I wish I had a more pleasant reason for writing today. I’m going to talk a little bit about what happened to Peter, my father-in-law, two years ago.
But the most important thing I have to say is:
Stay at home as much as you can.
Anthony’s dad, a fit, healthy man in his early seventies, caught seasonal flu in February 2018. Within three days he had pneumonia. Within ten days he was unconscious and on a ventilator.
Over the next three months, a team of at least 150 people worked to save Peter’s life. (Anthony’s mum has their names written down in a book, as many as we could remember.)
Intensive care consultants.
A fleet of respiratory experts from other hospitals.
At least sixty intensive care nurses who never left him alone.
Cleaning staff who painstakingly sanitised his room twice a day.
A music therapist who came into Peter’s room and played the flute, just in case he could hear it.
And many more nurses, doctors and support staff who gently took care of Peter and us, his terrified family.
Since we’re in the UK, we can only guess how much Peter’s care cost the National Health Service. £50,000 is a very conservative estimate.
Within 48 hours they’d requisitioned and hooked him up to a rare blood-cleaning machine which cost more than our car. He had MRI scans, CT scans, chest X-rays and a bottomless supply of medication.
He was given a sunny, private room.
(Anthony’s mum covered the walls and doors with family photographs and their grandson’s drawings.)
He was transferred to a specialist unit so he could be cared for by the most advanced respiratory team in the region. Basically if it might help, it happened.
Throughout those long months in intensive care, each nurse wrote a note to Peter at the end of their shift. The notes went into a special logbook intended to help him understand what had happened to him when he woke up.
Here’s what a nurse called Padraig wrote on the 17th of March, two years ago today:
We have worked amazingly well together overnight. You are absorbing your feed and helping yourself by giving breaths with the vent. I have washed your hair with your Head & Shoulders. You are smelling lovely. Overall you have done well. Keep it up. It’s currently a lovely sunrise and we have Classic FM on. I shall see you at the start of next week. One day at a time. Keep it up.
What I’m saying is that time and money were no object.
Peter was given every opportunity to recover. And while we waited to see if that could happen, they washed his hair with his own shampoo and played his favourite music.
When it became clear that recovery was not possible, he passed away with dignity and power, under his own steam, surrounded by people who love him.
Everyone deserves this kind of care.
This kind of care isn’t possible in a pandemic.
Imagine someone you know arriving at hospital in Peter’s condition…except there are no beds, no ventilators, no oxygen masks and no-one is available to attend to them.
Exhausted doctors and nurses are coughing as they fight to save lives in corridors and waiting rooms because every ward is full, and ambulances are still queuing up outside.
No-one should have to go through that. So we have to clear the lanes. We have to immediately remove ourselves from the causal chain.
Not everyone who catches this virus will get as sick as Peter, but a significant percentage will and we can all pass it on. If we don’t take steps to remove ourselves from normal social contact, we might not simply give someone the sniffles or a slight fever.
We’re potentially going to snuff out lives in the most painful way. We’re potentially contributing to enormous misery.
Is this over the top?
Am I being extreme or needlessly provoking fear?
No, this is what’s really happening in hospitals around the world today.
Anthony and I have closed our shop for the foreseeable future. We’ll practise social distancing for as long as necessary. I’m encouraging you to join us, even if it seems extreme or too early.
Exactly what you do depends on your situation, but we can all cut the social contact that’s possible to cut. Let’s do everything we can as individuals to slow this thing down. Staying at home as much as you can, wearing a mask when you can’t and encouraging everyone you know to do the same are genuinely meaningful things to do.
It’s scary to talk to you like this today. I know it’s not what you expect. But this isn’t a March 17th like any other.
What we do today is going to have a huge effect on what happens tomorrow, and next week and next year.
We’re all counting on each other to do the right thing.
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