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Lennie: I went from a mild breathing difficulty to 100% oxygen overnight

Lennie is an IT instructor from London. He’s had Covid-19.

I didn’t realise I had Covid-19. I had none of the main symptoms. No cough or fever. Just a scratchy throat.

I was training at Liverpool Street. I remember feeling a bit weak, struggling to carry 14 laptops back from the course. But I thought I was just a bit tired, maybe a cold.

I was like that for about nine days. Then on the Saturday, I got up and was back in bed ten minutes later. The next day my partner was calling the paramedics. I’d gone down hill really quickly - from a little breathing problem to not being able to breathe at all.

The paramedics did some tests but I was barely lucid answering their questions. They said they’d take me in for a check. When they put a mask on me, I passed out. Couldn’t breathe at all.

Everything goes through your mind

From that point I was on 100% oxygen. I couldn’t exist without it. If I took it off, my face changed colour and I’d pass out. I was warned that if I got any worse, I’d be on a ventilator. Everything goes through your mind. My brain was off somewhere else: coffins, graveyards. Have I said my goodbyes?

You’re lying on your back or front. You can’t see anyone at all - you’re lucky if you even see a nurse. I was watching people fading around me. Three times the person in the next bed disappeared and they’d be in to do a deep clean.

I got up and started walking

On the night of my 58th birthday, I was moved to a private room. They were getting me ready for the ventilator. They put a catheter in. It was horrible but the thought that I’d be unconscious, in a coma, on a ventilator was even worse. I thought I’m not going to die on my birthday. I had a little cry. I knew I had to do something so I just got up and started walking. When they came back, I was walking - they decided to put me back on the ward as I was showing improvement.

I started walking lengths of the ward. I’d leave the oxygen on the bed and then come back when I needed it. I tried to leave it longer and longer. Nobody troubled me. There were no nurses on the ward; they only came in for the checks. I didn’t see a nurse for nine hours. But I found my breathing was improving. I was able to take deeper breaths.

The staff were surprised. They didn’t have a plan. They were stressed and overworked and probably just pleased to see I was making some progress. They started turning down my oxygen levels. I honestly believe the walking saved my life.

I didn’t sleep for two nights as I was worried I might pop off in my sleep. It wasn’t until two weeks after I left hospital that I slept properly. I’d doze and wake myself up.

I felt I'd turned a corner

A couple of days after I started the walking, I realised I felt dirty. I hadn’t showered or cleaned my teeth since I got there. They gave me a toothbrush and let me shower and I felt alive. I walked back onto the ward - it was still absolutely packed - and felt I’d turned a corner.

The hospital was under terrible pressure and they just about managed to do what was needed. They tried to keep it clean. But there were no pleasantries. They didn’t really know individual patients. They’d ask me about my coughing and I’d never had any coughing. I don’t know the name of a single nurse or doctor who treated me.

A humbling moment

Leaving was surreal. They just put a discharge paper in my hand, no warning, and told me to call a cab. There was no discussion or anything. They just told me to walk out in my pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers. In the end, a security guard showed me out.

I didn’t believe it was real. I thought it was a dream. It was like I was passing back into my life. It’s a 15 minute ride from the hospital to my place but it felt like the longest journey ever. And then there I was asking my partner for the money for the taxi having thought that I’d never see her again. It was a humbling moment.

I’m back working from home now. I can walk up stairs. I’ve been cycling but the slightest gradient is tough. I lost over a stone, most of it in my legs. I’m trying to boost my strength and lung capacity but I’m only 70-75% there. I couldn’t run. Physically, it takes very long to recover from this.

We still need 'lockdown'

I hope we’re all aware of the dangers of Covid-19. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. Don’t breathe on people. It worries me when I hear talk of relaxing the lockdown and see people rushing onto public transport. We need to enforce it more. This could get so much bigger, this infection. I think the second wave is a definite. We’re seeing spikes again in places that have eased lockdown even a little. We have to understand that this is nothing like the flu. People saying lockdown should end simply don’t understand what’s going on.

I have type two diabetes and high blood pressure but they’re both under control. Now, I want to get fitter and start running again.

I think this experience has changed my attitude to life. I’ll do as much as I can and enjoy it. I’ve been promising to learn guitar for 30 years. And I have an old Triumph Toledo in pieces out in the garden that I’m going to put back together again.

I’m still not watching the news though. It reminds me of the feeling of dread watching it in hospital.

UPDATE, August 2020

I've just started counselling to try and get my head together. But physically I'm in great shape, as I've been exercising almost everyday, so I've regained my breathing pattern and lung capacity. 

However, since the original interview in May, I keep shedding layers of skin from my legs. I'm having to moisturise at an almost hourly rate to stop my legs from drying out and cracking. My back is also suffering the same fate, so it is incredibly itchy 24/7. The diabetic nurse reckons it is a side effect of the antibiotics given for pneumonia. I feel like a reptile.

This article reflects the experience and the views of the individual. It is not health information from the Men's Health Forum under the terms of the NHS England Information Standard.

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