COVID-19: 'I said goodbye to my daughters and none of us were sure I’d return home'
Jeremy Hughes is a former course manager at Vale of Llangollen and for the past five years has worked with BIGGA Education Supporter Symbio.
He’s a regular presence at BIGGA events and is well-respected in the industry, so when he was struck down by COVID-19 recently, it came as a shock to everyone.
Fortunately, Jeremy is on the road to recovery and he spoke to Ellie Parry for BIGGA about what it was like being struck down by this terrible illness.
“I began feeling unwell on the evening of Monday 30 March. The next day I started with a high temperature, dripping with sweat sometimes, lethargic and all my joints ached.
“I didn’t have a cough, but I had a really bad pressure headache across the bridge of my nose. I’d had a tooth infection and wondered if it was related to that.
“I began my period of self-isolation in the living room at the back of the house, which we were preparing to decorate. It provided access to the downstairs loo and had patio doors to the garden.
“During that week I was able to do some work calls and emails and by the following Tuesday I felt a lot better. I had an upset stomach for a couple of days, but still no cough to speak of.
“By mid-week, I was able to take a walk, then the following day a short bike ride and although both left me shattered, I figured I had to build my strength back up again.”
“It all went wrong on Good Friday.”
“I like to cycle a bit and on Good Friday I decided to venture out. The route from our house is on an incline and half way up the hill I realised I was breathing heavily, but thought ‘you’re unfit and must carry on building yourself up’.
“I decided to head back, but as I was nearing my home I suddenly felt like a goldfish taken from its tank - gasping but getting no oxygen in, and I began to panic.
“I’d seen on TV that coronavirus sufferers’ symptoms were eased by CPAP machines, so I’d been using mine when I felt breathless. Years ago, I was much heavier and a heavy smoker, so I used a CPAP at night to prevent sleep apnoea. I put the mask on and sat on a garden chair for 30 minutes until my breathing began to ease.
“I used it periodically over the weekend but by Easter Monday, although I could go for a little walk, I quickly struggled for breath again. When my wife came home she called my doctor and we were directed to the car park of our GP surgery.
“My doctor came out in his PPE and a quick test revealed my blood oxygen saturation to be just 79%. You may have heard ‘silent’ or ‘happy’ hypoxia described on the news; it’s where sufferers have dangerously low oxygen levels but show little or no symptoms.
“I was advised to go to the hospital, so I collected a bag from home, said goodbye to my three daughters and my wife drove me straight there. On arrival it had risen to 84%. Staff hooked me up to some machines, ran a series of tests and managed to get my oxygen levels up to 94%. The consultant advised me to return home that evening, saying it was safer to continue use of the CPAP rather than be admitted into the Intensive Care Unit.
“Once home, I was able to settle down and make some calls, but things deteriorated two days later. The CPAP wasn’t helping and I couldn’t breathe. My hands were frozen and were turning blue, so my wife rang 999. Paramedics arrived and checked me over for over 30 minutes. Satisfied my oxygen levels were stable, they decided I was better at home and insisted I rest. After that episode, I had complete rest for five days, and since then I’ve been taking things very steady.
Jeremy is a regular attendee at BIGGA events
“I will admit that in the early days of the pandemic I was quite blazé about it. I wasn’t scared, convinced that for the most part it was just ‘a bad case of flu’. How wrong I was. When I said goodbye to my daughters before heading for the hospital, and to my wife at the hospital door, none of us were sure if I’d return home again.
“The whole experience caused me to be anxious and scared to leave my home for a couple of weeks. I’ve had panic attacks when out food shopping as I’ve convinced myself I’m unable to breathe.
“It has given me much to reflect upon. I’ve been thinking about my lifestyle. I’m a Type 2 diabetic, overweight, have slightly high blood pressure and used to smoke 35 cigarettes aday before giving up in April 2017. I can’t ignore the fact that these factors may have made my COVID-19 experience worse. It’s now seven weeks since my symptoms started and although I feel very well, I know I am still not yet fully recovered.
“I’m very grateful to have got through it and focused on moving forwards. This virus affects so many people in so many ways, so be careful, and stay safe!”