A patient who has recently been discharged from The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust has shared his story and words of appreciation to the staff for the “fantastic treatment” he received during his nine-week fight against coronavirus (COVID-19).
Patient story: Retired police officer Stuart Ball, 63, from Ware, Hertfordshire
Stuart said: “It all started in the middle of March – I was coughing and I had shortness of breath, I wasn’t able to breathe in and hold my breath without coughing. That was happening a lot more often when I was trying to speak - several times during a sentence. I put it down to not much more than a persistent cough. I was also getting very tired and listless, lying in bed and not wanting to do much. My wife was getting increasingly concerned and on 24 March, decided I needed advice.
“I spoke to my GP, who sent an ambulance for me as she could hear me coughing over the phone. The ambulance arrived and the paramedics assessed me and decided to take me into The Princess Alexandra Hospital. I think the GP made a life-saving decision for me. I’m told I went downhill pretty rapidly. I remember being wheeled into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), but I don’t remember much after that – I woke up there a month later.
“They nearly lost me a couple of times, but all I was aware of was having weird and wonderful dreams. As I was in ITU for a length of time, I lost a lot of muscle mass and I developed foot drop (where it’s difficult to lift the front part of your foot off the ground). My wife, Debbie, got a phone call telling her to prepare for some very bad news. I was told all this afterwards.
“I woke up a month later with tubes coming out everywhere, a catheter, a cannula, I had had a tracheostomy (an opening created at the front of the neck so a tube can be inserted into the windpipe (trachea) to help you breathe) and a nasogastric tube (a feeding tube passed through your nose and down into your stomach). All I could mouth was ‘thank you’, I was just whispering to the staff and using sign language.
“It was a bit surreal, I was still so convinced that the dreams I had were real. I was clearly recounting them to the nursing staff as if they had actually happened. It was all of these absurd, ridiculous stories that had never taken place.
“When I was taken out of ITU and onto the ward, I was given a guard of honour by the staff, with lots of clapping, and I thought: ‘Why are they doing this for me?’, it was so kind. For a whole week I was so listless. I think I was still coming off of the medicine I was given. I felt such a sense of relief that I was out of danger, and I kept having flashbacks to the dreams I had.
“I couldn’t shave, brush my teeth or wash my hair, and I wanted to make that part of my daily routine. I started trying to sit up and I then arranged to have a little shaving bowl every day. Everything was a challenge; including trying to hold anything in my hands. I didn’t realise just how weak my arms were and that my foot had gone to sleep too.
“I had lost over two stone in weight. I couldn’t eat anything, I was being fed and watered through a tube. I was desperate to just have a cup of water. When I was eventually able to have just teaspoons of water, it was so lovely. Later I was able to have spoonfuls of yoghurt, and then to try and feed myself. I had to use two hands just to get a mouthful of yoghurt to my mouth. When I had managed this, I moved onto pureed meals and then solids. Brushing my teeth also required two hands and I was so weak, it was an achievement to actually do it. It was about May by this time.
“Then came physiotherapy. The first time I tried it was exhausting, just to lift my legs off the end of the bed. It was really hard to lift my head up too. To get out of bed I had to be put in a hoist. Gradually I managed to progress onto a rota stand (equipment which allows a patient to be transferred from one seated position to another).
“I did lots of stretching exercises and I progressed to standing up unaided and walking with a zimmer frame, then to walking with crutches, and later to walking unaided. Somehow I did it – it was all due to the visits from the physiotherapists. All of it was an achievement and I felt encouraged all of the time.
“After two weeks on the ward, when I had been in hospital for six weeks overall, I started to feel stronger and able to walk to the washroom – I wanted to be able to do all of my personal care myself. There were two gentlemen on the ward who were about two weeks behind me in terms of the progress of their recovery, and I hope I was able to give them some encouragement.
“I was discharged from the hospital in the first week of June, after nine weeks in hospital, to continue care at home, with physiotherapists visiting me.
“It has been a once in a lifetime – I hope – experience. It’s life-changing, because of how close I came to not making it. The concept of dying when I went into hospital never entered my mind. I thought I was going into hospital with flu – I didn’t think I would wake up a month later, having nearly died. I’m much more wary of how easy it is to catch the virus now.
“I’m extremely grateful to the hospital staff – the treatment was fantastic and the NHS continues to be a support for me.
“My wife was having a dreadful time, thinking she was going to be a widow. My neighbours were wonderful and rallied round, even decorating our house. It was very touching, they arranged a lovely homecoming with a special banner and they were all out on their driveways when I arrived, with music playing through a sound system. I received so many messages from people I used to work with, it was very moving, as I didn’t realise just how long people’s memories were.
“Now I’m home, I rest a lot, take it easy and enjoy life, realising how fortunate I am. It is lovely to be back in my own home and surroundings. I’m very lucky – I’m 63. I know a lot of prayers were going up for me, which does make me think that someone really is watching over me.”
Sharon McNally, director of nursing, midwifery, and allied health professionals, said: “It is extremely heartening for all of our teams to hear about Stuart’s recovery from coronavirus (COVID-19) after such a difficult experience. We send our very best wishes to Stuart and his family as he continues in his recovery at home.
“It means such a great deal to us to hear about the difference our amazing people have made for our patients during the fight against coronavirus (COVID-19).
“We encourage our patients to continue to get in touch and share thank you messages with our staff, as these words of gratitude mean a great deal.”
You can share your words of thanks with hospital staff by calling the patient experience team on 01279 827084 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.