'I hallucinated, I was delirious, I was thrashing around' - Michael Rosen opens up on his Covid-19 ordeal
In his first live television interview, the popular poet and former Children's Laureate talks about his brush with death and battle to recover from Covid-19, after spending almost seven weeks in an induced coma.
Speaking to Ben Shephard and Kate Garraway, he said: “I’m feeling good. Covid has a long tail depending on how severe the infection was and if you were in intensive care, which I was. But there are people all over the country, you know better than me Kate, that it isn’t an illness that you have and leave behind. I am feeling good, but I hope Kate, it gives you some hope too.”
Asked if he had been hours from death on occasion, he explained: “Indeed, several times and sometimes, because of what Emma, my wife, has told me or the doctors have told me, they have this little phrase, ‘very poorly’. The doctors say you are ‘very poorly’… they were telling me my kidneys were in trouble, my liver was in trouble, that I had respiratory troubles and also, I got a secondary infection of pneumonia that worried them as well and they had to pack antibiotics into me.
“Right from the very beginning, we followed the instruction which was not to go to the GP and not to go to A&E, it was only because we have a friend on the patch here who is a GP and she tested my oxygen levels, and Emma rushed me to A&E to get tested. In the end it was luck, I might have gone that night. At various stages over the three to four months, I might have disappeared.”
He added he had no underlying health issues, but explained: “I have an underactive thyroid but I take medication to deal with that every day.”
The author went on: “ I’m 74 and male and that puts me in the target zone. It’s quite clear just from reading things in some people, Covid finds a nice home… we don’t know exactly quite why a virus sits in one person’s body and rather than another one. If someone does have an underlying health problem it’s the consequences that are difficult to cope with, asthma and that.”
Speaking about the NHS staff who saved his life, he explained: “Just massive and incredible, they saved my life several times.”
He said the NHS staff had written down details about his hospital experience: “This may not seem very big or important looking but this is an incredible little book. The nurses who looked after me when I was in intensive care, wrote basically little diary entries and letters to me when they came off duty. So there are pages in here, of accounts of what they saw me in the state I was in. It’s so moving and so incredible, it’s wonderful.”
Following his stay in intensive care, he was moved to a rehab hospital: “When I went in I couldn’t even stand up, or if I did just about stand up I was panting and gasping and hated it. The team of physiotherapists there got me walking to the loo, which was an absolutely incredible achievement.”
He added that his wheelchair technique had been impressive and he named his walking stick “Sticky McStick Stick”.
“Then I was told not to be stick reliant. I’m teaching myself to walk, which is coming on, thanks to the physios at St Pancras rehab hospital,” he added.
His low blood pressure had affected his recovery too. “In the morning when I wake up I do a whole lot of arm and leg stuff to get my heart going again. Because it dips I can feel it because it’s sort of dozy. The walking is both the heart and the weakness particularly in my thighs and core, they are pathetic, they are just like cardboard,” he said.
Michael, who still wears a traceotomy bandage on his neck, was also joined live by two of the therapists from St Pancras Hospital, who've helped during his recuperation. He held back tears as he called the nurses and doctors “heroes”. “They just did fantastic things, they got me walking… they are wonderful, they are my total heroes…”
Speaking about the emails sent by his wife to update his family whilst he had been in hospital, he explained they had helped him piece together his time in ICU. He said: “For nearly seven weeks there, I have no memory of it. I’m being told I hallucinated, I was delirious, I was thrashing around but I’ve hardly got any memory of it. There is one memory I have of being in mittens trying to get the mittens off and the nurse saying, ‘Relax, save your energy.’ I don’t know at what stage in the seven weeks that was.”
The writer, who has lost hearing in one ear and eyesight in one eye, added that the events have already inspired him to start writing bits and pieces down. He added when he’s faced trauma in the past, like his son dying, he’s used his writing to help him through and understand how he’s feeling.