My COVID experience: Sadie Hallett

Mental Health Nurse and mother of two, Sadie Hallet from Plymouth has told us about her experience of COVID19:

Back in March, a few days before Mother’s Day, I started getting symptoms. At first I thought it was just a cold but the symptoms progressed. By March 24th I was feeling tired and had aching bones and a cough but I tried to ride it out at home. By March 28th I was getting very short of breath and finding it hard to breathe. Paramedics were called and after a brief assessment told me that I would need to go to hospital. By the time I got out to the ambulance I was gasping for breath and I was blue-lighted up to Derriford Hospital.

Things progressed quickly from there and within 10 minutes I’d had a chest x-ray. A consultant came straight over and told me I was showing all the signs of someone with advanced COVID19. He told me he was concerned about my levels of oxygen and would be making the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) aware of my case. A few hours later, he confirmed that my test for COVID19 had come back positive. By this point breathing was extremely difficult; I knew it had got a hold of me and things were not looking great. I was moved to a COVID ward where I was assessed by the ICU team. They told me that only a small amount of oxygen was getting into my blood and they needed to move me to critical care. I was put on a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine to try and get more oxygen into my lungs but at this point I was really struggling to breathe and it felt as if I was drowning.

Unfortunately CPAP didn’t work and I continued to deteriorate. The next stage was being put onto ventilation as I was now suffering from type 1 respiratory failure. At this point I didn’t know if I was going to survive. All I knew was that I was in a critical condition and my fate would lie in the hands of a machine. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to anyone before I was put on a ventilator as it all happened so quickly. After a week the doctors told my family that things were not looking good. My lungs were in a severely critical condition and my temperature had risen. All my family could do was hope and pray I would pull through this.

My partner rang in every morning and every evening for updates. Often there wasn’t much of a change but he always found the nurses friendly and he was able to build up a good rapport with them over time. He would then update all my other family members which took up a lot of his day. My two boys, Leighton who is 12 and Harrison who is 9 found it hard when I was in hospital. We’re very close and I spent nearly four weeks in hospital with no physical contact. I have never been away from them for that long before. They missed mummy cuddles a lot but daddy was so good looking after them.

Things started to turn around as I remained on a ventilator but was stable. On the 12th day I was taken off a ventilator and my family were overjoyed. However, after only a few hours my body just couldn’t cope so back on I went. Thankfully the second attempt of coming off the ventilator was successful and as the tubes were taken out, I was ready to get back to my boys! I knew my journey would be slow as they told me I would need to relearn how to walk, however, I was determined to do it (with the aid of my new walking stick, which I nicknamed Michael Caine).

As I continued to improve I was moved out of ICU and as I was being led out I was given a Guard of Honour. I was so overwhelmed and emotional. All these doctors and nurses who had helped save my life were cheering, clapping and shouting my name! I began physiotherapy back on the COVID ward and after 5 days, I was finally able to leave hospital and go home to my family.

I am really struggling to come to terms and process what happened as it all seemed to happen so quickly. The most difficult thing was trying to figure out what’s real and what wasn’t during the four or five days after coming off the ventilator, as I was suffering from delirium. The delirium I encountered was very scary and it seemed so real. The first day off the ventilator I was convinced I was in a Spanish Convent and thought the Sisters were telling me to pass over (telling me to die). Whilst there I also thought we were under attack from the IRA and I could hear them rioting outside, throwing bricks at the windows. On another occasion I thought I was paralysed and that I was leaving hospital via a secret train station. My family all turned up and threw me a party, however, they faced my wheelchair in front of a wall so I couldn’t see anything going on and then they told me I needed to go back into hospital. There is so much more I experienced due to the delirium but I would probably need to write a book to fit it all in! I’m hoping to start the process of dealing with the delirium I experienced with the help of Dr Rachel Clarke, the ICU Psychologist who I’m due to start sessions with soon.

My most memorable moment from my time in hospital was that there was an ICU nurse, whom I now call my guardian angel, as she seemed to be there throughout all the most difficult times (coming off the ventilator twice). I will never forget her kind and comforting eyes – when everything else around me seemed so scary. She showed me so much compassion and I have since tracked her down thanks to the power of social media to message her personally. Her name is Sophie Deloures and her face will always be with me, she has a special place in my heart.

I would like to urge the public to continue with lockdown measures and social distancing as Covid-19 is such a cruel and invisible illness and it can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime. We must help protect the NHS who help save lives like they did with mine.

To all the staff on Penrose ICU, I cannot thank you enough for helping to save my life when COVID-19 wanted to take it from me. The dedication, care and compassion that each and every one of you displayed will stay in my heart forever. You are all heroes and never gave up on me.

My two boys want to say ‘thank you’ for making sure that their mummy got home safely to them.

Sadie Hallett

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