COVID19: The true cost of the virus – 25 days in a coma, two months in hospital and scarred lungs

COVID AND THE CITY: As the first vaccines are distributed, Eastlondonlines looks back at the immeasurable damage caused by the pandemic, and how it has impacted on local people. Today, we report the story of John Peers, a Tower Hamlets NHS nurse who suffered severe symptoms and spent 25 days in an induced coma.

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John Peers Pic: East London NHS Foundation Trust

Before John Peers was ill, despite working for the NHS, he was not cautious or even fearful of Covid-19. Previously active and healthy, the 57-year old would spend 25 days in an induced coma, fighting the infection.

Peers – a mental health nurse with the East London NHS Trust, at Tower Hamlets Centre for Mental Health, since 1989 -said “I was quite dismissive of the virus and actually I kept saying stupid things like the sooner I get it, the better, get it over and done with. In reality that’s probably changed my life. That’s not going to go away, and I’m one of the lucky ones, you know. I came out of it, and many people won’t, or haven’t, rather.” 

When he began suffering symptons in March, the NHS 111 service advised him to go to hospital but he put off receiving treatment because there were difficulties arranging childcare for his children, aged eight and ten. In his blog for the Trust he writes that he went to sleep and the next morning he felt a little better anyway. 

Two days later, things took a turn for the worse. He rang 111 again and an ambulance came. After that he remembers extremely little: “I only remember going through the doors with the ambulance crew. I have no memory until weeks later when I started to come round in the medical ward.” 

He says it was harder on his loved ones: “For my wife it was terrifying, she had to deal with daily comments from the ICU team about how I was.”She was also ill herself, with their primary school age children at home.

Peers, who lives on the Isle of Dogs, suffered pneumonia, sepsis and kidney failure in the intensive care ward at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel.  “I had no underlying health conditions, and I was fairly healthy, very active. I was not in a high-risk group and that’s what happened.” After coming out of the coma he was in intensive care for a further five days, and eventually released from hospital in May.  All in all, he spent around two months in hospital.

But he was left alone without follow up for a couple of months, it was only when he mentioned this to his GP that he got a check-up: ”Thankfully my GP noticed and pointed me towards help, after which point, very quickly, I got picked up by a respiratory team at the Royal London Hospital.” He believes the initial delay in follow-up was because nationally the country was still very much at the height of the pandemic. 

Pic :John Peers with his daughters, John Peers

NHS pressures 

Peers is an active member of trade union Unite and speaks candidly about the pressures in the NHS: “On a day-to-day basis they’ve been doing their best. Staff are expected to do more and more with less and less.” 

While he laments tough working conditions he welcomes the increased sick pay regime for staff who have suffered from the virus. He is clear on one thing: “NHS staff will always do what is required whatever the circumstances, irrespective of what the government or managers tell them to do, they just get on with it, and get on with the job.” 

Although he does have some scarring on his lungs, Peers is recovering and is extremely cheerful: “The plan is I return to work in the New Year, in January, obviously that’ll be a phased return. I’m optimistic because I’m certainly out of the worst, my head’s clear, I feel physically fairly well.”

He feels the vaccine cannot come sooner but insists: “What’s important is the government doesn’t mess it up. ” To vaccine sceptics he says: “My view is, trust the health professionals and scientists over and above any politician. I’ve got no interest in what Boris says or Hancock or any of them  really, but if the scientists and the doctors are telling me they have confidence, I’ll trust them.” 

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An installation thanking NHS staff. Pic: East London NHS Foundation Trust 

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