In late March 2020, the political adviser turned psychologist and author Derek Draper was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 and put into a medically induced coma. One year on, he is still there. He is now awake and breathing by himself but remains seriously ill. The long-term damage to his physical and cognitive abilities are yet to be understood.
Draper’s wife is the journalist and breakfast television presenter Kate Garraway, and in this intimate and enormously moving documentary, Finding Derek, she reveals the reality of her husband’s illness and how their lives have been blown apart. Draper is, she says, the sickest person in the UK to have survived Covid. But, she adds, “Unless you are up close to it, you don’t know what it’s like.”
And what is it like? Much of the past year has been spent waiting patiently at home for medical updates. There have been times when Draper has appeared to be hours from death, though lately there has been significant progress. For Garraway and her two children, hope fluctuates and the future is unknown. In the early months of filming, there is a matter-of-factness to the family’s reflections over whether he will live or die, or who he will be when he returns home, though this shouldn’t be mistaken for heartlessness. Uncertainty is their new normal.
So, too, is building work. Garraway has been busily installing ramps and a wet room on the ground floor of their house in the hope that her husband will be well enough to be cared for at home. But there is no guarantee this will happen. “You just think, ‘Am I fooling myself?’” she asks, surveying the dustsheets and the rubble.
Garraway remains astonishingly stoical throughout the film, keeping her anxiety and trauma at arm’s length in front of the camera. But you can see her struggling with the video calls to Derek, who at one point breaks down in tears and mouths in desperation: “I don’t know how to cope.” Elsewhere, she talks to medical professionals about what the future might hold, and to a nurse suffering the condition we now know as long Covid.
Finding Derek is tough to watch and, as such, should be compulsory viewing for all mask refuseniks, Covid deniers, vaccine conspiracy theorists and bloviating newspaper columnists who look at the current lockdown rules as an assault on the human right to host dinner parties. They might also consider the remarkable love, selflessness and compassion on display, both from the Garraway family and the medical staff helping them through this extraordinary and gruelling situation. “I’ve never loved Derek more or feared losing him more,” Garraway says. “We’re all changed.”
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