Behind the statistics and reports, what is the reality for families with seriously ill loved ones with Covid-19? Sue Martin, a 49-year-old civil servant, tells Ceri Jackson the daily grief of her ordeal and that of her teens since her husband Mal, 58, was admitted to intensive care.
The hospital consultant called me yesterday and asked if I wanted to send him pictures of my husband and his family.
He suggested laminating them and placing them around his intensive care bed. He looks peaceful, like he’s sleeping, but a fan is the only thing that keeps him alive.
“It can be dehumanizing,” said the consultant. In addition, it would help medical staff to know a little more about the person they were breastfeeding.
Hopefully the photos we have selected will give a glimpse of the man they care for in his final hours.
I wish I could be there to tell them what Mal Martin really looks like. How, despite the tragedies and the family difficulties, we were happy after 28 years of married life; how much he is loved by so many people; that he is always the first to go up on the dance floor; that his festive play was a catchy rendition of “King of the Road”; that he was only talking about our two children, the oldest we almost lost during childbirth and the youngest who was miraculously conceived after we were told that we had no hope of having a second child.
I would tell them of his passion for Welsh rugby and that our 13 year old son Wiliam never finishes a training or an under 14 match at Cowbridge RFC without his father being sidelined. Or his pride in our daughter Hana, 16, a successful designer of TikTok with a global audience. Our miracle children; all the grief was worth it.
Instead, I find it hard to spend another day, replaying the living nightmare of the past 11 days over and over in my mind.
The day before Boris Johnson announced the “foreclosure,” Mal complained of discomfort. He felt like he was falling with a cold. “I don’t feel good,” he said.
He had been working for a few hours that day. The staff of his recruiting company are like family to him and he was trying to understand how he could protect their jobs during the coronavirus crisis by organizing laptops so they could work from home.
He went to bed that night to sleep. The next morning – it was so sudden – he couldn’t get out of bed. All the classic symptoms of Covid-19; a sudden cough, a very high temperature, painful and shivering to the point that it hurts.
From that day on, he isolated himself in the same room. Except for going to the bathroom, he didn’t get out of bed. I brought her drinks, food and paracetamol, constantly monitoring her temperature.
He told me that he’s never felt so bad in his life. “When will it get better?” I can’t take it much more, ”he said. I tried to reassure him that from what I had read, he would start to feel a little better after the fifth day.
Its temperature would fluctuate; it would normalize and I would comfort myself that it had turned a corner but then it would go up and down again …
By the time he went to the hospital, his temperature was normal.
On the seventh day, it seemed to get worse. I rang 111 and twice I was on hold for an hour and 22 minutes – that’s the maximum wait time – before being interrupted. I know they were flooded.
I called general surgery and our doctor made a phone appointment with him. She explained to me how to take her pulse and how to monitor her breathing rate.
She spoke to a hospital consultant who told her that he too was happy to stay home and monitor and report any deterioration. She, like the others, was wonderful, calling every day to check on Mal first, and now me.
The next morning, Sunday, her breathing rate had really increased. I called 999. He was weak but managed to walk to the ambulance.
I didn’t know where they had taken him until a nurse from Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend called me. Mal was desperately sick, she said, and he had to go straight to intensive care to get ventilation. My legs passed under me.
How did I not know he was so desperately sick? She reassured me that she had seen the notes and that I had done “beyond” and that its deterioration, so common with Covid-19, was rapid and that there was nothing that nobody could have done.
She said that Mal asked her to call me because he was too upset to speak; they had explained to him that they were going to have to fall asleep and that he might not wake up.
Me and the kids gave him facets. We told him how much we love him and that he needs to recover; we wanted it at home. He said to Hana, “Don’t worry, I’m going to be around for a while. I’m going to be at your wedding to betray you. ”
Then he said, “I have to go now. They welcome me. “
We exchanged messages after that. I send him a text that I missed him already and he replied “I miss you too. I know this is not my time. I promise you that I will fight ”. I go back “I’m really sorry I tried to force-feed you Weetabix”. For days, I had been desperately trying to feed him, to regain my strength. His last text for me was: “Ha ha. That’s what happened. “
After that, my messages did not get through. I knew then that they had taken him to intensive care.
After a few days, there was a little improvement and they reduced the oxygen slightly. We were warned that a patient’s chances of survival on ventilation were 50/50, but we were hopeful.
Evil is diabetic, which is genetic, not related to lifestyle. Four years ago, he had a heart attack while watching Wiliam play in a rugby tournament and installed three stents. He recovered well, did regular parking lots and never drank or smoked much. Doctors reassured us that his diabetes was under control and that he was fit and healthy.
But one of the daily phone calls brought the news that we feared – it had deteriorated, said the consultant, they had to be oxygenated. They were concerned about his kidneys and arteries, his hands were cold.
They tried to put him on his stomach to help his lungs, but it made no difference. They connected him to a dialysis machine; his kidneys had failed.
On Sunday – the seventh day in the hospital – the consultant prepared me for the worst; Mal was on the maximum amount of adrenaline they could give him to keep his blood pressure high enough to pump enough blood to support his organs. He was on the brink and there was nothing more he could do for him.
The chance of her survival, they told me, was almost zero.
I begged them to let us see it. We all had mild Covid-19 symptoms by the time Mal got sick. We were now on the 17th day, we had been isolated for 14 days and the doctors had told us that we could now leave the house. I begged them to do everything they could.
The hall sister was about to leave. She spoke to the consultant and called me back. “How quickly can you get here?” She asked me. “I’m going to wait and greet you but you have to be in full protective gear, you can’t touch him, you can only have 10 minutes. But you can talk to him. “
She was exhausted after a full shift but stayed for us. I cannot describe how grateful I am to him.
We couldn’t touch it but we could get closer. He had so many tubes in him but he was peaceful, like I said, like he was sleeping. We told her we love her. It was heartbreaking for the children. To hear them say “we will make you a proud dad” and “we will take care of mom”. I told them “but you’ve already made him proud”.
I promised to keep calling her father every day, which he always did.
At that time, we thought we were saying goodbye. We thought Monday would be his last day.
On Monday, there was a very slight improvement. No improvement in his kidneys, lungs or arteries, but his blood pressure had increased very slightly, so they were able to slightly reduce the amount of adrenaline they gave him, so it’s not all to the maximum.
We don’t know what to do with ourselves, we don’t know how to feel. It’s a torture that we feel like living in a nightmare. I have never experienced such pain, as if someone constantly stabbed my heart and twisted the knife.
I’m having trouble swallowing food right now. We don’t sleep, I and the kids huddle in the same bed and stay awake until the wee hours watching the DVDs of kids when they were little so they could see their father.
The first thing I think of when I wake up is “OK, they didn’t ring me at night so he’s still alive” and the wait begins for the consultant’s daily phone call. I keep the phone lines clear because I never know what time it will be. And when the phone rings, it’s panic.
I can’t see my parents who were so hard on them that they couldn’t be with us, with their grandchildren. It is so much more difficult to manage this when you are isolated from your friends and family, but people have been so supportive, giving up shopping, meals, cakes, flowers and plants – everything to try to comfort us. . A friend drove an hour just to sit two meters from my door just to be with me.
Yesterday I received a message from a nurse who was with him when he was hospitalized before going to the intensive care unit. She said she remembered him and that he was talking about how proud he was of her children.
It brought me some comfort because what haunts me the most are the few hours he spent there knowing what was going to happen and not being able to think about how much he must have been afraid.
They literally give her time to give her body a chance to recover from the virus. They can’t give her anything else. All they can do is give it time.
I’m so, so grateful for the whole hospital trying to do for him, risking their lives trying to save his own. They have been wonderfully supportive, compassionate and empathetic in these difficult times.
I just want people to think. If I talk about our experience preventing one or two people from going out, it could save another life. You do not know how you will be devastated until this happens. Don’t take the risk. If you come out of this crisis and everyone around your table is still there, you have an incredible chance.
Nothing is worth sacrificing the life of a loved one or the life of a hospital worker. Going biking with friends or going out because your partner is annoying you … a moment that could relieve a little boredom could completely change your life.
I don’t want Mal to be just another statistic. I want people to know him and know how amazing he is.
The photos here and the plasticized ones around his hospital bed are our only way of saying that he is the best and that our hearts are broken again and again.