22 February 2021

I wouldn’t be here today without Southampton’s ICU

Graham was treated for 37 days with coronavirus in March 2020 in the Intensive Care Unit at University Hospital Southampton, and then spent a further six days on a General Ward before being allowed home.

“To be honest, the whole thing was like an out of body experience. I can’t quite believe what happened to me, and that I was a cat’s whisker away from departing this world.

When I look in the mirror and see my scar from the tracheoscopy, it is a permanent reminder that I nearly died six months ago.”

“I wouldn’t say that I had the typical symptoms of coronavirus that at the time were being talked about by the Government and the media.

I had a headache, I felt a little bit rough, but I didn’t have a significant cough and didn’t lose any sense of smell or taste.

We had just gone into the first lockdown, so I thought I’d best stay at home, just in case. In that week I actually got better, and by the Thursday I thought I was over it.

However at the weekend I took a turn for the worse and struggled to breathe. Typical male, I thought “I will be alright, I don’t need to go to hospital, I will be fine”.

My wife wanted to call 111, and I kept saying no no no, give it another few hours and I will be fine.

It got to the Tuesday and we made an agreement that if I wasn’t better by the afternoon, then she would ring 111. When it took me 15 minutes to walk down the stairs because of trouble breathing, I conceded.

Within a few minutes the ambulance arrived, put me on oxygen and then transferred me to University Hospital Southampton.

I remember the ambulance journey to the hospital, and that is pretty much it.

Apparently I rung my wife and told her they were putting me in a coma in the Intensive Care Unit. I said: “I’m not coming home tonight as they are putting me in a coma” and then I put the phone down. I don’t remember making that phone call!

The one thing I remember when they woke me up three weeks later was that I had a close fitting oxygen mask on, and I was struggling to breathe. The doctor said that if I was no better in 20 minutes, they would put me back into a coma.

I recovered enough, so thankfully this was not necessary.

When I woke up, it took me about three days to work out what was reality and what I dreamt. I’d had such vivid hallucinations, and I could write a book or a series of films on the dreams that I had!

It took me a while to figure out time. What day of the month it was, even what month it was.

After the first few days where you start to put reality back together again, you talk to your friends and family, and you realise what you put them through.

It hadn’t occurred to me before as I had been asleep through it all.

You know, if I had parted this world it would have been a nice way to go as I wouldn’t have known anything about it. But my family were living through all of the ups and downs on a day to day basis, getting the daily phone call of whether your loved one survived the night, effectively.

I do have to pinch myself sometimes as to how seriously ill I was. I am just so lucky.

A lot of people don’t realise that after a long time of being in a coma, your muscles waste away in that time. I even struggled to hold a phone to my ear for more than a minute.

And I remember the physiotherapy starting, and it took me two days to just be able to sit at the edge of the bed for five to ten seconds, before collapsing back down again.

Initially the recovery was in big steps – being able to sit up, take some steps, hold something. You could notice almost daily the recovery, then as you get better, the steps become smaller.

Even now, I notice that I am not quite as out of breath when I go up the stairs, but it is all incremental.

Realistically I’ve only been out of hospital for six months. It is probably going to take some time before I get back to normal.

I realised early on that if I want to get out of the hospital, I’ve got to do what I am told, and I’ve got to try and do these exercises. I’m not the most motivated person in the world, and I might even be considered lazy to my wife!

At the time, they were difficult, and I will admit that I probably wasn’t the best patient in the world in doing them, but then to get home was amazing!

I had a week’s support with physiotherapists coming to my home to help me, and it was a case of more repetition of what the physios showed me. Walking that extra bit further, and taking a few more steps each day, to the point where now, apart from getting a bit out of breath, I’m 95% back to normal.

To the team in the Intensive Care Unit, I would just like to say a big thank you for what you did for me. You are absolutely amazing.

I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the hard work that you put in.

I couldn’t ask for more from the doctors, consultants, the nurses and all the staff both in Intensive Care and the General Ward. They were absolutely brilliant, and I owe my life to them.”

Let’s give our amazing NHS heroes room to do what they do best.

Our General Intensive Care Unit treats around 2,500 every year. All of them have severe, life-threatening conditions ranging from serious infections to injuries from major accidents. And it is where many patients with coronavirus are treated.

A gift to our appeal will help us to kit out the new state-of-the-art unit which is currently being built. Help us to give our sickest patients the world-class care they deserve.

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