Consultant Surgeon

Portsmouth, UK


Recent coronavirus experience

I am usually fairly fit with no medical co-morbidities and since the coronavirus outbreak, like all of us, have been taking great care both at work and home. We have full PPE access and our Trust has been supportive. I have written several human factors and COVID-19 related articles since the outbreak started, but didn’t really think the virus would ‘find me’.

Having been well, apart from some mild hay fever symptoms, I woke up on a Saturday night with profuse sweating and fever. The bed sheets were drenched. The following morning I slept for hours until the coughing started. This worsened over the next 36 hours so the Trust arranged a test. I also developed a metallic taste. An Internet search seemed to confirm the symptoms fitted with coronavirus so I became far more anxious and even started thinking about putting things in place in the event of my death.

The following night I was awake for hours with relentless coughing and felt my chest becoming exhausted. I remember looking out of the open window at about 2am, to a beautiful clear night sky and seeing so many stars and thinking how I could be up with them soon. It was undoubtedly the scariest night of my life. I did not feel hypoxic but as there was no pulse oximeter around, I will never know. Friends have told me how the hypoxia creeps up on you slowly. I do remember being very irritable when receiving text messages from friends and family. Perhaps this was a sign of hypoxia?

The coughing improved and I finally managed to get some sleep, albeit interrupted. The following day I drove to the hospital for the pre-arranged swab test. The testing team were delightful and I knew the matron co-ordinating it and we made the analogy of a McDonald’s drive through! It is an hour there and back by car, but I arrived home shattered and felt I had driven far further. Sleeping was interrupted by coughing and lots of phone calls from concerned colleagues and friends.

Over the next couple of days, the coughing abated, but my lung function was abnormal as even climbing the stairs was tiring and lead to shortness of breath. I slept in until 10am when normally would wake at around 0530. I usually have so much energy but have been unable to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time.

I was grateful to my work colleagues for their well wishes and concern. Had these symptoms been at any other time, like so many of us I would probably have gone to work and tried to ‘carry on as normal.’ When I returned to work, my oxygen saturation was consistently 92% for 3 days (I did not have an oximeter at home) and it only returned to normal after a further 2 weeks.

As a promoter of human factors in healthcare, I use the well known analogy from flight briefings ‘put your own mask on before helping others.’ to stress the importance of looking after ourselves to optimise performance when caring for patients.

Family, friends and colleagues from near and far told me to keep hydrated, do deep breathing exercises, and get out in the sun to produce a little more Vitamin D and it is good to be told what to do by others. I was able to get back to work within 10 days and do what I enjoy most – caring for patients and feeling part of a great team. The whole experience has made me value life even more and importance of getting through this crisis together with kind support and help from others. Finally, it seems I passed the virus on to my wife who is working from home – her recent antibody test was positive but she only had a mild sore throat and a little chest tightness!

Please keep well and stay as safe as possible.