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‘Like Boris Johnson, my husband is in intensive care with coronavirus and I can’t be there. This is what it feels like’

As the Prime Minister is admitted to intensive care with Covid-19, Sue Martin from South Wales tells Sophie Gallagher how it feels to have a husband in hospital who you are unable to visit

Thursday 09 April 2020 13:20
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On Monday 6 April Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to the intensive care unit at St Thomas' Hospital, London, as his coronavirus symptoms worsened. His pregnant fiance Carrie Symonds is unlikely to be permitted to visit him, despite having recovered from Covid-19 herself. Sue Martin, 49, from South Wales knows how that feels – her husband Mal, 58, has been in intensive care with the virus since 29 March. She is at home with their children, Hana, 16, and Wiliam, 13, unable to see him as he gets sicker by the day. Here she tells Sophie Gallagher her story.

There is almost zero chance of survival for my husband now. His body is not coping with the virus.

If Mal was going to recover, doctors would have expected to see an improvement by now, they tell me. But they reassure me they will do all they can — for as long as they can — to give him a chance. Every day that passes I expect to lose him, but I am also holding on to any hope that he might pull through.

Mal and I got married in September 1996, we’ve been together for 28 years. He has been in my life longer than he hasn’t. He is the loveliest man. It sounds like something we all say about our loved ones, but truly everyone who knows Mal loves him. Silly, funny and kind, he is always doing some sort of dance or singing songs to make us all laugh. He is the life and soul of the party, first and last on the dance floor.

He’s also one of the most selfless people I know. He lives for his family; his children and I are his world and everything he does is for us. He would talk to anyone who will listen about how proud he is of Hana and Wiliam. He rings his dad every day to check in.

Now, he has been on a ventilator for 10 days, deteriorating daily.

Mal is a type 2 diabetic and suffered a heart attack four years ago but has since been fine and lives a healthy life. He first started feeling unwell on the evening of 19 March, like he was coming down with a cold. Then a sudden change: the following morning, he couldn’t get out of bed, he had a dreadful cough, a headache and a temperature of 38.8C – all the main symptoms of Covid-19. He was in bed from that moment onward.

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Straight away we followed the guidelines. Mal began to self-isolate in the house and I wiped down the bathroom with anti-bacterial wipes after he used it. I kept an eye on him from a distance, popping into the room he slept in to drop off drinks and paracetamol. How I wish now I had spent more time with him now.

I wasn’t allowed to go with him to hospital or to hug him goodbye when he left..."

After a week his cough was getting progressively worse. I couldn’t get through to 111 so I rang our GP who prescribed him antibiotics. Two days later, on Sunday 29 March, his breathing became very rapid and I phoned an ambulance.

I wasn’t allowed to go with him to hospital or to hug him goodbye, but I assumed after a few days being looked after by doctors that my husband would be home with me again, the whole ordeal over.

But within two hours of being admitted to hospital, he texted us to say he was to be taken to the intensive care unit (ICU) to go on to a ventilator. When the nurse rang to tell me more, I begged to be able to visit him, but obviously that wasn’t possible. My world fell apart at that point.

We managed to FaceTime him before he went into the ICU. All four of us cried, looking at each other through the small phone screen, knowing we might not all be together again. Afterwards, he texted me to say he loved me, that he'd be back soon and for me to be strong for the kids. I told him I wished it was me there instead of him. Then he was put to sleep and straight onto a ventilator. He must have been so scared and I couldn’t be there, that haunts me.

On 5 April, we were told the prognosis was very bad, that it was almost a zero chance he would survive. I begged to see him.

One of the nurses stayed two hours after her shift to enable us to visit (the NHS have been amazing throughout). We were dressed in full personal protective equipment and were allowed 10 minutes with him. Not being able to hold his hand or touch him and with the barrier of the hot, stuffy suit was beyond heartbreaking. I could hardly breathe.

My children said their goodbyes to their dad who, just a few short weeks ago was absolutely fine..."

All three of us stood around his bed. My children said their goodbyes to their dad who, just a few short weeks ago was absolutely fine. I’d give anything for another few years with him for him to watch the kids grow up. I never thought I could feel this much pain. My father is unwell too and not being with my parents has made the whole situation that much worse.

Yesterday we thought it might have been the end for Mal but incredibly there was a slight improvement. His lungs and kidneys have failed now, but there was a slight increase in his blood pressure. We still know to expect the worse but are clinging on to any glimmer of hope.

Words cannot express how incredible all of the doctors and nurses have been – our GP and all the ICU ward staff. A consultant has rung me every day with an update however minor and has answered all my questions no matter how long it takes. They have all done everything they can in a horrendous situation and are risking their lives everyday to save my husband’s life and I am so, so grateful to them.

If Mal could talk to me now he’d probably say how much he loves us, how proud he is of his children, and how we have to look after one another.

For now, though, all we can do is wait. The house feels empty without him and the days stretch on. We are just existing. I so desperately want Mal to get through this, I don’t want him to be a faceless statistic, he is so much more than that. He is, and will always be, our world.

I know there are a lot of people who are still wondering what all the fuss is about around coronavirus, but if anyone manages to get through this time without losing a loved one, they are extremely lucky. At the moment, it's pure Russian roulette who lives and who dies. People are moaning about being bored or fed up at home, but to them I say: I’d give my anything to be bored again.

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