‘The next minute they were getting me to facetime Sharon to say they are going to put me to sleep,’ Eastbourne Covid survivor shares his story
An Eastbourne man who spent 30 days in a coma after contracting Covid-19 has urged people to still take the virus seriously as the clock ticks down to the end of lockdown.
Mark Williams 56, of St Leonard’s Road, was put into a coma at the DGH and was given a 20 per cent chance of pulling through after getting his Covid test results back on Christmas Day.
Mr Williams said, “One minute they are putting a catheter in and the next minute they are getting me to facetime Sharon to say that they are going to put me to sleep for a couple of days and that is about the end of my story for the next 30-odd days, where I think I was quite close to maybe not pulling thorough.
“Once you have tried everything, as they have said to Sharon, they have done everything. They have thrown everything at me and I wasn’t responding so logically you would think, ‘We have got paths of people coming through the door, we have done everything for this guy, maybe we should just call it quits,’ but fortunately for me they didn’t.
“They kept on going and kept on going and that is why I am here now.”
Sharon Smith, Mr Williams’ partner, also described the moment she found out about the coma.
Ms Smith said, “He said, ‘I am coming out [of hospital] today.’ And then a couple of hours later he rang me and the nurse was holding his phone and he said, ‘I am going to sleep for a few days and I love you very much. Good bye.’
“That was quite hard to take and then the journey began with Mark in his coma. He thought he was only going to be asleep for three days but then he took a turn for the worse again.”
Ms Smith explained how Mr Williams had suffered from blood clots in his lungs and that NHS staff were desperately throwing everything they had at him in order to keep him alive.
Ms Smith said, “It is trial and error because they really don’t know which way Covid is going to go or which organs it is going to affect.
“They said that he is not out the woods and he wasn’t out the woods for at least three weeks because they didn’t know what else to do.
“If he had a lung transplant they would have know the trajectory path he would be on, the next 24 hours are going to be critical but once he gets past that he would be fine, but with Covid it was so unpredictable.
“Just when you thought you could see the light at the end of the tunnel it would just instantly get worse.”
Although Mr Williams had fortunately recovered and tested negative for the virus, he was still suffering from Covid-related issues.
Mr Williams said, “My hearing has been affected, although they are still working on that, and they are not sure whether it will be permanent or temporary but it is like when you have to squeeze your nose and blow out if you have been on an airplane or if you have been underwater.
“I keep doing that but it doesn’t pop and so it is a bit like I am underwater all the time.
“I have got some issues with my glands and my eye sight has got really bad and again they don’t know if it is permanent or if it is just one of the things with Covid.
“There are millions of things. Some people have got no memory, it’s all different things. I am just glad I can remember things. Some people can’t remember before they went into a coma or they are missing chunks.”
A well-documented side-effect of the virus is a loss or lack of taste and smell with some people still not having those senses months after suffering from Covid.
Mr Williams said, “That has come back in the first two weeks but I think that is just through the huge amount of medication.
“Even drinking water, everything I ate or drank just tasted toxic like a metal and Sharon brought me some sweets, really strong, like Starbursts and things to try to get the taste back but that has slowly come back now and I have pretty much got 90-100 per cent taste and smell back.”
While he was in the coma Mr Williams’ condition fluctuated as he suffered from a number of infections but with the help of the NHS he managed to pull through.
While recalling waking up from the coma Mr Williams said, “It is difficult because you are still quite full of drugs so the first week was like being on acid, not that I have been on acid but that is what I would imagine it would be like.
“I was hallucinating a lot and they said this to Sharon that I will hallucinate.
“I had a dream when I was in the coma, it wasn’t a very nice dream either, but I was flipping between that dream and reality and I found it really hard to distinguish which was which so I was sort of in a trance, in a weird place for the first week and then the second week I started to get a bit more understanding about what had gone on.
“That is when I started to realise exactly how long I had been under because for me I had only been asleep for an hour or two.”
Naturally when you are inactive for so long you experience dystrophy which sees the size and ability of your muscles reduce.
Mr Williams said, “I have obviously been struggling with my muscles because I haven’t moved for five or six weeks so you have lost all your strength and mobility.
“I couldn’t believe it had happened so quickly but even chewing, your jaw muscles because they haven’t worked for six weeks.
“Obviously they had done a tracheotomy as well so the swallowing part was quite difficult to start out with because of the tracheotomy thing in the throat and all that had to heal properly.
“So now I am wobbling around on two very thing legs. I have lost 30kg which is about 4.5 stone but I think that probably over half of that is muscle.
“I could have done with losing a bit of weight anyway but this isn’t a great way to do it.“
Mr Williams, who had just started a new job as a senior care officer for adult social care, also recalls the difficulty in moving his arms after he woke up.
Mr Williams said, “I remember they gave me my phone, my mobile phone, to ring Sharon and honestly it was like a breeze block. With two hands I literally couldn’t hold it.
“They said that this is because of your muscles, your hands, your arms have gone completely and it literally felt like a breeze block, a brick instead of a light mobile phone.”
Although it is possible to be asymptomatic while carrying the virus that is not always the case and for some people it can completely change their lives.
Ms Smith said, “I don’t think people understand that Covid is not just a virus that you get and then it leaves. For some people it just changes their whole life. It has been like a wrecking ball in our life.
“It is like if you threw a pebble in the water and the ripple effect on our jobs.
“This has turned our whole life upside-down. However, the good thing about it is he is alive and it has just changed our path of life if that makes any sense.
“It makes you realise that your tomorrows are not always there. Covid can come and take them at any time.”
In regards to people who flaunt the rules, Mr Williams has a clear message.
Mr Williams said, “It is not worth the risk. I know I am 56 and I am in that sort of slightly overweight, 56, probably a higher risk group but I have seen on the news people who are 23 dying of it so it really is a nasty disease. A really horrible virus and potentially life threatening.
“I think we have become a bit blasé. Everyday you will look and think, ‘15,000 people have got it and we have got so many people in hospital and only 468 people died today.’ You see it on the news. ‘Only 468 people died today. Tomorrow only 379 people died.’
“People are still dying and I think that is what people need to realise that they could be one of those. I was close to being one of those but thankfully not.”
Since the government’s roadmap announcement many people have been looking ahead to June 21, the earliest date the UK could return to ‘normality’, but Ms Smith is urging people to continue following the rules.
Ms Smith said, “When you go through something like this, it must infuriate the people in the hospitals as well because you have got people walking around, mingling about and it is not right.”
Ms Smith also explained that although you may not suffer with the virus, someone you pass it onto might, she said, “It is not just wham, bam, ‘I have had the virus, a bit of a cough.’
“It doesn’t care who it hits and you don’t know who it is going to hit so you might have mild symptoms but the person you pass it onto might die. It is just awful.”
Mr Williams said, “People shouldn’t take this for granted. It is not worth the risk. It really isn’t. Going to work, going on buses not with masks, it is just not worth the risk. “
Mr Williams is currently going through rehabilitation in order to retrain his muscles but is hoping to be back home in the coming days.
Due to their experience Ms Smith has decided to walk 20 miles from Eastbourne to Brighton in order to raise money for the staff on the ICU unit at Eastbourne District General Hospital where Mr Williams was in treatment.
Ms Smith said, “The nurses used to ring me at the start of their shift, some would ring me after their shift just to make sure I was okay.
“I just thought, you are doing something so miraculous, you are under such pressure and I was so humbled that now Mark is in rehabilitation I thought, I am going to do something for them.
“Mark now has to learn how to eat and walk and he has got a big challenge in front of him to get back to where he was so I thought if I walk to Brighton I could do the same as he is doing and climb the mountains he has and to raise money.”
The original target for the fundraiser was £1,000 to help buy iPads for the unit but as the donations began to come in that goal has been raised.
Ms Smith said, “They have only got one iPad in ICU and there used to be only be one ward but now there are four wards in ICU because of the pandemic but the resources have not met the criteria so they still only have one iPad.
“The first thing I wanted to see was Mark when he woke up. I needed to see him, I hadn’t seen him since Boxing Day and he woke up the first week of February and sometimes it wasn’t charged because so many patients and families wanted the same.
“I thought If I could buy more iPads or something personal to the nurses and the doctors to alleviate the worry.
“You are only outside and they are doing everything they possible could to bring me inside by having that communication even though he was in a coma state so they could put the phone to his ear so he could hear my voice which helped me from going down a rabbit hole because life had been so bleak.“
Both Mr Williams and Ms Smith shared their gratitude for the tireless work of the staff who helped the pair through the ordeal.
Ms Smith said, “It is just about getting the message out there about these amazing guys in Eastbourne critical care.
“All NHS workers do but these people, doctors would ring me up everyday and I know how busy they were and sometimes the news wasn’t good and a little bit too much to take in and being on my own they wouldn’t leave the phone until I was alright.”
“Some of the nurses had two patients that they had to look after in critical care but they never ever made me feel that they didn’t have time for me and there were some nurses, I could name a hundred of them, that rang me and said ‘I am just checking in and making sure you are alright. How have you slept? Are you eating?’ And just pep talks and that goes, to me, over and above what they needed to do because they are so busy there.”
Mr Williams said, “I suppose when you get so many people coming through, some moving on, some dying, I suppose you can become immune to it all, distance yourself form it, but they were so compassionate and so caring and I am so thankful that they did keep going.”
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