and failing – I just had to do it.
The next day, I sat the exam. I cried all the way through it. I couldn't leave my bed at this point and halfway through the exam a nurse came to visit me to check my observations and take a blood test. Afterwards I emailed my lecturer and said, “I have COVID-19. I've just come out of hospital and I am pretty sure I’ve failed my exam-I'd like to re-sit”. Then I got an email from her saying, “How does 71% sound?”. So she had marked it immediately because it was done through a computer system. And I burst out crying with happiness.
Shortly after I got my exam results, my GP phoned with the blood test results. I was taken back into hospital, blue lighted in for the second time, put on drips, basically everything all over again. They call it a ‘Covid relapse’. I bought this on myself, I shouldn't have done my exam and set myself back.
I'm not sure if it was a nurse or a health care professional or someone helping out on the ward that I spoke to, but because I wanted to get home so badly, I lied about having help at home and she saw right through it. She reminded me that I'm very important to myself in this recovery and that I needed to sort out help and support else I wouldn’t get better. She helped me get in touch with Claire from South Oxford Response Hub. I emailed Claire and I just said, “I really need some help”. Claire then phoned me almost immediately. I started crying because I couldn’t believe how quickly she got in touch. She then organised for someone to bring me a food box the next morning. Oxford Hub and Oxford City Council were in touch. They would phone me just to check-in and make sure I was okay, asking me if I needed anything else. They were a real godsend!
There was something very special about the process of how I was put in touch with them by that nurse who saw right through my lie of pretending to have help at home. At that time I hadn't even told my Oxford friends that I had been in hospital so I really benefitted from speaking to a stranger who said ‘this is my job, this is what I do and this is what I want to be doing’. I'm very quick to help others, but I'm not very good at helping myself at all, so it gave me the strength to say yes and to not feel ashamed or that I was a burden. If I wasn't open to receiving the help that they were offering, I may have not pulled through Covid-19, I may have got sicker and ended up back in hospital. Their gestures of kindness, even just a phone call, helped me to regain my strength. I could then do small things like sit down in the shower and not worry about falling through the glass and make myself some soup. Slowly, with each steppingstone, I got stronger and stronger. But that was collaborative working, you know, that was them presenting me with an opportunity to put myself first.
I felt like every time I took the leap and asked for some support, whether it was for another food box or to collect a prescription, they received me in a way where I just felt so safe and held and not judged at all. And it felt very person-centered as well. My needs would have been different from other people's needs and they accommodated for that, I just felt really listened to. Looking back, I see myself as a broken bird which was sort of loved back to life by people who I didn't even know, and this really gives me the shivers - the impact that Oxford Together has made on my life is enormous and I will never ever forget it.
I had a long chat with Occupational Health, they had to check I was fit and able to start the placement which was cancelled. I'm in recovery from Anorexia, so the last time we spoke the conversation was about my eating and my Anorexia. Me telling her about the journey I'd been on with Covid-19 made for a very different conversation! She was quite shocked. I told her about the support that I had received and with a history of anorexia, having food support adds a whole other dimension. Not having a choice over what goes in the box and all that sort of stuff was also a huge learning curve and asking other people to make food for me was also a big, big deal. She was in awe of the journey I’d been on, and of the support I had received. She said she was very proud of how well I had done.
Everything is looking ‘up’ again, I am starting a placement at the John Radcliffe Hospital on Monday, and I’ll be on the wards where I received treatment for Covid-19. I can't wait to say thank you to the medics who saved me, and to be able to give back. It's a whole new adventure and it's crazy, it's amazing, and I’m still a full time student with exams and my dissertation to do, I need a time machine - but I survived Covid -19- I'll manage this!
Edited by Renata Allen