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When will my father wake from his coronavirus delirium?

11 April 2020

2:25 AM

11 April 2020

2:25 AM

Spring is my father’s favourite season. After the wet and dark winter we’ve had I imagine it will be the time that most people in the UK have been looking forward to. On our farm in Cornwall, spring is a particularly easy moment to love. There are currently hundreds of lambs gambolling through our fields, countless teddy bear-like Highland calves sticking close to their protective mothers for safety and the wildflowers are all beginning to stretch and yawn as they begin to wake up from their long sleep. The first bluebells have begun to pepper the verges with their deep shades and red campion is joining them to create the cartoonish pink alongside the bucolic blue.

My father’s wake from the induced coma due to his coronavirus ordeal has been less smooth. On Easter Monday, he will have been in hospital for a month. 28 days of fear and anxiety for us and sedation and intubation for him. The indefatigable medical team at Derriford Hospital began waking him up eight days ago and we naïvely hoped that this might be the beginning of a smooth climb out of oblivion and into rosy-cheeked health. Unfortunately it has turned out to be a bumpier road than we had assumed it might be.


I wrote a few weeks ago that, as a nation, we were being introduced to new terms like ‘comorbidity’ and ‘pre-existing health conditions’ that hadn’t been part of our vernacular before 2020. A new term which has become a daily fixture in our home and was previously unknown is ‘sedation delirium’. I am sure that this process of learning new medical phrases until they become a part of one’s life is an experience that all family’s living through a new and nasty disease experience. When I first heard the words I pictured sedation delirium as an extreme form of the confusion that we all suffer when suddenly woken from a deep sleep. Where am I? What time is it? And possibly even, who am I? It can feel a bit like being underwater before we emerge into the air and usually only lasts for a matter of seconds or perhaps as much as a minute when it’s bad.

But eight days? I never imagined this could last that long. My father has a tube running through his nose that feeds him, a catheter to remove that food at the other end, a tracheotomy to help him breathe and multiple tubes in his arms to supply him with IV fluids and to monitor various organs. He has lost a great deal of strength and weight. He went to sleep in a world before the lockdown when we were all trying to understand what the recently announced term ‘pandemic’ actually meant. He’s now being woken in a ward full of sick people where all of the nurses and doctors are wearing three layers of PPE, facemasks and visors. It must be terrifying, even for an old explorer who’s happily spent large parts of his life sleeping in jungle hammocks surrounded by venomous snakes, tenacious tarantulas and uncontacted tribes.

We still telephone the ward three times a day and the marvellous nurses patiently answer our repetitive questions and assure us that he is doing as well as can be expected. His kidneys and lungs appear to be coping better than they were before and they are playing Classic FM to try and help him come out of his stupor. No-one really seems to know how long it could take for him to wake up or whether there might have been some neurological impact during his long sleep. We speak to him while the telephone is held near his ear and tell him which flowers are beginning to come out in the garden, how often his impending grandchild is now kicking and how much we all love him and believe in his ability to overcome this brutal bug. I only hope that he can hear us through the fog and that our words provide the strength and motivation to swim through the haze and find his way back to the land of the living.

It looks as if the lockdown may soon be extended, perhaps indefinitely, while the government waits to see how various curves are flattening or descending. This will be painful for everyone and almost unbearable for many in the cities as it gets hotter. Whilst it is clearly vital that it is extended, all of our lives continue to be in the same stasis that my father’s health is in. At least, as the artist David Hockney once said, and the lambs, calves and flowers in our fields are currently attesting, ‘they can’t cancel spring.’

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