‘Doctors told my partner I wouldn’t make it through the night – now I’m home’

An Essex man spent two months in an induced coma after collapsing while battling coronavirus – and at times medical staff thought he wouldn’t survive.

Stuart Oakley collapsed in October last year, shortly after testing positive for Covid-19. He was rushed to Basildon Hospital and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

The 55-year-old from Wickford, Essex, spent two months in an induced coma, when he woke up it was a shock to find out he was in a new year. Stuart spent a further two months recovering in hospital.

Now back home with his partner Ali, Stuart is still recovering from the impact the virus had on his lungs.

“I don’t remember a lot,” Stuart said. “I had been ill the week before [I collapsed], I thought I just had a cold.

“On Friday I took a covid test and on Sunday it came back positive. Then I just collapsed. I don’t remember collapsing, I was conscious when I was taken to hospital, but I don’t remember.

Stuart Oakley, from Wickford, Essex, in hospital.
(Image: Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust)

“When I first woke up I asked what the date was, but I didn’t realise what the date was when I went in, so I couldn’t say how long I had been there.

“It took me a couple of days to realise I had been out of it for two whole months.

“I was looking at the news on my phone and they were talking about things I didn’t know about, the American elections, the Christmas lockdown.

“I was so weak I couldn’t move, people had to turn the phone on for me. I couldn’t even lift a bedsheet from me if I was hot.”

Gradually Stuart was able to build his muscle strength back up and was moved out of ICU, before being transferred to Brentwood Community Hospital.

Then on March 11, Stuart was able to go home.

“I can walk now, I can now walk round the garden without a stick,” he said.

“I’ve got exercises to do. When I exercise I have to have oxygen, about three to four litres as I get quite out of breath.

“I’m basically alright physically, I eat fine, I can get around, it’s just my lungs now that have got to recover, but I have no idea how long that will take.

“Because it’s a new thing there’s not enough data out there to know how long it will take, it could take months to recover, other people are taking just a couple weeks, I just don’t know.

“I take it day by day. I’m better physically, I can feel I’m getting stronger, it’s just my lungs.”

‘It was a very scary time, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone’

While Stuart cannot remember the months after his collapse, Ali went through them not knowing if she would see Stuart again.

She explained that initially, she thought he would not be in hospital for too long, thinking the issue was that he had not eaten or drunk enough the previous few days and needed to be hydrated.

Ali said: “The doctor rang me and said he had been taken into intensive care in a critical condition. I couldn’t believe he was so bad.

“It was horrendous, I couldn’t see him. I got covid after he went in, but I wasn’t allowed in the hospital anyway because of the restrictions.

“At the end of November, the doctor rang me and said I think you need to come in, basically for the last time, they didn’t think he was coming out.

“I saw him hooked up to the machines, tubes everywhere, I was pretty shocked.

“They told me if he had a heart attack they wouldn’t resuscitate him. It was absolutely awful.”

Ali said the nurses and doctors were good at keeping her informed, but said it was “difficult” only getting information over the phone.

“I had support from Stuart’s mum and my mum, but apart from that I felt very alone, I just didn’t know if I was ever going to see him again,” Ali said.

“He got two infections in there, and a clot in his lungs, there were a lot of setbacks, you think we were getting somewhere, he was breathing without oxygen, and then the next thing he’s right back depending on oxygen.

“I couldn’t get my hopes up as there was the risk he would go back again.

“Over Christmas he was doing sort of ok, but on January 1, at 2am in the morning I got a phone call from the doctor to say he had got another clot in his lungs and they didn’t think he would make it through the night.

“It was a very scary time, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

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Luckily of course, Stuart made it through.

When the news came that Stuart would be able to come home after four-and-a-half months in hospital, Ali said she was pleased, but also had worries about how they would manage.

“I did panic a bit, I hadn’t seen him, so I didn’t know what he would need,” Ali said.

“We live in a first floor flat, I didn’t know how he would make it walking round the flat, I wasn’t sure with eating and drinking as in hospital he had to be very careful with food, with the possibility of it going down the wrong way to his lungs.

“I was so pleased he was home, but I was scared. I didn’t know what he would need and if I would be able to meet his needs.

“Anybody who is a partner of a covid sufferer, there is a lot of responsibility when they do come home.”

Stuart said it is “great” to be back home, saying that he thinks it will be a lot easier to recover at home, adding that Ali has been looking after him “wonderfully”.

They are now hoping that Stuart will continue to recover and get back to how he was before, so that they can get back to doing the things they enjoyed, such as going out and visiting the theatre, and going travelling on holiday.

Essex Live