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  • Richard Cree

Defying the Odds

Tuesday 12th May 2020

Figures for 11th May

UK COVID Deaths 210 / Total 32,065

James Cook Hospital – Total COVID deaths – 210

I would like to share some really good news about my friend Gary, who has spent the last six and a half weeks in Intensive Care down in London.

Gary became severely ill as a result of COVID pneumonitis and became desperately unwell, even by intensive care standards. I have spoken before about his rocky path through Critical Care and how worried about him we have all been during this time. My last update was on May 5th when I was able to talk to him via one of the LifeLines charity tablets.

Since then he has continued to improve. Within the next day or so he was breathing completely by himself without the need for a ventilator. His weakness appeared to be improving day by day too, such that he could now lift his arms and wave during video calls to his family.

Two days later, Gary was strong enough to cough adequately by himself, meaning the tracheostomy could come out. His voice was still quiet and despite the removal of the tracheostomy, he was still unable to swallow properly.

He continued with his chest physiotherapy which had two aims, the first is to help him take deep breaths and keep his lungs open in order that his breathing is not too much work for him. The second is to help him cough strongly enough to clear the secretions that tend to build up inside the lungs following any episode of infection, be it viral or bacterial.

On Saturday, the ICU staff arranged for him to be wheeled out into a garden area they have adjacent to the ICU. It’s hard for people who haven’t spent any time in hospital to imagine the benefit this has for patients, even if it is just for a short while.

Gary has no recollection of becoming unwell and being admitted to hospital all those weeks ago. He remembers nothing of being admitted to ICU or any of the events that happened subsequently. This is probably for the best. Psychological issues following critical illness are sadly all too common and I hope that his amnesia may protect him from experiencing some of these.

The following day, I received a WhatsApp message that Gary had posted on the mountain biking group that I and some of his friends use to communicate. He was joking about the VE day bunting and holding the record on the Intensive Care static bicycle. It was almost like business as usual.

Today he was discharged from Critical Care to the ward. This is a major milestone.

He is still having problems with swallowing and is desperate to be able to eat and drink something. His voice is also still faint, such that he is getting frustrated with not being able to make himself understood some of the time. Apparently today, he was trying to get one of the nurses to understand that he wanted help with his phone so he could listen to a podcast.

Jenni has been surprised just how pleased the ICU staff have been at Gary’s ‘remarkable recovery’. Indeed she has commented on how often she has heard that phrase used. I can understand its repeated use all too well. We have seen a good number of COVID patients survive Critical Care but the majority of those have had shorter stays and have recovered much quicker. So far, at my hospital, we have only had one patient be as poorly as Gary, for as long as Gary and survive. We have seen many more deaths. I would be surprised if this is any different for the ICU staff at Gary’s hospital. When we see a patient like this who survives, despite the odds, it is cause for rejoicing. We have all been in a fairly dark place and desperately need successes like these to lift our spirits.

Hopefully he will not encounter any more problems. God knows he’s had more than his fair share. I would anticipate that he will spend a few more weeks in hospital if all goes well. Knowing how motivated and determined Gary is, it won’t be a day longer than is necessary!

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