Friday, May 29, 2020

Lockdown Grief - Story

23rd May 2021

This from last year. Turns out we all had Covid 19. Things are very different now. Yet, who knew that we would still be under restrictions, wearing masks, keeping 2 metres apart? I really thought it would all be over by now. 
Scientists are saying that we'll probably have to endure waves of uncertainty for the next four or five years .

24th May 2020

On Easter Sunday this year I didn't cook dinner or come out of my isolation room except to eat what the others had cooked. Even that was a huge effort and I crawled back upstairs afterwards feeling exhausted and collapsed onto the bed. The fatigue was indescribable. My chest hurt, but not much. I had a temperature, aches and pains and a headache, all of which I was trying to control with paracetamol. We'd been warned not to take Ibuprofen.  
  I'm not sure I had corona virus, all I know is that I was unwell and stayed alone in the tiny bedroom for a week. My husband and two grown up children living with me were also unwell, my daughter much worse than me, suffered for more than two weeks,  at one point looking so grey and in so much pain that I wanted to take her to hospital. She said no - typical nurse. I didn't sleep for two nights worrying about her.
We are all well now and lucky to have come out the other side without too much drama. Many more were not as fortunate.

Below is a story that was published in Please See Me, an online medical publication. 

Lockdown Grief  

Friday 27th March, in a village outside Birmingham, Brian noticed that he wasn't feeling right, that he was much more tired than usual. He managed to get himself to work but cocooned himself away in his office, leaving early, just after four. He went home and headed straight for bed, hoping the extraordinary tiredness he was experiencing would soon lift.

 The next morning, he found it extremely difficult to get up, but managed to drag himself out the door swallowing some pills along with an energy drink.
Being a store manager for one of the big supermarkets his duty called him in, especially with all the drama going on with people panic buying. That morning he was hoping the shelves would be at least half stocked for his customers. Still the toilet roll supply couldn't keep up and it barely made it out to the floor before it disappeared. They'd already limited the amount people could buy.
He struggled through two hours before, reluctantly, handing over to Lesley, his number two. Although she was more than capable, Brian didn't want to give her the weight of the responsibility what with all that was happening.
It never occurred to him that he might have the virus, thinking that his body was just reacting to the stress of the last few weeks, the uncertainty, the unpredictability.

The pains in his legs started the following Monday. Checking the NHS website and finding this was not one of the symptoms confirmed his thoughts. Ok, just rest then, he thought. But the pain was quite severe, so he took some paracetemol and stayed in bed.

"Morning Bri, are you feeling any better this morning?" Marie, his wife of sixteen years, left the tray down by the door. What she wanted to do was sneak in beside him and pull the duvet up over them both. He'd been in the spare room now for over a week and Marie and their three children were obviously worried, but also a bit fed up.
 "When's dad gunna show me the planet thing?" Rory, six, had asked her just before she went to make his breakfast. She didn't answer.
"I think so, chest still hurts though. I think I'll come down today." He did feel better and thought he must be over the worst.

"Ok, well, I'll change the bed while you're up. Mark and Rory will be pleased. And Jess wants help with her science, more your scene than mine" Jess was studious, ambitions. Even at the tender age of thirteen, she had her sights set on becoming a Doctor and was working out what she had to do to make it happen. Brian and Marie were proud of her and amazed at her dogged determination but suspected that eventually she'd change her mind. There was no one in the family in medicine. Marie herself was a primary school teacher.

Although a lot better, he wasn't well enough to go back to work and the recommendation if you had any of the symptoms was to self-isolate for fourteen days. He'd had a temperature and flu like symptoms, including a sore chest, but no dry cough. He now waited his time to get back to work.
In the meantime, he enjoyed having some time with the family, albeit not doing the normal thing they liked to do together, cycling, swimming, and exploring in the woods near their home. He and Jess spent an hour in the morning with her science books, which they both enjoyed, with her intermittently questioning him about his symptoms and looking them up on google.

On the 8th April, Wednesday of Holy Week, things suddenly took a turn for the worse. He woke with a bad headache and slightly breathless.

"Shall we call a doctor?" Marie asked, "you do look a bit grey.

"That'll be low oxygen," Jess studied her father's face, on her own there was a worried frown.

"No, it's not much, it'll settle." He rubbed Marie's shoulder gently, while nodding at Jess.  He knew they were worried, but he also knew he wasn't that bad. And the NHS were telling people only to come in if really bad. Also, he still didn't think it was the virus.
He'd only been back in his own bed for a couple of days, and now took himself back to the little room as much for peace for Marie as anything. He could feel her eyes on him in the night and thought they'd both sleep better if he went.

"Is dad gunna die?" Mark was on the spectrum. His deadpan face threw Marie, even though she knew this was a logical question to him.

"No, of course not," she tousled his head briefly.  He shook her off. He went to his room and shut the door.

From that day Brian went downhill rapidly. By Friday the 10th he was looking grey. He could still speak, but had real problems breathing and a cough had started, although he could still walk and talk easily. Marie phoned 111. A doctor rang back at 10.30 am and said better get to the hospital and be checked, to be safe. He might need some help breathing, oxygen for instance.

Marie drove him the twenty minutes to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which coincidentally has the largest critical care unit in the world. They were guided around the outside of the hospital by signs for suspected Covid 19 cases, which the doctor had told them to look out for.  When they got to the double doors, a nurse looking like a spaceman met them and taking one look at Brian ushered him in.

"Not you mam," the burly porter stood in front of Marie to physically stop her following.
Image result for free images of queen elizabeth hospital birmingham
"Hang on, wait," she called, "Brian, here take this." She held out her rosary, the one with crystal beads, the one she always had in her pocket, the one he bought her on their trip to the Holy Land a year ago when they celebrated their fifteenth anniversary.

The nurse nodded at Brian and he walked back to take it from her. He wasn't catholic and certainly never prayed the rosary, but he was thankful for his wife's expression of love and support, loving him her way.

"Thanks love" he smiled, their shared glance hanging in the air like mist for a moment before it was dissolved by the nurse's voice.  He looked back once before turning a corner. With one hand she gave him a little wave. With the other she wiped her eyes.

"Here's your bed," she pointed, "get settled and I'll be back in a minute"
He dropped onto the hard mattress and looked up and down the ward. Eight beds. A man in the next but one bed, hooked up to all sorts of instruments. Brian had not been in ICU before and did not find the clinical, serious atmosphere at all comforting. Over the next hour his blood was taken, his oxygen levels checked, and he was sent to Xray. When he came back a nurse put an oxygen mask on him saying that his levels were low. A doctor questioned him on his symptoms, then left saying he'd be back when they had the xray results, which wouldn't be long.

"I'm afraid you've got pneumonia.” He spoke softly as if that would help. “Looks like it's the virus so to help your lungs we'll keep you on oxygen and get you to lie on your tummy every few hours, see how you go. Any questions?"

"No," said Brian. He couldn't think of any just now anyway. He was a bit stunned. The words, it's the virus swam round and round in his head.  Where was his phone? He looked around him. Where were his things, his bag? He squeezed the rosary in his hand.

"I'd like my phone please." he said to the nurse when she came to check his obbs, which seemed like an age to him, but in reality was only a few minutes.
"Of course, as soon as I'm finished. But I don't want you to have your mask off for long, so just a couple of minutes, Ok?" she watched the machines, "We need to get your oxygen up, then you'll feel a lot better." She was cheerful, positive almost.

"OK," he said, a bit more relaxed now.
He could tell by Marie's voice and her red face ( the benefits of whatsapp),  that she'd been crying, so he smiled,  tried to comfort her, saying that it wouldn't be long, that he just needed to be monitored for a while, that he was sure he'd be home soon.

"Bye love, love you loads," he stared at the blank screen, his shoulders started to shake and he let the phone fall on the bed.

"Come on Brian, you're doing fine," she gave him some tissues to wipe his face, then put the mask back on.
By mid-afternoon rather than improving he deteriorated. His breathing was more laboured. They turned up the levels.

By next morning, Saturday, Brian was on maximum oxygen and still not improving. The doctor said he may need to go on a ventilator for a while to give his body a rest, because it was working so hard. They moved him to a room on his own now.

"Your wife can come in and see you through the window. Shall I phone her?"  her eyes, all he could see of her, showed compassion and love. How do they do it, he thought as he gave a slight nod of his head. He wasn't sure he wanted Marie to see him like this but he knew she'd want to.

"Here, speak to her," she put the phone in his hand, removed the mask from his face and tilted the bed so he could see. Marie was wearing her red dress, the one he'd told her he liked, had she done that on purpose? They both held their phones. He started coughing, struggling for each breath.

"Hello love," a croaky whisper. More coughing

"Hi, love you. We'll get through this. You concentrate on getting better," she sniffed. "So many people are praying." She touched the glass with her hand, holding it there like it was glued. “I want to hug you, be beside you, read to you, hold your hand"

"I know," more coughing.

"I'm afraid that's enough." the nurse took the phone.   I've had less than a minute, he thought. Marie stood up, looked in.

"He's not doing great, I'm afraid,” the nurse had put Brian’s mask back on and had come to see her, “we're going to have to ventilate him." Marie had been expecting this, but still, it was like she'd been punched in the abdomen.
"How long for? He will get better? What can I do?"

""We'll see how he goes. We're doing everything we can." Marie's mind drifted to the medical dramas, Chigaco Med among others, she watched with Jess. People really did say those things then. They're doing everything they can. She decided she wouldn't use those words to explain to the children what's happening to their dad.

A sense of betrayal came over her as she left the hospital. She should be with him. Every bone in her body ached to stay, to lay beside him, to breathe in the smell of him, but she was ushered out, told they'd ring her, told not to worry.

When Marie got home life went on. She comforted the children, kept them busy, busied herself with work around the house, planned meals, but she was acting out a lie. Things were not ok. Maybe that was the last conversation they'd have, maybe the children would never see their father again. She tried to get involved in the Easter season. In normal times, before Mr Corona Virus' visit, they would have gone to the Easter Vigil, one of the services which Brian would always come to.
But Easter wasn't happening for them this year. There would be no gathering of the family, no egg hunts for the younger cousins, which she always organised. No roast lamb dinner with her parents, her brother and sister and their families, no huge pavlova for pudding, Brian's annual contribution.

The next morning, Easter Sunday, Marie woke to her phone ringing. It was 5.15 am.

"Hello, sorry to ring so early, Doctor Anderson, from ICU. I'm afraid Brian’s gone into a coma. He’s very ill I’m afraid.   You can come and see him from the window if you'd like. I'm afraid we still can't let you in, it's too risky."
 What are these words, what do they mean?

"I'll come straight in." what else could she say?

"That's fine. We noticed he holds a rosary in his hand. Shall we ask a priest to come?"

"Yes, yes please." Why didn't she think of that? Because she didn't want to think he was dying, that's why.

Walking through the hospital, her heart was torn. She'd left the children behind not telling them much, but knowing that Jess would be researching and coming to her own conclusions.

"You can sit here," a new nurse put a chair in front of the window. You smell like lavender, Marie thought. She pictured the lavender plant in her garden, promising to give abundant flowers this year.
Marie looked into the room. This time Brian looked grey, lifeblood being drained out of him.
She stared and stared. 

At 6.20 pm the priest came, dressed in protective clothing. She recognised him as Fr Anthony from a neighbouring parish. Much later, when she could think straight, she would be very grateful that he was there, that he gave Brian comfort at the end, that she was there to see it.  Before he went in he gave her a blessing. 

At 7.09 that evening the doctor came out to tell her they were taking him off the ventilator, that they were really sorry, that they did everything they could. 
Mr Anderson offered her the rosary back.

"No, leave it with him please," she mumbled. 


  1. Very well told story, just as it probably is these days. There's been so much tragedy, so many people who said good-bye from a distance.

    Praying you stay well.

    1. Thanks Mimi. Yes, I tried to get into the life of just one family and follow their tale.

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  3. Oh, what a sad story. Is this someone you know?
    I'm glad you and your family are okay. Not everybody was as fortunate.

    1. Complete fiction thank goodness. I was just interested in how people were affected by the virus in different ways. I was going to write some more stories, survival as well as death but this one was so emotional at this time that I've decided to take a step back and work on my memoir instead

  4. Marian, that was very well written, very moving, and so sad. I am glad to learn, through the comments, that it was fiction. Hope you and your family are well and safe.

  5. Marian,
    Very well written, obviously sad, but an intriguing story. Glad to know that it was fiction. Hope you and your family are well and safe.

    1. Thanks Wayne . It's great to get your feedback. I'll be looking forward to seeing some of your writing soon.


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