"I feel lucky to be alive": what actually goes on inside Preston's Intensive Care Unit when you've got Covid-19

What is it actually like almost dying of Covid-19?  Catherine Musgrove spoke to one survivor to find out.

Saturday, 31st October 2020, 7:00 am

“I asked one nurse, ‘Am I doing okay?’. She just looked at me and said: ‘You’re very, very poorly’.

For five days, Beverly Wood’s life hung in the balance and she watched as people died of Covid-19 in beds next to her.

Scared and alone, the 59-year-old care worker from Fulwood managed to pull through, and she now faces weeks of recovery at home, being looked after by her family.

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Beverly Wood of Fulwood

Now she wants to share her story so people know the reality of hospital care with Covid-19, and how seriously the pandemic should be taken.

The mother-of-three said: “It came on really suddenly. I was absolutely fine at work, then I came home about 10.30pm, I was standing in the lounge and I went really cold.

“I got in bed and I was just shivering, I couldn’t get warm. It was like a fever - my temperature was boiling hot but I felt freezing cold.

“I wrapped myself in loads of quilts and I tossed and turned all night.

“Then I got the most awful diarrhoea.. I really thought I had food poisoning.”

For the next nine days, feeling worse and worse, and without an appetite, Beverly remained at home, mostly confined to her bed.

She said: “I just deteriorated. I didn’t want to eat, though I forced myself to because I’m diabetic, but I couldn’t taste or smell anything.

“I was getting weaker and weaker, but I didn’t have any kind of cough. I just had this overwhelming tiredness.”

On Thursday, October 8, having been given antibiotics for a suspected water infection two days previously, but feeling worse, Beverly asked her son Oliver to call for an ambulance.

She said: “I could hardly breathe, but the ambulance took four hours to arrive because they were so busy, and it had to come from Morecambe.

“But when I got to hospital, there was no messing about.

“You hear stories of it being so busy that everyone is piled up in corridors, but I got taken straight through to the amber Covid ward, which is where you go if they aren’t sure if you’ve got it.”

After being tested for coronavirus and a chest X Ray, Beverly was taken to the medical assessment unit, and then two hours later, when her oxygen levels could not be brought up, was taken to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

“I knew I was going in there, and to be honest, you just do as you’re told and it’s a bit like it’s not really happening”, she said.

“In ICU it’s very dark and there’s all these side rooms that are all air conditioned.

“There’s equipment everywhere with lights and graphs on and it’s daunting.”

The first coronavirus test on Beverly came back negative, but with medics still concerned, a subsequent test was couriered to Manchester, and came back positive.

“When they got the result, that’s when they were able to start treating me properly”, she said.

“I was hooked up to all these machines, they put all these drips in you for antibiotics and this oxygen cap over your head like a spaceship.

“It’s got this hole in that they feed you through and it’s pretty claustrophobic, but it’s meant to be the best thing for you.

“They also ask you to lie on your front with this cap on, to relieve the pressure on your lungs, but I could only do it for 30 minutes. I ended up having a panic attack, I thought it was going to finish me off.

“But even after 30 minutes, I could tell it had done me good.”

She added: “They (doctors and nurses) don’t really tell you how bad you are, but they tell your family.

“I asked one nurse, ‘Am I doing okay?’. She just looked at me and said: ‘You’re very, very poorly’.

“I knew what that meant and I thought then that I either fought it or I lost it.

“I later found out that the doctors at that time had told my husband Doug that I was very, very poorly and it wasn’t looking good.

“He told our son Oliver, and he was devastated. He called his sister Marina and couldn’t get the words out. Marina was screaming because she thought he’d rung to tell her I was dead.”

Due to restriction in hospital, no visitors were allowed to see Beverly, but she says she didn't mind because she was so weak and didn't want anyone to see her so ill.

As part of her treatment, Beverly was given a ‘Covid Flush’ which involved strong intravenous antibiotics for two hours for five days.

She said: “I had lesions on my lungs because of the Covid and this was a revolutionary new treatment. I didn’t really think there was much point not trying it.

“It sounds strange, but I could feel it working, taking all the rubbish off my lungs. It was amazing.

“Obviously all this stuff has to go somewhere, and for me, I had all this horrible brown, sticky snot came out of my nose. With other people, it came off their lungs by coughing.”

After the flush and an improvement in her oxygen levels, Beverly was then taken to Critical Care, where her oxygen cap was replaced by two oxygen tubes up her nose.

She said; “I was very breathless and it was hard to sleep at all with all the drips and tubes and equipment all around.”

After four days she was moved to an isolation ward, and on Saturday, October 17, was allowed home, where she has been looked after by her family.

She said: “The staff are very thorough and they won’t let you go home until you’re ready.

“It’s not the case that they’re so busy they will chuck you out as soon as possible because they want your bed. If they are not happy that you’re not ready or you don’t have the right support at home, they won’t discharge you.”

She added: “Those doctors and nurses are amazing. They don’t do this job for money, they’re absolutely 100 per cent dedicated. I really can’t fault them or the NHS at all.”

Beverly remains very tired and finds herself breathless walking halfway up the stairs at home, and must go for a chest x-ray in six weeks time to check for long-lasting lung damage.

However, she says she’s taken positivity out of her situation.

She added: “I have tried to be positive. I saw people dying from Covid in front of me in ICU, and I have pulled through. The consultant said I’ve done really well, all things considered, so I have to take that.

“I do feel bitter that I’ve had it so bad, and the diabetes hasn’t helped with that. I just think if you’re a smoker, you’ve got no chance.

“But I haven’t died, and I now look at life in a different way. It’s given me a whole new perspective on things.”

Since her discharge from hospital she is now working with NHS Track and Trace to give details of her whereabouts in the days leading up to her hospitalisation.

She said: “People says it’s a pain and a waste of money, but it’s not. It’s doing a good job of tracing people.

“People need to take this seriously and not take any risks.”