Nikki O'Hara, who is 53 and has no underlying health conditions, warns the coronavirus is real and everyone is at risk
When I left Hairmyres Hospital, South Lanarkshire on 5 January in tears of happiness, I promised the staff the one thing I would do is let people know this virus is real. I know, it happened, it got me.
And who am I?
Some of you are family, friends, work colleagues, old school or college pals, Facebook friends and some of you won’t know me. That doesn’t matter. The message is the same. For some of you that know me this will come as a shock. It will scare you. It terrifies me and still haunts me and my family and don’t doubt will for a long, long time.
I am just an everyday sort of 53-year old mum, partner and daughter, living in Strathaven and working in the third sector. I work hard and love life to the full. I am fit, healthy and have no underlying health problems. I have been off work once in eight years.
I tested positive for Covid-19 on 17 December 2020, my son’s 19th birthday. My partner had it, so I wasn’t overly surprised when I got it. I felt a bit rough for the first few days. A cough, a bit of a headache and a slight temperature. Working and self-isolating at home I carried on working a bit because that’s what you do, right? Christmas was round the corner and I was trying to get organised.
A couple of friends had mentioned getting an oximeter, a wee gadget that you attach to your finger that monitors your oxygen saturation levels, so along with my last minute Christmas shopping, I slipped one in my Amazon shopping basket for £20. I assumed I would never actually have to use it. I looked for a thermometer, again just in case and all I could find was the kids-in-the ear-one from 10 years ago that had no battery. A quick thermometer purchase from the village and my Covid emergency pack was in ready. Those two pieces of equipment probably saved my life.
Seven days into the Covid virus, I maybe felt a little worse. I checked the oximeter and the reading fluctuated. We all had a go. My reading was showing my oxygen levels were slightly lower than the rest of the family. I had a temperature. I was a bit unsettled as knew my partner who was out of isolation was heading south as his dad had Covid and was in hospital (it was not connected to our family Covid virus). Having dementia and Covid was difficult for everyone, so my partner’s support was required.
I woke as he left and felt anxious. We agreed he would leave, and I might contact the doctor for some advice. I was feeling slightly breathless but nothing too concerning, and I thought I had a temperature. I contacted NHS 24 and explained how I felt and advised them that I did have an oximeter. They asked me to check my O2 sats (the amount of oxygen that is in your bloodstream), temperature and climb the stairs and check them again. The telephone support team were concerned about my results and asked me to get to hospital as soon as possible.
That was the start of the most terrifying journey of my life. For two days I was stable on oral anti biotics in hospital but then I took a dip, with a temperature of 39.7 and Covid pneumonia impacting my lungs. I was ill, very ill and needed iv antibiotics, steroids and oxygen to assist my breathing. I had no underlying health problems. I had seen these stories on TV but how the hell had it got to me? My 22-year-old daughter also then contracted the virus but her boyfriend that lives with us didn’t. She felt unwell, but thankfully only had mild symptoms.
I spent the next 12 days in hospital terrified and powerless, scared like the other eight ladies who I shared the ward with at various times – all, in the main, aged around 50 including a farm worker, two carers, an NHS support worker and not an underlying health problem in sight. A couple of other ladies did have complications like diabetes and high blood pressure. They had also spent time in the intensive therapy unit (ITU).
I had no Christmas or New Year. I had no visitors, but I didn’t care. The terror didn’t leave me throughout my time in hospital, regardless of the endless reassurance I was given by nursing staff and of course my family and close friends were hugely worried as the impact of the virus progressed.
I don’t doubt the staff were concerned too, but not once did they show it. Night and day, they provided love, compassion, care and empathy. They had their own terrifying experiences from the last 11 months with the majority having had the virus but still they recovered and returned to work in the Covid ward tending people like me with respect and dignity, apologising for waking me every four hours for observation, for taking blood, for the noisy extractor fans. Not once did they complain about having to put PPE on every time they came into our ward, about helping us onto a commode or about the impact Covid was having on their own families’ lives. The impact on these amazing people really upset me although it was something, I had heard time and time again on the news- “The impact on the NHS.” I was now seeing the raw reality on real people’s daily lives.
I was finally able to breathe unassisted after 12 days but taking the oxygen away was difficult as in a way it had become a comfort, a crutch. It was a long, lonely 12 days and I am now massively relieved to be at home recuperating with my family. The first few days I was ridden with anxiety about the symptoms returning, but now know this was also the impact of coming off steroids. I am still scared but know I am also the luckiest girl in the world. It will be a long journey both emotionally and physically, but I am alive and I am getting better every day.
Sadly, my beautiful father in law died of Covid and dementia on Christmas Eve. Thankfully his lovely wife who he lived with, despite being fragile and vulnerable, never contracted this indiscriminate virus.
Why have I written this?
Because it could be you. Covid is very real and terrifying. The virus respects no one. Young, old, fit, black, white. We are all vulnerable. We are all at risk and we need to take it seriously, every minute of every day. Buy a thermometer and oximeter and don’t wait if you are poorly. No one is safe and every single person needs to take responsibility for their actions. The NHS are my absolute lifesavers. Please, please don’t put them under any more pressure.
Stay at home if you can. Adhere to the government guidelines when you are out the house. Wash your hands thoroughly when you come home. Look out for the signs that you might have Covid.
Please share this article because it could save a life.
Nikki O’Hara is director of Home Start Glasgow North, which works to support families with young children in the city who are facing difficulties