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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 10 – What it’s really like in COVID-19 wards

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 9

(Image by Tumisu, via Pixabay)

SUNDAY 26th APRIL

UK hospital deaths in last 24 hours 413 – Total deaths in hospital 20,732

I thought if you got coronavirus you were supposed to self-isolate (which means you don’t get included in any statistics) for 7 days because that was how long it lasted and it peaked on the 4th or 5th day. But my friend who lives in Central London and who – pretty certainly – had the virus a few weeks ago tells me:


I think there is a difference between being symptomatic, being infectious and being post-viral but still feeling ill. I don’t know for how long people are infectious. I am just saying that some people, including me, feel ill for several weeks. That is different from NHS guidelines about isolation and work.

One friend has had fever for over 2 weeks. Another couldn’t get out of bed for 3 weeks. Another – an obstetrician – couldn’t stand up for 10 days and is still signed off work, A fourth was in bed for a week and, in week 3, still can’t push a Hoover round a room.

As for loss of taste and smell… Does having no sense of smell mean the virus is still active in me or is it just a post-viral leftover? I don’t know.

With me, the fever stopped over 2 weeks ago. I am now mildly able to taste my casserole. I would say I’ve got 25% back. Can get very strong tastes. A spoonful of mustard just about gets through!! Have to hold things against my nose to smell them. I would say this week has been the first proper better week. Energy back. Still got a cough but it is abating.

The rules state that you should self isolate for 7 days or longer if you still have symptoms. But one friend’s partner who’s a nurse got symptoms and was told to report for work 7 days later. I know a lot of people who have been pretty ill. But ill at home.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to return to work tomorrow. The Financial Times had quoted May 7th as a likely return date but an expert (currently, it seems, the world is full of experts) told The Times that he would need one week’s rest for each day spent in the Intensive Care Unit. He was in the ICU for three days and is, indeed, roughly coming back after three weeks’ recuperation.

My friend in Central London (as detailed in previous Diary Blogs) has a friend seriously ill with coronavirus in an ICU since 4th April.

MONDAY 27th APRIL

A rare collection of items, not seen by me locally for four days

I bought some eggs today… they have been unseen for the last four days…

My friend in Central London, whose friend is in an ICU with coronavirus, messaged me:


I am exhausted.

My friend had a tracheostomy today.

I may stay in bed tomorrow with my phone on silent.

Running on empty.

Me. Not the iPhone.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson is, indeed, back.

UK hospital deaths in the last 24 hours were 360.

Total deaths in hospital now stand at 21,092.

“The procedure went well…” (Photo by Cottonbro via Pexels)

TUESDAY 28th APRIL

My friend in Central London messaged me:


Don’t feel brilliant today. My friend had the tracheostomy yesterday. The procedure went well. Is stable.


Hospital deaths in the last 24 hours: 586.

Total UK deaths in hospital: 21,678.

WEDNESDAY 29th APRIL

I went to donate blood today. They test your blood for coronavirus antibodies, but not for the coronavirus itself. You used to get tea or coffee and biscuits after donating blood. The last time I went, in February, you could not have hot tea or coffee – only cold drinks… something to do with the caffeine.

“You used to get tea or coffee with biscuits…”

This time there was a different reason given for not drinking tea or coffee after donating – Because of social distancing. They don’t want people to linger too long at the biscuit table afterwards. Apparently, people linger less long if the drinks are cold instead of hot. 

Instead of having nine people on nine beds donating blood at the same time, today they had six people donating blood in plastic recliner chairs which were wiped-down after each person. 

In the queue going in, I got talking to another donor (keeping the regulation two metres apart). I normally clench and unclench my fist to help the blood flow out faster. He said the medical advice was also to clench and unclench your buttocks. It has the same effect.

I am not sure this comes naturally to me in practice; only symbolically.

Latest from my friend in Central London on her friend who is in hospital:


Yesterday was a good day but it is very up and down.  

His slight rally is due to our wonderful NHS. They are so compassionate. I feel they are really taking care of him. Today his nurse decided that my friend’s bed was too near the door so might be interfering with his rest – he feels moving him somewhere quieter today in ICU might help him rally more. Details, but they are fighting his corner every moment. 

On the other hand, the call from the consultant is always more sobering. He said they still don’t give my friend more than a 15-20% chance because of multiple organ failure (his liver function is now also impaired). However, they are not giving up on him. They have brought him this far (since 4th April). 

If only his daughter and I could go and talk to him and hold his hand.

What people are not realising, I think, is that it’s not just old and infirm people dying. And it’s not just Oh we’ll pop somebody on a ventilator for 3 days and then they’re fine. 

The consultant told me that 80% of ventilated patients who are in a similar position to my friend don’t make it. Those with a chance – like my friend – who are under 60 and have no pre-existing medical problems, are often on ventilators for weeks. Over 50% in my friend’s ICU are aged 45-65. He is 58. 

He has settled well with the tracheostomy. This morning I spoke to his consultant and his ICU nurse. The tracheostomy means they can easily take him off the ventilator and back on again. He did well off the ventilator for a few hours yesterday, with just a supplemental oxygen mask. They put him back on the ventilator overnight because, even though he is now managing to breathe on his own, his breathing muscles are weak and easily tired. They will try him off the ventilator again today. 

Both the consultant and the nurse said he’s “a bit more awake” – sometimes opening his eyes when they say his name. He doesn’t yet respond to any other commands like squeezing a hand or sticking out his tongue. The nurse thinks my friend’s eyes maybe look like they are actually looking back at him for a second, but he can’t be sure yet. 

The consultant said they are still giving kidney filtration and, as he is young, they hope his kidneys can eventually recover much of their function. 

He is a bit jaundiced at the moment and they know his liver isn’t working 100% but the consultant said this is common in ICU patients. 

So some hopeful signs.


Meanwhile, UK hospital deaths in the last 24 hours rose by 765. That means total coronavirus deaths in hospitals has reached 21,857. Total all-in deaths (including hospitals, care homes and in ‘the general community’) have now reached 26.097.

THURSDAY 30th APRIL

Boris Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds had a son yesterday.

Inspirational war veteran Captain Tom Moore has been appointed an honorary colonel of the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, to mark his 100th birthday. He has now raised over £31 million for the NHS.

He has also been awarded a Defence Medal, “after experts realised he was owed one decades ago”. It will be added to the 1939-1945 Star, Burma Star and War Medal he wore on his walk, which also earned him a Pride of Britain Award. The newspapers report he will also be made an honorary England cricketer by former captain Michael Vaughan. I have no idea how that works.

Latest news from my friend in Central London is:


I have just had an update from the ICU. My friend needed a lot of kidney filtration today, as well as a unit of blood and blood pressure support. With all that going on, his oxygen requirements went up again so they’re leaving him on the ventilator at the moment. His oxygen saturation (SATs) is good though. So it’s a bit up and down today. 

He is still responding to pain stimuli. When they suctioned the chest secretions earlier, they thought he was trying to bite the tube – so this could be a further little sign of improvement in awareness, although he still hasn’t come round from sedation, which was discontinued 2 weeks ago. 

They invited me to ring the ICU mobile today and they held the phone to his ear so I could talk to him. I told him how his family and friends are constantly sending messages of support and love. He will be overwhelmed at all the good wishes coming his way. I also told him about what’s happening in his beloved garden and I didn’t forget to add that many of us are missing his cooking – especially the curries!


“Increased ventilation overnight… increased support…”

FRIDAY 1st MAY

My friend in Central London tells me:


News just in from the consultant. The trend is downwards.

Increased ventilation overnight, increased BP and cardiovascular support, inflammatory markers up, kidney support up.

He said the longer they support multiple organs the slimmer the chances are becoming and he said it’s not looking great at the moment.


UK coronavirus deaths up 739 in the last 24 hours to an overall total of 27,510.

Carrie Symonds with son Wilfred on Twitter

SATURDAY 2nd MAY

Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds named their son Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson. The Nicholas bit is in tribute to Dr Nick Price and Dr Nick Hart, whom Boris credits with saving his life when he was in hospital with coronavirus.

Wilfred was Boris’ grandfather and Lawrie was Carrie’s grandfather.

I myself was named after my grandfathers – the rather unfortunately named John and Thomas.

I also heard from my friend in Central London:


I had a call from the consultant today. 

My friend’s inflammatory markers have come down a little bit – The lab found no new infections yesterday, so they’re continuing with the antibiotics as before. They will also try to lower his blood pressure support by a small amount. 

Other than this, the news is much the same as yesterday. He confirmed that my friend’s breathing has lost some ground since a week ago.

It is some 6 weeks since he first became ill, so the medical opinion is that they are no longer dealing with the virus itself but rather the very considerable and widespread damage that it has done to his body/vital organs. They think that, at this point, ICU patients are no longer infected (or infective) with coronavirus, so they are now no longer treating the virus but instead supporting my friend’s body to heal, which includes treating any infections that crop up and supporting his lungs, kidneys and cardiovascular system. 

This is disappointing to hear, of course, but the hope is that new treatments will soon be able to help newly infected people.


I also found out that someone else I know was taken into hospital with coronavirus earlier in the week. He has always seemed to be strong, sturdy and healthy. He came out of hospital yesterday and is now resting, alone, at home. He tells me:


What an experience going into those COVID-19 ‘hot wards’ as they call them. You can really see how stretched the NHS really is. I only found one sanitiser dispenser that had any in it in the two different wards I was on and the porter was telling me that, when there’s a delivery, it’s a bit of a free-for-all to try to grab gloves and masks to last until the next lot arrive.

Strange experience being in a locked-down hospital with security on every door, I had to have an argument with a security man to let me out after I’d been discharged even though my son’s van was about 15 feet away waiting to take me home. I threatened the security man with a cough and he let me through in the end. LOL.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 9 – Personal stories in a strange new world

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 8

SUNDAY 19th APRIL

Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu posted another video of family life in lockdown in London:

The latest figures for coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals are 592 deaths in the last 24 hours (down from 888 yesterday)… So now 16,060 in total.

My friend in Central London, who has a close friend with coronavirus in a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit updated me on his current situation:

“I spoke to the hospital earlier. Things are not going well since yesterday. They have been reducing sedation over recent days but he was not coming round, so they stopped all sedation last night… but he’s still not waking up. ‘Neurologically unresponsive,’ they said just now. CT scan of brain later. Today will be a tough day. I am full of fear.”

MONDAY 20th APRIL

(Photo by Luke Jones via UnSplash)

A friend who lives near Milan tells me that the Italian government is going to start easing some restrictions and trying to re-start things on May the 4th. I suggested on Facebook that the Italians must be big Star Wars fans… I was told by someone that this did not work when translated into Italian.

In the last 24 hours, there were 449 hospital deaths linked to coronavirus (down from 592 yesterday)… So now 16,509 in total.

Lynn Ruth Miller, an American living in London – who recently contributed a piece to this blog Diary – writes:


I am an 86-year-old woman. I am a performer whose life revolves around travelling throughout the world to do my act. I am in comparatively good health. I live alone. I have no children, no partner, no family. Because I am in a third floor flat, I have no dog or cat. I am in relatively good health with no debilitating pre-existing conditions.

Governments the world over have told their populations that all people over 70 must go into social isolation. That means I must stay home without visitors and talk to no one face to face. If I need exercise I should walk around the garden. But I do not have a garden.

This social isolation is robbing me of my future. Let’s face it. 86 is the beginning of old, old age. Every day my horizons are less distant. The end of my life is nearer. Each moment that I am able to live a purposeful and rewarding life is especially precious to me because those moments diminish every day. They diminish for us all, of course. But the reality is I have less time left to enjoy them than someone who is younger.

Since March 15 when we were advised to stay inside, I have not been face-to-face with a living, breathing human being. I have not held anyone’s hand; I have not hugged a friend or petted a puppy.

I do not want to get sick. I do not want to make anyone else ill. But I do want to smile at someone who smiles back. I want to tell a joke and hear the laughter. I want to feel a human presence. Live-streaming on a computer screen doesn’t do it for me.


TUESDAY 21st APRIL

Wot’s this ear? It’s some wag’s image of van Gogh

Uncertainty continues about whether people in the UK should wear or not wear masks when out. Jokes have appeared online. One source-unknown wag visually pointed out that Vincent van Gogh would have had problems attaching even a simple face mask.

The real world gets even more surreal than that. The price of oil has turned negative for the first time in history. This means that oil producers are paying buyers to take the stuff off their hands because demand has dropped so sharply and suddenly – because lockdowns across the world have kept people in their homes – that the producers’ storage capacity could run out in May.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours rose by 823 (it was 449 yesterday)… So now 17,337 deaths in total…

WEDNESDAY 22nd APRIL

One friend of mine is taking no chances…

The debate on whether to wear face masks or not continues in the press and one friend of mine is taking no chances by wearing full serious face mask and goggles when she goes out. This is 100% true.

Her equipment may seem over-precautious and certainly likely to keep strangers in the street at a socially-acceptable distance. But the virus can enter the body, it is said, through your mouth, nostrils or eyes, so only wearing a flimsy mask covering mouth and nose would leave your eyes open to attack.

Thus her choice of full headgear makes total logical sense.

THURSDAY 23rd APRIL

Correct social distancing is marked on the floor

Most of the large chain food stores now have positions marked-out on the pavement outside and the floor inside to help keep social distancing (2 metres) from each other.

My friend who lives in Central London updated me on her friend who is in Intensive Care in hospital…


It has been a bumpy old week. From being told by a doctor on Sunday that we should prepare for the worst because my friend was not coming round from two weeks of deep sedation and that a CT scan of his head would assess possible brain damage, to being told that the CT was thankfully clear. 

But then he needed several blood transfusions as his haemoglobin kept rapidly dropping. The doctors were looking for an internal bleed somewhere, but could not find one. So that was all very worrying. 

Then yesterday the ICU consultant said my friend was doing as well as can be expected and seems to be following the same course as others who are further along (a week or two) in the COVID-19 disease process. He clarified that As well as can be expected means still critically ill. He also explained (perhaps unnecessarily) that they are literally stopping these patients from dying every hour of every day… A ‘good’ day for a patient means “still alive” and they don’t want to give false hope, even when small forward steps are logged…

However, today when I spoke to an ICU nurse, some small forward steps had been logged. Although still on a ventilator, he is now initiating his own breaths and seems to be holding his own. But, a week after removing all sedation, we are still waiting for him to come round. Last Sunday he was “neurologically unresponsive” which sounded pretty endgame-ish. However today I’m told that his pupils are reactive and that he has a good cough (which, in ventilated patients, is apparently a good thing). Small steps.


The total deaths related to coronavirus in UK hospitals now stands at 18,738 – a rise of 616 deaths in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 24th APRIL

Last night, BBC TV’s Big Night In show, lasting all evening, combining the charity know-how of Comic Relief and Children in Need and featuring a mega-star-studded array of names including Prince William, the presumed future British King, raised £27 million for charity.

Bizarrely, Captain Tom raised more than £28 million by walking round his daughter’s back yard. We live in strange times.

Also last night, “somewhere in Southern England”, my friend Lynn shot a video which shows that cabin fever has hit the local Brits in total lockdown…

In a press briefing yesterday, President Trump suggested that sunlight or ultraviolet light could be put inside the body – or disinfectant injected into the body – to treat coronavirus. After a backlash, particularly from bleach manufacturers who issued statements telling people not to drink their product, the man with his finger on the nuclear button claimed he was being sarcastic and/or joking, despite the video clearly showing he was being serious.

My friend in Central London spoke to the ICU consultant again today.


The consultant is cautiously positive about my friend’s progress on the ventilator. He is initiating breaths for himself, and the ventilator helps to fully inflate his lungs. His ventilation requirement is now less than 50%, which is still life support but a lot less than it was even a week ago. This whole process is called ‘weaning’ from the ventilator and is done by minuscule reductions.  

He also briefly opened his eyes this morning before drifting off again. The consultant expects it will still take some time for him to come round properly because his lack of kidney function means the sedation is still hanging around, even a week after they stopped it. Some COVID-19 patients are taking weeks to wake up, he said. 

I asked about the previously mentioned tracheotomy, but they’ve decided not to rush the decision. He said the option with the best outcome would be extubation (removing the breathing tube completely and stopping ventilation) when they are more confident that he can breathe on his own. However, a tracheotomy for continued longer-term ventilation might still be necessary although not ideal, as patients who go this route have a worse prognosis. The consultant said they will see how the weekend goes and review on Monday.  

As always, it was stressed that my friend is still critically ill, needing life support, and that there is no guarantee of a good outcome. But the consultant added that his team does think my friend has a chance of recovery, otherwise they wouldn’t still be fighting for him…

So I see this as a glimmer.

Another friend I know – an anaesthetist at a local hospital – agreed that this all sounded encouraging. However he cautioned that, even if he does make it out of hospital, my friend’s lungs and/or kidneys might be permanently damaged. A high proportion of long-term ICU patients have psychological and psychiatric problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression (not to mention the much-documented ‘ICU delirium’). There is also a high risk of cognitive impairment. And the road to recovering some level of normal life will be measured in years, not months, with an army of physio and rehab support. He will need 24/7 care for months and obviously somebody living-in when he returns home. So there is a glimmer. But. at the same time… fuck!


UK hospital deaths related to coronavirus went up by 684 in the last 24 hours, making total deaths 19,506. Deaths in the US, where President Trump, despite figures to the contrary, says they are over the peak, have gone over 50,000. Globally, deaths are around 195,000.

Meanwhile, Captain Tom got to No 1 in the hit parade with his rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

SATURDAY 25th APRIL

The Guardian reports today on Mark Grenon: “The leader of the most prominent group in the US peddling potentially lethal industrial bleach as a ‘miracle cure’ for coronavirus wrote to Donald Trump at the White House this week… Grenon styles himself as ‘archbishop’ of Genesis II – a Florida-based outfit that claims to be a church but which in fact is the largest producer and distributor of chlorine dioxide bleach as a ‘miracle cure’ in the US. He brands the chemical as MMS, miracle mineral solution’, and claims fraudulently that it can cure 99% of all illnesses including cancer, malaria, HIV/AIDs as well as autism.”

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours was 813, making a total of 20,319; we are only the fifth country to go over 20,000.

Meanwhile, in Britain, rounding off the week, Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu’s latest video shows he has found it is easy to get distracted when homeschooling his children in locked-down London…

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 8 – Captain Tom and the cytokine storm

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 7

(Photograph by rottonara via Pixabay)

WEDNESDAY 15th APRIL

My friend in Central London, who has a close friend with coronavirus in a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit tells me: “He had a stable night. Everything as before except they are trying a tiny reduction in ventilation today. No feedback about that yet. A nursing friend says that ‘stable’ when in ICU is a good thing.

“Over the last week we have been inundated with emails and texts from his colleagues, neighbours and friends. There’s so much gratitude and respect for him out there. He has helped so many people. The moral support from everyone is amazing. We hope he knows just how appreciated he is.” 

The latest government figures today were: 761 coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours… so now 12,868 in total.

THURSDAY 16th APRIL

The latest government figures today are: 861 coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours… so now 13,729 in total

There are lots of feel-good factors on the news today because of 99-year-old Captain Tom Moore. He had set himself a target of walking round his back garden (he lives with his daughter) on his Zimmer frame 100 times before his 100th birthday on 30th April to raise £1,000 for the NHS. He started his fundraising on 8th April and completed his 100th lap today… and he has actually raised over £15 million. A petition has started to get him knighted.

Media company Public Radio International reported: ”Kalsarikännit, the Finnish tradition of getting drunk at home in your underwear, might be getting traction globally with over half of the world population under stay-at-home orders due to the novel coronavirus pandemic…”

Reacting to this, Esko Väyrynen, who organises the World Fart Championship in Finland, told me: “The day after proper kalsarikännit is called alushousupäivä (=underwear day). It makes easy to select how to dress. Six feet distance during pandemic is hard to keep. We Finns are so distanced already that no one of us want to go so near to anyone.”

From Holby City fiction to NHS reality…

Another story re-reported today from almost a week ago was the surreal fact that the BBC TV’s hospital drama series Holby City has given two fully-functioning ventilator machines to the new NHS Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre in London. Quite why the drama series needed a real one is a good question but the surreality of a fictional hospital giving a spare life-saving ventilator machine to a real hospital takes a bit of getting yer head round.

Today, after three weeks, the UK government extended the social lockdown, restricting people to their homes, by another three weeks.

FRIDAY 17th APRIL

By breakfast time this morning, Captain Tom had raised over £18 million.

My friend in Central London told me that the hospital now thought what was happening to her friend with coronavirus is a ‘cytokine storm’ – an over-reaction by the body’s immune system.

Basically cytokines are small proteins released by many different cells in the body, including those of the immune system where they coordinate the body’s response against infection and trigger inflammation. But, in some patients, excessive or uncontrolled levels of cytokines are released which then activate more immune cells, resulting in hyper-inflammation. This can seriously harm the patient.

Cytokine release (Photograph from scientificanimations.com via Wikipedia)

According to the New Scientist: “Cytokine storms might explain why some people have a severe reaction to coronaviruses while others only experience mild symptoms. They could also be the reason why younger people are less affected, as their immune systems are less developed and so produce lower levels of inflammation-driving cytokines.”

In the evening, my friend in Central London shared with me a newspaper article about a man in similar circumstances to her friend – and of the same age – and in a nearby hospital. The headline was: Dad With Zero Chance of Surviving Coronavirus Weaned Off Ventilator – But He is Not Out of The Woods Yet. The doctors had told his wife that he had no chance of surviving and allowed her and her two children ten minutes with him to say goodbye, though they had to wear Personal Protective Equipment and were not allowed to touch him.

The latest government figures are: 847 coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours… so now 14,576 in total.

SATURDAY 18th APRIL

The latest government figures are: 888 coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours… so now 15,464 in total 

Captain Tom has now raised £23 million for the NHS.

Captain Tom completes his 100th circuit…

… CONTINUED HERE

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