Beyond the ICU: The road to recovery for three Covid patients

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Kara Digby

Three people, who altogether have spent more than 170 days being treated in intensive care for coronavirus, have been speaking to ITV Meridian about their journey beyond the hospital bed.

As the number of people admitted to hospital with the virus increases, their experiences are a stark reminder of the toll it can take on any one of us.

Greg Wain

Greg Wain, an NHS Nurse from Swanage, was in a coma for six weeks after contracting the virus in April.

He says: "When I woke up. I couldn't move my legs. I couldn't move my arms."

Greg Wain

Greg then spent weeks with rehabilitation staff - learning to walk and eat again. When he was strong enough, he walked out of Poole Hospital, applauded by staff.

He's been at home for several weeks, building up his physical strength day by day.

"Initially I couldn't climb the stairs, it was very difficult. And I had an oxygen concentrator to give me a bit more oxygen. But as the weeks have gone by, I've got stronger and stronger. And I'm no longer using sticks or a zimmer frame of anything like that. And the progress is there.

"I'm very grateful to still be here, because that's how profoundly traumatic it was."

Lin Bloor

Combined with weeks of rehabilitation, Lin Bloor, who lives near East Grinstead, spent 109 days in hospital.

Lin Bloor

She continues to make progress at home, walking further and further each day, and rejoining her social groups through video calls, but the effects of her time in ICU remain.She says: "I'm still not breathing as well as I used to. My calf muscles left me, most muscles, you know, had gone all flabby!"

Her husband Glyn says: "The physiotherapist was saying that one day in ICU takes a week to recover your muscle loss."

Jo Tillbrook

Jo Tillbrook from East Meon spent 43 days in intensive care. She says the first two months out of hospital were the hardest.   

She says: "I was just exhausted all the time, really tired, you know. Doing normal things, going up and down the stairs, was exhausting. It was like climbing a mountain."  

Jo Tillbrook with her husband Clive

She was fitted with a tracheotomy, allowing her to breathe using a ventilator. The scar now is a daily reminder of her ordeal.

"To be able to talk I had to effectively cover the hole to stop the air escaping so that the air would go over my vocal cords so I could have a voice. So I've got into the habit or holding it to do that."

The majority of coronavirus patients who come into the ICU need a form of respiratory support, usually through a ventilator. Patients may also require additional drugs that cannot be given on a normal ward, which would be given through syringe drivers and infusion pumps. In serious cases of coronavirus, patient's kidneys are at risk of failing, and so doctors may need to put them onto dialysis.

ICU bed at Royal Hampshire County Hospital Credit: ITV Meridian

Most patients are now treated with less invasive ventilation, along with new medication, however the effects of ICU takes it toll on the body. The after effects can include fatigue, muscle loss, and mixed memories.

Dr Stephen Wimbush, the clinical lead of the ICU at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital says: "We describe it families often as patients lying in bed but running a marathon. So it's a very energy-expensive process, recovering from critical illness. We find a number of patients get flashbacks to their time in intensive care, they have memory difficulties, they don't often remember a lot of what happens to them in intensive care. And of course unlike being under anesthetic, patients are often sedated and we try to have them as awake as possible because that doesn't speed up their recovery. Of course that leads to them having mixed memories of their time in ICU."

Watch: Extended interview with Dr Stephen Wimbush

As the number of patients on ventilation beds in the South East begins to increase, the hope is now, that with better ways of treating the virus and additional staff, more people like Lin, Greg and Jo will beat the odds too.

Support services and information can be found below:

ICU Steps - a charity and support group for ICU patients and their loved ones

Intensive Care Society - a professional body that provides information about intensive care for patients and relatives

HealthUnlocked intensive care forum – a forum for ICU patients and their loved ones

Your Covid Recovery - an online rehab service to provide personalised support to patients