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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 12 – A Rollercoaster ride in Intensive Care

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 10

(Photograph by Amin Moshrefi via UnSplash)

SUNDAY 3rd MAY

In the last few blogs, I have been posting messages from my friend in Central London whose friend has been seriously ill with coronavirus in a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit since April 4th. Her latest update is:


A bit of encouraging news for Sunday lunch. 

My friend’s breathing has thankfully stabilised again so they are trying him off the vent for an hour to breathe with just an oxygen mask. Not for long because his breathing muscles tire quickly, but it means he has regained a bit of ground. 

Kidneys still needing machine. BP needing slightly less help. 

I just had a video call with him. They had raised his head in bed and he looked sleepy but comfortable. When I said his name a few times he briefly opened his eyes. I chatted to him for about 3 minutes about his daughter and the garden and the choir. At the end I said, “We are going to beat this and we are all waiting for you to come home,” and then the nurse told him to smile and his lips moved very slightly!

I felt that he is definitely in there, wanting to communicate. It took so much effort, but he did it.


UK reported deaths in the last 24 hours are up 315 to a total in hospitals, care homes and elsewhere to 28,131.

At 1730 instead of going out, I had a nap and woke up at 1930. So bang goes my daily walk and even changing out of my pyjamas. This will be the first time in lockdown that I have not gone out for a daily exercise.

It seems a short, slippery slope from this to living in a tent in my bedroom, shitting in the bedside table and eating spiders and occasional unlucky mice.

Meanwhile, Romanian showbiz star Dragos Mostenescu has posted another in his series of videos about being in lockdown in London with his family.

MONDAY 4th MAY

In the last 24 hours an additional rise of 288 coronavirus-related deaths in the UK, making the total 28,743.

Today’s message from my friend in Central London was:


On Friday, the consultant told me he didn’t expect my friend to last the weekend.

This morning, he said that he was surprised to see my sick friend has gained some ground. His breathing has stabilised again and he managed some hours off the ventilator with only the help of a mask. Oxygen requirement about 30%. 

And more positives… After my video call with my friend yesterday, the nurse said today he is more alert! This morning he squeezed her hand on command and also tracked her finger with his eyes. She thinks he even managed a slight nod in answer to a question. 

After all that, he was exhausted and went into a heavy sleep, so I probably won’t get to speak to him today. Apparently he didn’t sleep at all last night, so, rather than give him sedatives, they will try to regulate his rhythms with melatonin. 

The nurse asked me to send photos of friends and loved ones. The staff will print them out and put them round his bed so he’ll have something familiar to look at when he’s awake. I’ll also send a photo of his beloved garden. 

Slowly slowly slowly, with our love and prayers…


(Photo by James Heilman, MD, via Wikipedia)

TUESDAY 5th MAY

My friend in Central London messaged me:


He developed an infection today so that is another new bump on the road. 

In the early evening they phoned me about the fungal infection and said that, if it became invasive, it was very serious because invasive Candida is a big killer in ICUs.


WEDNESDAY 6th MAY

My friend in Central London sent me two messages today:


I didn’t sleep a wink. Then this morning spoke to the consultant.

They are still treating the fungal infection.

He had a body CT scan yesterday. Unsurprisingly, it shows extensive changes in his lungs and abnormal changes in the kidneys – both expected results as the virus affected both. They also found signs of colitis/inflammation in the bowel – again not surprising with the amount of meds he’s on. 

Now the good stuff. Christina who is looking after him, last saw him when she ceased his sedation some weeks ago. Today she was crying tears of happiness to see his progress. The other staff thought she was being too emotional! 

But he squeezed her hand this morning and is slightly nodding and shaking his head to questions. She asked him whether he’s in pain. He shook his head. 

The physios have been in and sat him on the end of the bed for a few minutes, with support. He can lift one hand, but still has no feeling in his feet so they didn’t stand him. He can’t yet keep his head upright without help but he did try. He has accumulated quite a lot of fluid from being immobile, so the physios keep him moving, even when lying down. This was the first time the physios felt he was ready to sit. 

Christina said that he is trying to mouth words and she explained to him not to try to actually speak yet because of his tracheostomy. 

She also said that, now he’s more awake, they are constantly telling him where he is, what time and what day and how long he’s been there, what the weather is like and bits from the news. 

Yesterday I had a short FaceTime with him but he was really sleepy. Christina will try again today but, after his considerable exertions this morning, he may sleep the rest of the day. 

Lastly, this was our final chat with the consultant (not Christina) as we are “past the peak” – ICU admissions have stabilised – so the consultant can now return to non-COVID-19 patients in another ICU. He wished my friend well for a continued recovery although, in his typical fashion, he warned it will be a long road. 

He said he was sorry that, in these terrible times, he could not deliver his reports to us in a more personal way rather than by phone. He added that he was grateful to be able to leave us on a day when my friend looked more stable.

(LATER)

Yay! Had a lovely FaceTime with my friend! For about 5 minutes!! He was awake the whole time. He smiled! I told him about all the messages from his friends, family and workmates. He mouthed a couple of words too. 

The speech therapist will see him to assess whether he is ready to have a speech valve fitted – maybe this week. 

And the sun is shining. A pretty darn good day!


THURSDAY 7th MAY

In the last 24 hours, UK coronavirus deaths rose by 539 to a total of 30,615 

A couple of weeks ago, “somewhere in Southern England”, my friend Lynn shot a video of what happened in her street during the weekly ‘Thursday night clap’ for the NHS.

Tonight, her husband Frank shot a second video reminding us how Brits react in total lockdown… Lynn is glimpsed at the very end (definitely not at the very start)…

FRIDAY 8th MAY

Today is the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Big celebrations had been planned country-wide but of course, with self-isolation and distancing, it was mostly a stay-at-home-and-watch-the-TV day. 

I was in bed most of the day with a swirly head and my deadened brain feeling like it was wrapped in a thick towel inside my skull. When I stood up or walked, my legs ached.

I felt a tiny bit vomity – at the bottom of my throat – but I knew I would not vomit.

I had a slight difficulty breathing in bed.

But it ain’t coronavirus; I think just an effect of inactivity, stuck at home.

South London neo-punk group The Outbursts posted a song online which gives a further insight into the effects of a (now) seven-week lockdown.

 

But, in fact, Outbursts member Ian Breslin tells me it is nothing to do with lockdown. He says:

“It’s dedicated to a chap I was fishing with in the Amazon for a month. He didn’t wash for 9 days, smelt of puke. He confessed that the longest he has gone without washing was 6 weeks. He had fungus on his balls. He rubbed banana skin all over his face in the mornings, as he was worried about cancer from suncream etc. After 3 days, his face was full of blisters…”

Meanwhile, in the last 24 hours, coronavirus deaths in the UK rose by 626 to a total of 31,241.

SATURDAY 9th MAY

In the last 24 hours, coronavirus deaths rose by 346 to a total of 31,587.

I am feeling perfectly fine again today. Of course.

I am reminded of a philosophical example of false logic.

“There is heavy snow on the tracks, so the train arrived late at the station.”

“The train arrived late at the station, therefore there must have been heavy snow on the tracks.”

(Photograph by Casey Tucker via UnSplash)

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 11 – 86-year-old’s Lockdown Survival Guide

“Life is a bitch these days for everyone…”

Lynn Ruth Miller is 86, a US comic currently self-isolating in North London.

She has some valuable lockdown advice to share…


Life is a bitch these days for everyone. But I have lived through so much worse. I lived through the polio epidemic, the sinking of the Titanic, the Dust Bowl… But enough about my sex life.  

Let me give you some tips I have learned through the years to help each and every one of you get through this crisis, even though we are all beginning to look like our hirsute four-legged ancestors, walking around with holes in our soles.

The first rule is TOUCH NOTHING. The trick here is to learn to use your elbows and your nose instead of your hands. Fortunately for me, I am Jewish and my nose has a great deal of dexterity. I have trained it to open the mail, turn a door knob and sniff out infections. If you are not Jewish, you will have to wear gloves and be forced to use your hands. Elbows cannot turn on lamps or open a gate. Sorry.

“Now is the time to read a hardcover book…”

Now is the time to read a hardcover book. You don’t have to tuck reading material into your backpack to read on the tube; you can now do your reading at home. So haul out those hardcovers, especially the ones with titles you don’t want others to see, like Dirty Girls Come Clean or Talk Dirty to Me. The latter is a guide to effective bedroom talk so, if you are having a bit of trouble getting the children to go to sleep, this might be just the advice you are looking for.

We all need exercise and we have been told not to leave our homes. What to do? Well, we could all learn a lesson in perseverance from Captain Tom Moore, who raised over £31 million for the NHS, toddling around his garden in his Zimmer frame. He not only got the exercise he needed, but he managed to stay fit for his 100th birthday.

Of course, the captain HAD a garden and many of us live in flats several floors above ground. It is very important that you move your arms and legs and keep your muscles working. Try running up and down the stairs in your building, waving your arms shouting “Fire!” That will get everyone else up and moving as well.

Laundry can be a bit of a challenge when you are stuck at home. It is not healthy to wear the same clothes day in and day out but, if you do not have a washer in your home, what to do? The best solution is not to wear any clothes at all. No-one is going to see you anyway. The Naturists among us will tell you that staying naked improves your sleep, strengthens your skin and bones and enhances your self-image. The idea is that everyone else looks a lot worse than you do, so why worry?  

“Living in the buff…” (Photo by Peter Klashorst)

Living in the buff does set up an extra challenge for parents stuck at home with the kids. You will need to explain why your body has a few things on it that your little ones do not have. Try hard not to frighten them when you tell them that all that hair and those funny things that stick out will happen to them one day.

If you are stuck at home, you have to create three meals a day for yourself and your family. Options to order out are very limited – Too expensive and besides who wants to open the door to a masked, cloaked stranger with gloves on after dark? Way too risky.

The answer is to make soup. You do not need a recipe for soup. You just open the fridge and grab whatever is in there, boil it up with a bay leaf and pulverize it. If you wait long enough between meals, your family won’t care what it tastes like.  

Hunger can be very non-discriminating. I once made a soup of rotten lettuce, a decaying peach, two sprouting onions and a worn-out sponge. The dog loved it.

All of us like to look our best, but – Hey! – you are at home and you can’t go out. Who is looking? Let your hair grow; wear a towel if it’s chilly; forget underwear – it just catches in crevices anyway – and (this is the trick that makes it all worthwhile) COVER ALL THE MIRRORS. You will feel beautiful. If your partner makes a smart remark, whip out a hand mirror to show that bastard what HE looks like (it is always a He). Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

Many of us are all alone in our homes with no-one to talk to, no-one to cook for, not even a pet to worry about. That means no hugs, no kisses, no sex until the lockdown is over.

(Photograph by Daniele Levis Pelusi via UnSplash)

This need not be a problem. For soft, furry cuddles, hug a teddy bear. And be sure to give yourself lots of hot nights out. All you need is a bottle of wine, a bit of imagination and your hand. That talk about losing your eyesight is a lot of poppycock (which is exactly what you will be having anyway).

Boredom can be a real challenge when you are stuck at home. Try to spice up each day with a different activity.

One day, skip around the living room. Another, hide under the bed. Try eating with your back to the plate. Just be sure you put the dog in the other room. Do not worry about the cat. She is far too fastidious to eat from someone else’s dish.

If you are working from home, you can keep your mind occupied for at least 8 hours a day if you ignore the children throwing silverware at the wall or pooping on the rug.

It is the weekends that are the real challenge. 

My advice is to make each weekend a novelty. Wear something unusual; eat an ethnic meal; dance to music you have never heard;  whip up a soufflé; whip each other. There is nothing like a bondage mitt or an anal hook to add a bit of variety to your Saturday night.

The most important advice is to enjoy this lovely time to get to know who you really are. At last, you will understand why you weren’t invited to that posh diner party. Live with it.

And now is the time to accept that your children are real people with distinct personalities. It is useless to murder them. What would you do with the bodies? Garbage collection has been reduced to almost nothing.

Remember, it is those very children who will decide when to pull the plug when you are ill. If you chain them to the bed or tape their mouths shut, they will make you pay.

Above all else, do not share your toilet paper.

Now that the market shelves are empty, toilet paper has become the new currency. Treasure it. When I was young, diamonds were a girl’s best friend. In the early 21st century, it was Botox. Today it is a roll of Andrex.

As my mother used to say: “One good wipe is worth a thousand drips.”

… DIARY CONTINUED HERE

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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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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 7 – The human effect on friends and family

… CONTINUED, REALLY, FROM DIARY No 5

EASTER SUNDAY 12th APRIL

The UK figures for deaths related to coronavirus are now over 10,000 – in fact, 10,612.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson was discharged from hospital today, after being in an Intensive Care Unit.

My Central London friend, mentioned in previous blogs, who has a friend in an Intensive Care Unit with the virus, told me that, last night:

“A consultant phoned me after ICU rounds. He said my friend’s oxygen requirement remains high but was stable on maximum ventilation – but he is now needing 24/7 dialysis. His blood has shown a bacterial infection somewhere although they don’t know where, so they are treating that with broad spectrum antibiotics and it is improving. He has no fever. The swab from last week has confirmed he has COVID-19.

“The consultant said that they (and we) were hoping by now for a small sign of improvement because, after a week, most patients who make it out the other side are showing some reduction in ventilator dependence. They will keep giving him all the support they can, in the hope his body can take over some of the breathing. But the more and longer support they give – and the more organs involved – the more his survival is compromised. 

“The consultant was quite blunt and it was hard to hear and it is awful to write. I am beyond sad and distressed. Sort of numb, then tears, then numb. Yet I am getting a lot of support all round and a huge amount of loving messages for my friend. 

“I am so busy fielding questions and talking to his family and friends and answering so many texts coming through with good wishes. He has so much more living to do, such a zest for life; he is so generous and charitable, so fit and healthy and active at 59, always climbing up those hills near where he lives (his home is not in London). No pre-existing medical issues except for a bit of gout. He has helped so very many people with so many things – I had no idea, but I am receiving a wealth of heartwarming messages. 

“This is a nightmare for so many families, I cannot comprehend the enormity.” 

EASTER MONDAY 13th APRIL

British comedy performer Tim Brooke-Taylor died of coronavirus yesterday. Someone asked me if I had ever met him and, for the life of me, I could not remember. But, then, my friend Lynn told me she had had a dream last night in which she had been in the Green Room at London Weekend Television and disgraced film director Roman Polanski was sitting in a chair not talking to anyone. It was only when she woke up that she remembered she actually HAD encountered Roman Polanski in the Green Room at LWT years ago and he was sitting in a chair not talking to anyone. She had forgotten she had ever encountered him. He was, she said, extremely small.

I had a flash of a dream myself last night about having a dream about having a dream (it was one of those dreams!) about something I was told last century by an Italian archaeologist who was a sleeper agent for the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Strange but true. I have mentioned it before – years ago – in this blog. He told me:


One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman, the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearful eyes, as if she is looking right inside him. Afterwards, he becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

“Of course!” says the great Khan. “Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!”

“So (he) takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army…”

So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, travels to the other city. When he arrives, he sees the same dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:

“I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so far away, I was worried that you would not make it here in time for your appointment.”

And the standard-bearer realises that Death is with him.


I got another message from my friend in Central London:

“I just spoke to the Senior Critical Care Nurse.

“My friend had a less good night, needing meds to support blood pressure. Today more stable although still needing dialysis. I asked whether it is possible for his kidneys to recover from acute renal failure and she said Yes. 

“The plan this afternoon is to try decreasing oxygen by a minuscule step to see if he can tolerate less ventilation. This is something they do every few days to see if there’s any improvement in lung function. 

“He is not absorbing feed well at the moment. 

“Overall, the nurse told me, they cannot predict the outcome, as he continues to be critically ill and has not yet turned a corner. However, she added that they continue to support him because, at this point, there is still a possibility of improvement.

“So we are not without hope. 

“It sort of depends who one talks to at the hospital. Some doctors are very blunt. The other day one said to me: ‘He’s not dead, so that’s a positive.’ Whereas the nursing staff are more compassionate but they may just be more skilled at delivering the info in a more palatable way… Who knows?” 

The UK figures for hospitals today are 717 dead in last 24 hours. Total 11,329

It was like finding the Ark of the Covenant…

TUESDAY 14th APRIL

The highlight of today was going into the local Iceland store and finding three plastic bottles of antibacterial handwash. I have not seen anything like these for maybe three weeks. I only bought one bottle, of course, as I am not a panic-buyer.

There were some face masks on sale in a small local shop last week – one-use only masks – at £5 each.

Online, I got some PVC gloves (£10 for 100, including postage) six days ago, kept forgetting to put them on the first three days and have worn them the last three days. 

But I can’t stop random scratching and touching bits of my cranial anatomy. Which, I suspect, makes wearing the gloves rather pointless. 

Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu has put online another episode of his series about being in the London lockdown with his family:

Meanwhile, YouGov today reported that “With some public health experts warning that the government could face ‘an unforgiving reckoning’ for its early handling of the coronavirus crisis, we asked Britons how confident they are in the scientific advice that is being given to them by its health advisers.

“71% are either fairly (57%) or very (14%) confident in the advice being given.

“Only 21% are not very (16%) or not at all (4%) confident.”

Today’s government figures are that the number of coronavirus hospital deaths jumped by 778 in the last 24 hours to a total of 12,107.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 6 – 86-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller is angry

Globetrotting American comedian, author and occasional burlesque dancer Lynn Ruth Miller is very pissed-off at being forced into a total lockdown in London. She has written about her recent trips in this blog (Search for her name). And she was due to perform in Europe, Scandinavia, the Far East, Australia and North America in upcoming months, but has had to cancel. Now she is VERY annoyed. She explains why in this open-letter plea to Westminster… which she rounds-off with a 90-second song…


In 2020, there are more people over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 5 – a ratio that has never occurred before, according to Deutsche Bank (and they should know; they are German).

And now the UK government has kept all of us over 70 confined to our homes in a lockdown.

That is blatant ageism at its worst.

Why? Because the powers that control us are looking at everyone through the wrong lens. 

They are evaluating each of us on the basis of their own preconceptions about age instead of accessing the quality of our immune systems.  

It turns out that the older you are the more resilient you are to illness.  

The current coronavirus pandemic has actually affected men aged 40-60 disproportionately along with people who have compromised immune systems.

But that isn’t me.

And I am stuck in the house.

Let’s face it. I am old…very old.  

When Google tells me it will take me ten minutes to walk someplace it always takes me twenty.  If I would dare to drive a car, I would never go over 20mph. In a car, I would keep the turn signal – the indicator signal – on just in case I have to make a right turn. I can’t say Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers any more. I look like an un-pressed rag and I have more hair on my chin than my foo foo.

But I am healthy, filled with energy and I have an exciting life… or I did until I was told that – just because I am old – I need to get someone else to do my shopping and I damn well better not get on a bus.

For some people over 70, this is not a hardship. They live in homes with other people. But I am alone… no partner, no children, no pet to care for… just me. The government now allows me one solitary walk a day and no-one to hug. And that is endangering my psychological well-being.

Now, I respect rules. I do not want to infect anyone and I do not want to be infected. I stand 2 meters away from people when I walk and I cover my mouth when I cough. But, when I see some 69 year-old guy in a Zimmer frame sailing off to Sainsbury’s, I can’t help but think: Why can’t I go there too?… and not at 7am when not even the birds are awake.

Psychology today says that without the boost of oxytocin that comes with physical touch, elderly individuals may end up feeling more stressed and their physical health may suffer. In fact, people who are affection-deprived are less happy, more lonely, more likely to experience depression and stress and, in general, in worse health. They have less social support and lower relationship satisfaction.

I’ll bet you legislators never thought of that when you told us to stay home, did you?

So for the sake of my well-being and my desperate need for a cuddle, I suggest everyone over 70 should be awarded a puppy and a loving visitor.  

In my case I would prefer a toy boy – You know: someone in his 70s that can still think at best.  

At the very least, I want him to have a couple of teeth left.

Think about that, all you legislators, while you are giving away money to small businesses and independent workers.  

Money helps but, when you cannot leave the house to spend it, a hug can be worth ten visits to a psychiatrist.

You just might save even more lives that way than you are now by locking us in our living rooms.

I have written a song about it:

… CONTINUED HERE

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