I survived coronavirus, thanks to UCLH 

19/05/2020 00:00 
In his darkest moments, coronavirus patient Ertan Nazim feared he wouldn’t live to celebrate his 44th wedding anniversary.
 

“I felt I was sinking and there were times I felt like giving up,” said Ertan, ‘but then I remembered the tears of my family,”

Wife Margaret, talking via FaceTime from their home in Islington, had told him: “You must fight. We need you. You are our rock.”

Now back home with Margaret and looking back on his time in University College Hospital's intensive care and high dependency units, he struggles to make sense of it. ‘Did it really happen?” he asks.

“I remember trying to think of the words to one of my favourite Turkish love songs. As the days went by I could remember more and more. That’s when I knew I was getting a bit better.”

Although the first days remain a blur, Ertan knows he owes his life to the skill of our specialist teams. But it is the more mundane moments that he remembers most: the nursing assistant who offered to trim his beard, another who lent him a radio, those who danced to music at his bedside to lift his spirits, the cleaner who fetched him a drink and the physio and occupational therapists - who with great patience - helped him take his first faltering steps back to normality. 

He recalls just a few names - Hannah,Dora, Mark, Mohammed.

“Because of the protective equipment, I could only see their eyes. I appreciated everything everyone did for me. They were great.”

The onslaught of the coronavirus had been brutal and swift. 

Ertan, a 70 year old bus driver usually works the 390 route from Archway to Kings Cross. His wife is part of the facilities team at City University. At the end of March, both decided to stock up on food at a busy supermarket because, due to underlying health problems, they intended to self-isolate. 

In the following 24 hours, everything they had taken for granted was ripped away from them. Margaret was struck down with the full range of COVID-19 symptoms: severe headache, cough, weakness, sickness. “It felt completely alien. Everything was aching - every single finger, my ears, even my toes.” After a terrible week, Margaret recovered.

Ertan, who suffers from asthma, was not so ‘lucky’. Within just four days from the onset of his symptoms, his condition took a turn for the worse. Struggling for every breath and his body wracked with chills and fever, his son and daughter drove him to the emergency department at University College Hospital. They waved goodbye at the front entrance.

Medics instantly recognised the danger he was in. “I couldn’t breathe. They put me in an oxygen mask straight away. I was told I would be going to intensive care and they asked me to ring my family and let them know where my legal papers were stored. When I rang they all started crying and I realised then I might not survive.”

Ertan was among the first patients to receive oxygen using a newly developed CPAP device, which pushes an air-oxygen mix into the mouth and nose, keeping airways open and increasing the amount of oxygen entering the lungs. Although the mask was tight and uncomfortable, he was relieved that it meant he wouldn’t have to be heavily sedated, intubated and hooked up to to a traditional ventilator.

Margaret and their four adult children would wait at home for the daily update from the medical team.

Margaret said: “Because it is such a new virus, they were cautious. But if there was a change in oxygen levels we were so happy. Those calls were our lifeline. I remember one of the members of staff was so sweet - I think her name was Stacey - telling us ‘we are not just treating your husband, we are treating you as well’. She knew we were suffering at home. We weren’t just some faceless family members.”

The days - and nights - felt endless. Although not in pain, each breath took effort and the CPAP mask and inflatable hood remained claustrophobic. Laminated photos of Margaret, his two sons, two daughters and seven grandchildren were placed at his bedside to give him strength.

“I asked my deceased mum and dad: if you see me sinking, help push me back up. They died some years ago but I believe they were helping me.”

On the high dependency ward, the restrictive mask was finally removed and he received oxygen through nasal tubes. When Ertan was transferred to a general COVID ward, the atmosphere became more relaxed. From raising an arm, to sitting on the side of the bed, to shuffling a few steps, to learning breathing exercises, physiotherapists were by his side every step of the way. “When I could walk to the toilet by myself - that was a good feeling!”, he said.

Nearly a month after being admitted, Ertan was well enough to go home. On 28 April, UCLH staff lined the corridors to say farewell. 

“When I saw Margaret and the children I squeezed and hugged them so tight,” he said.

Ertan, who continues to have regular health check ups, describes himself as ‘nearly back to normal’ although he says he still feels emotional when talking about his experiences. 

“So many other families have not had the same outcome,” said Margaret “ We are so grateful to everyone at UCLH - from the consultants - to the cleaners.”

The couple who will celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary at the end of May, are now making plans for the future including renewing their wedding vows next year.

Margaret was just 18 when she met Ertan and was two hours late for their first date.

She recalls: “He was still waiting for me, in the rain. That’s when I knew for certain that Ertan was one to ‘keep’.”

* Ertan was one of our patients featured in two BBC news items filmed at UCLH by reporter Fergus Walsh. Thank you to staff member Sasha Andrews for capturing the fabulous ‘farewell’ footage on her mobile phone. You can watch the latest report here.

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