Red Zone adventure
‘When I got to the end, out of the Red Zone, I cried …’
Have you ever been hammered? A hospital Red Zone gave me a whole new understanding of the concept.
Who am I? Where am I?
On April 1, 2020, my symptoms reach a breaking point. Until then for nearly a week, nightmares, sweats, shakes and hallucinations are constant companions. Nevertheless, I follow the mantra “Stay Home, Save the NHS”. I’m at the brink. Alone with me, in lockdown, my wife sees me fade/fight. She knows I ‘m very, very poorly.
Even though neither of us is good at asking for help, ask she does. A local GP arrives and dresses in incomplete PPE. It’s amazing how a stethoscope as icy as the Arctic gets your attention. My savaged lungs say ‘f*** this for a game of soldiers.’ The Red Zone calls.
Right then, waiting for an ambulance in our wee part of rural Scotland seems like a bad idea.
‘We have to go,’ my wife says, I’m embraced by a warm, winter jacket.
In moments I sit beside open windows in the rear of the car. In our case, the chilly gale protects the driver. On the upside, I gain a refreshing break from a high fever. Then we are there.
Wham! A fierce blast from a sporty driver’s airhorns shock me from my dozing. Along with the blare, crazy flashing lights disorientate me. It’s hard to believe this crazy incident happens right beside the CoVid Red Zone at ‘The Vic’ Hospital in Kirkcaldy. My driver-wife is already frazzled, a raging driver doesn’t help her navigation. Me, I rage. If I could have bounded from the car and confronted the idiot… I’d have fallen flat on my face.
We jerk aside as more horn and flamethrower flashes strobe the side of the hospital. Engine roaring through designer mufflers, the driver storms off, lurching with a squeal around the corner towards the main entrance area, fool. No lives lost.
Into the Red Zone
Flip board in hand, a security man comes over and checks my name. We say our goodbyes as a young nurse collects me. Told to stay in the car, my wife later describes me as a frail old man being steered into the building. Alone, she watches me hobble off fearing she might never see me again, now a helpless bystander.
Inside, I don’t remember much beyond caring, interested NHS medics, all asking about timelines and symptoms. Not at my most lucid right then, my version of the facts is theirs to unravel.
The next thing I remember is a private room, I don’t know how I got there. At 01:50 my watch lit up as the whooshing sound of a curtain pulling around woke me. This led to another medical conversation with a Consultant. In a moment of lucidity I persuade a listening medic against ventilation. My uncertainty, having read reports about being intubated, and my belief in my routine breathing practice, avoids the respirator.
Strange new world
At around 04:00 I come too, disorientated. It feels dark, probably wasn’t. With difficulty, I climb/roll/pussy-foot off my bed. I see a door and walk into a room, lights come on, I’m in a loo: big toilet, shower and hand-washing station. One hundred yards away I make out my bed. Was this 2001, where the old man is in another dimension? I need to know. I find a door and opening it a crack, a corridor as long as a Heathrow runway extends into the distance. Miles away a nurses station, soft light and quiet. Then I remember. Safe.
I feel my way around twilight walls. After exploring, I need a wash. Two towels for drying enticed me. After a bit of a palaver, I stand naked by the shower. It works fine. In moments I wash and staggered about grabbing safety poles and hand-holds like a gymnast. I hope this vision of a stark-naked, wrinkly isn’t too much, or too exciting, for you.
I quickly learn how standing on one foot inserting a wet leg into pyjamas is a dangerous manoeuvre; especially alone, at around 04:30 in the morning, with no help to hand. Still, I manage.
Disorientation a go-go
Next, I don’t know how, but I’m back on the bed; then a few delirious episodes, and then another medic.
‘You’re quite disoriented.’
Before long, I receive more diagnostic information. My state of mind is fluid, interested, somewhat there. I’ll do my best. Good news, in particular, a megadose of antibiotics is coming my way – it’s something to do with secondary infections.
Next, it transpires that my blood oxygen is a problem too. I’m told the benefits of sitting on a straight-back chair. It gets the lungs hanging and filling properly. As a result, I decide I’m going to do it forever, at least until my blood-oxygen level is sorted.
Some medics are researching different types of medication that’ll work for CoVid19 patients. Naturally enough, I volunteer for a project, Oxford-based they say. I hope my data helps. I later discover that the Dexamethasone given to me will have aided my blood-oxygen recovery.
Knowing what day it is isn’t a strong point of my journey early on. At the start, I’m very weak. Still, I struggle into the straight-back blue chair often, using a rather shaky technique which gradually improves. Meanwhile, I learn ways of making the seat-experience bearable. If you’re ever in the situation, lay a pillow on the standard wheeled table by your bed, adjust the height, level your elbows to a comfortable place and rest your weary head.
The following days’ showers follow the same routine, alone with two rough towels for a spot of pole dancing. An offer of assistance always received and declined.
They move me to another room. If you need a stable world, sorry friend, this isn’t it, just go with the flow and let the hippy-within enjoy a relaxing trip. Our NHS folk need cooperation. They call it. You do it.
By now, I’m attached to an O2 (oxygen) line. I learn I have to wean off it or I can’t go home. More days of wobbling into/out of my seat. Needles come, needles go. The nights are fucking hard, there’s no real sleep available, just delirium and non-existing worlds, but part of me knows, remembers, and that anchors reality.
My O2 (oxygen) stays problematic. Single-minded, I work on sitting and breathing. Naturally enough, I cough for Scotland. It’s hard work on an incremental fight to achieve deeper breaths. Being human, I sometimes chicken out, it’s hard, often harsh coughing-work, but someone (me) has to do it. Blood-oxygen is my main focus. A big mask is a sign my blood-oxygen-level is bad. I persevere and around four/five days in, the mask shrinks. They didn’t boil it, it’s simple progress, my blood-oxygen improves.
Disconnecting from the wall supply and carrying an O2 cylinder to the loo breaks up your day. Of course, taking lots of water adds trips. Next day they put me back on the cannula and reduce the O2 level. The next day they took the oxygen away. I had another short FaceTime with my wee granddaughters. The fun figuring out what had changed – no mask! What motivation. I never looked back.
The porridge in my Red Zone was world-class. Of course, the food varies and, early on, my appetite was long-gone. I found ways to eat as it’s essential. Milk, fruit, bananas, rice crispies (don’t ask), fresh sandwiches (not Subway, but fresh as in soft bread and basic fillings). Along the way, a divine Chicken Korma reminded me of the outside world, talk about a magnet.
Set Back – too much of a Good Thing
In the early hospital days, I was advised to take lots of water as my urine was a dark, dark colour (it might have smelled too, but my nose packed in). If you’re into burnt orange, you’re not even close. Working diligently, I soon become the hydration-king or should I say over-hydration-king. My sodium washes away, and as a result, another mission, drink less. Things are good within eighteen hours.
Right at the heart of the healing matter is a vast, committed organisation. Our NHS is a long-suffering political football. On my journey I watch clinicians scheming to cope with a lack of just about everything. In the midst of it all, they must meet the demands of scared, failing and strengthening humanity who expect to be nurtured and healed.
I watched PPE visors arrive but not still enough to go around. I met doctors who weren’t properly equipped marching, willingly, into risk… let’s be straight, facing death.
My last ward is a colorectal surgical ward. All the surgeons and staff embraced new skills, norms and training. They make it happen. Enough, and not nearly enough, said. Thanks to their diligence, I survived.
Our leaders deserve a mention. After Austerity and the lies, half-truths, threats, ideology, incompetence, intelligence-insulting, I can only say shame on them all. If our government worked like the NHS we’d be a much better country for it.
Any CoVid19 success is down to the people who cared for me, all of them; from the balletic old man swabbing the floors with lithe grace; to a young doctor who sat on the floor, holding my arm like a baby as she took blood samples; to consultants studying my chest x-rays. My survival is down to all of them, and their massive, unstoppable commitment and resolve.
Whatever the evidence of political stupidity, it all boils down to one thing, people are more important than money. The proper provisioning, funding and de-politicisation of the NHS is a constitutional need. Citizens can deny Westminster control. It must be enshrined in law. Fund it, keep it funded, stop tinkering and block the pompous, dishonest political shenanigans.
In the ward, during my last few days, I meet a few very sick people. I suspect one may be dead already – they took him away. Another wasn’t cooperating about food or O2. He was unconscious most of the time I was there. When he awoke he was angry and huffy. One time when his wife called he cried and a nurse hugged him like a toddler, her blue-gloved thumb stroking the back of his hand.
A brave young policeman had a couple of awful episodes – talk about pain. He toughed it out. We talked and connected. It’s the old story, share a rough journey, chat and bond. I promised to have him in my thoughts and a day later I left him there, brave and a wee bit scared. (He made it out next day – I tracked him down.)
One guy did go home. Good luck wherever he is.
There’s one I won’t mention.
Did he escape?
A wee story threads through my experience. It involves human moments, challenging talks about O2 and finally sodium (dehydrated I wasn’t).
A pleasant doctor became my blood taker-in-chief. Only my last morning, she told me, ‘Your sodium is improving. I’m going to ask my Consultant’s permission to send you home, but you mustn’t be disappointed if she says no.’ A couple of hours later, cocooned in safety kit, she danced towards me, I knew. Our eyes met. ‘You’re going home.’
‘Thanks, doc.’ There aren’t enough words in English to say thank you properly. I saw her smile through her facemask.
Exactly 10 hours later I walked into my house eight days after leaving it with Death close on my heels. That is eight days after walking into the Red Zone with a scary high fever, CoVid19 and the small matter of severe viral pneumonia.
The woman who watched me stagger like an old man into the Red Zone and I sat opposite each other that first night home. We reminisced, we laughed, we may have wept. Above all, we were together and had a good day.
Key Points for Survivors
- Cooperate and do as you’re asked
- Don’t throw strops, you’re dealing with tired people who care enough to give themselves to your care and risk their lives for you.
As for the Partygoers and Anti-“lockdowners”
I get your need to party. No criticism. We all need fun, but timing and method are worth a thought. Please spare me it’s my body, my freedom, crap. If you get it or pass it on, you’ll expect care and treatment. What’s more, you’ll be scared. If you get it really bad, you’ll be dependent. You might even die. It’s other peoples’ bodies too and many on the line caring for humans like you.
My logic goes like this: imagine you’re at a party or somewhere sociable … You bump into a few people, friends, family. The mood is great. You love the fun, banter, booze and food. What you don’t see is the COVID19 serpent wriggling onto and into you. Over a few days, you infect people. You stroke your granny’s arm – you love her so much. She smiles, delighted, and squeezes your hand. A few days after that she makes her trip to the Red Zone. She doesn’t come back. Much younger, you have a minor dose. What price a party?
When I get to the end, I cry. Something to do with tired.
© Mac Logan