In March 2020, Michael became unwell. He was struggling to breathe and had an illness that felt like flu. He became worse each day.
In a moment of desperation, as she watched “the shadow of death” cross his face, his wife took a reading of his oxygen levels on equipment she’d loaned from a neighbour who was a GP.
The result was 58% (oxygen saturation levels between 95-100% are considered normal). Shortly after this, Michael was admitted to hospital with COVID-19.
What followed was months on the wards. He was put into an induced coma for 40 days, and then underwent weeks of rehab and recovery.
I promise we will keep giving you the best care we can give until we get you back on your feet
Throughout it all, a patient diary was kept by the nursing staff caring for him, where they wrote notes about his health, recovery, and their hopes for him to get better.
Michael’s immortalised his experience of care in a book, Many Different Kinds of Love: a Story of Life, Death and the NHS. At RCN Congress 2022, he enthralled the audience with excerpts of the patient diaries and his reflections on the care, love and support he received from nursing staff.
He opened his speech by remarking that it was a great honour to be speaking to nursing staff and thanked them for saving his life. He read some of the diary entries.
One said: “We still have some way to go until you recover. I promise we will keep giving you the best care we can give until we get you back on your feet.”
One nurse wrote how lovely it was to see all the photos his family had sent in of them together smiling, showing how much he’s loved. Another mentions how she got a facial response from him when she joked about the performance of his favourite football team.
Nursing is a human business, that requires a human touch
Michael recounted how a nurse created a playlist of songs curated by his family and would play it to him while in his coma. He said: “I can’t explain how kind and lovely that is.”
All this love and care was shown to him at a time when nursing staff were strained, and suffering trauma from seeing so many people die while within their care, he added.
Care and devotion
One entry mentions how they couldn’t write the diary on specific days due to a lot of nursing interventions, but that they were so happy and pleased for him in his recovery so far.
Michael said how this reflects the sacrifice it took to write the diary, and reaffirms that nursing is a human business, that requires a human touch.
The staff made sure he was clean shaven and presentable for the video calls with his family, as they weren’t allowed to visit at this point in the pandemic.
“Happy birthday,” one entry said. “It’s been so lovely to help look after you today. You’ve been popular.” The entry continues to describe the events of the day, including a rendition of Happy Birthday from 15 ICU staff who surrounded his bed.
Michael said he couldn’t “fathom the devotion” that the nursing staff had. He told the audience: “Your profession saved my life and the lives of thousands of other people. Thank you.”