03 July 2020
John Peers has worked as a nurse in mental health care in East London since 1989 in Tower Hamlets and Newham. A well-known figure to many in the Trust, he was the union shop steward for Unison, and later on, for Unite. After a lifetime of work in the NHS, it was a huge shock to John, his family, and his colleagues and friends, when he became severely ill with coronavirus and his life hung in the balance. In this blog, John describes what happened and how the drama unfolded.
First Symptoms
It was Monday morning and I arrived at work just after 7am. The corridor where my office is was very quiet.  I think home working had started to apply so I was very much alone but expected colleagues to arrive later.
At 8.30, I joined the daily online Webex call to the Trust’s COVID Pandemic Gold Command. It was during that call I noticed I had a niggling cough and had the initial thoughts that it might be coronavirus. After the call, I decided I could just as easily do my work from home so home I went.
The following day I worked from home. The cough was persistent but I had no other symptoms. In the afternoon I was on a call with senior manager and was producing a spreadsheet. It was whilst doing that piece of work that I started to feel light headed and was struggling to concentrate. Shortly afterwards, I developed a high temperature. I took paracetamol but suddenly I felt so weak, I went to bed. 
After a couple of hours, I felt much better and resumed normal living. Later in the evening, I started to feel unwell again. I had a temperature of 39 degrees (A normal temperature is around 36.5) so took another dose of paracetamol and as it was my usual bed time, I went to sleep.
Around 4am I woke and realised I was not getting better so I called NHS111. I went through the initial screening and then spoke with a doctor. The doctor advised that based on my symptoms, I should go to the Royal London Hospital and get checked out. She didn’t think an ambulance was necessary but at that time of the night I had no means of getting there. The doctor advised against me driving, or taking a taxi/Uber. My wife could not take me due to the need to stay with the kids. It was a frustrating conversation as I was being told to go to A&E and then having no means to do so. I decided I would go later that day as we could arrange child care and my wife could drive me there.
Getting Progressively Worse
I went back to sleep and woke at 7am feeling quite well. My temperature was 38 but my head was clear and I thought I was over the worse. So I decided against going to A&E and so carried on with my normal working day until around 2pm when my temperature went up again and I was feeling weak and light headed.
Over the next couple of days, I progressively got worse. My temperature remained high - up to 39.5. I naively took the view that this was as bad as it gets and it’s just a matter of getting over it. On Friday, my wife had become unwell, had a high temperature and general feelings of being unwell. She spent long periods asleep in bed. I believe the source of our illness was my wife’s workplace which had affected a number of staff at the same time. The timings were consistent with the known incubation periods. Later that Friday, I realised my own health was deteriorating and that I was struggling to maintain safe levels of alertness. I rang NHS 111 and that resulted in them sending an ambulance.
The ambulance crew established my temp was a staggering 40.5. I was struggling to walk so was taken in a chair to the ambulance. My last clear memory was being wheeled through the hospital double doors with the word COVID-19 in big letters. From this point, I think I suffered retrograde amnesia and have no coherent memories of events over the weekend.
Hazy Recall and Vibrant Dreams
My wife, friends and records from social media show that I was in regular contact with them. All seems normal and appropriate until Tuesday when a doctor advised that I be intubated as I was not responding to treatment. I had been put on a CPAC  mask the previous day but was only managing 87% oxygen saturation. (Normal levels would be 95%-100%) It was expected that I would be on a ventilator for a couple of weeks. In my COVID-19 disturbed state, I managed to transfer all my savings and current account money to my wife. I can only think my action was meant to be a supportive one. In reality, it caused my wife great distress. I was put in a induced coma on Tuesday evening. I would be 25 days before being woken.
Over this period I had a number of fantastic dreams and nightmares which were different to more usual dreams as they had a start and ending, seemed well structured and are still easily recalled. They included my travelling to Laos, being put on a barge on the Mekong and transferred to a hospital in Thailand under the care of Dr Ken Jeong (an Amercian actor) who acted out his Mr Chow character. (from the film, The Hangover). Another involved a Halloween concert in hospital with Disney’s characters in attendance. Another involved being transferred from ward to ward across the world. Others involved my wife moving home and being distant from me which even now are painful to recall. During my period of delirium, I referred to elements of these dreams as though they were reality.
Grave Deterioration
Based on accounts from my wife and friends during my ICU stay, it was confirmed I had COVID-19. I then went on to develop Pneumonia, then kidney failure, then Sepsis all in sequence. I had also developed blood clots in my lungs which were identified as being the major block to my recovery. Due to the pandemic restrictions, no visitors were allowed to the hospital. The Consultants would ring my wife every evening with a progress report. I gather most of those conversations were limited in reassurance and towards the end of my stay were in reality preparing my wife for the worst. 
Vulnerable and Isolated
My wife had become quite unwell herself on the day of my own admission and suffered serious ill health for about a week. We have two children aged 10 and 8. This was a dangerous period. I was incapacitated and the children were in reality left to fend for themselves which they did admirably. I don’t know what could have been done differently as we had no immediate family nearby and all options had seemingly overwhelming obstacles. My employer and close friends went on to be very supportive once they had been made aware of both our conditions. It was later confirmed my wife too had COVID-19.
My wife had told my eldest child that if she could not be woken to dial 999 and get help.... that sentence breaks my heart.
Turning Point
25 days later, I had made a remarkable recovery such that the doctors felt I could safely be brought out of the induced coma. I then spent a further five days in ICU. 
The ward staff arranged a video call with my wife and children. I have seen screen shots of that call. My kids were also on that call and looking at the number of tubes going in to me and my general poor state, I’m not sure it was such a good idea for them. Again I have no memory of that period.
My medical notes record that I entered a period of delirium of which I  have bits of memory. I was living out the dreams/fantasies I experienced whilst unconscious. Some were amusing, some unnecessarily hostile to those who had done nothing but show me love and care. I had disagreements about my admission to hospital and events with doctors and kept demanding second opinions. In my head, I had a very clear recollection of events that had no basis in reality.
Doctors and others kept asking the same formulaic orientation questions: Do you know the date? Do you know where you are? I became quite flippant in my answers – “I’ve no idea but I came in in March”, “I am where you put me”, “You asked me that yesterday, nothing has changed but it’s a day later”.
I was transferred to a medical ward which turned out to be a gastroenterology ward. I later got the impression from the ward consultant that I was not entirely welcome there by him.
Angels Come in All Guises
As is sadly too common, the ward was very dependent on temporary staffing so consistency of nursing was a bit hit and miss. My named nurse who I would see three or four days a week was the definition of an angel. All the major milestones of my stay on that ward occurred when she was present. Nursing is a tough job under normal circumstances, the challenges during the peak of the pandemic created endless numbers of NHS heroes.
The enthusiasm of occupational therapist and physiotherapists was a joy to be near. They were gentle but firm in helping my recovery and rehabilitation. I had acquired drop-foot in both feet which will take months to recover from.
During that initial period on the ward, I was still quite confused. My eyesight was poor and I found it very difficult to concentrate. I was desperate to speak to and see my wife and children. My wife and a friend had tried to get mobile devices to me but technical problems delayed that option for a couple of weeks. The ward offered use of their phone which I did but it was quite restrictive. A couple of weeks later, this was finally resolved when my apple devices had been set up for my use.
One major frustration post ICU was that somehow it had been identified that I had a swallowing problem which resulted in me having nasogastric tube feeding continuing for three weeks after I left the unit.  The speech and language therapist created a care plan involving me being given five drops of water per hour! I disputed this with all and sundry to no avail. Eventually, I had a swallowing test which proved I had no swallowing problem and never had.
On my return to the ward, I over indulged (with some encouragement from my angelic nurse) in drinking and ordering food. No one has ever been able to explain to me the source of this misdiagnosis. My progress on the medical ward was consistent but frustrating as I wanted nothing more than to be home with my wife and children.  That day finally came and home I went late on a Sunday afternoon.
I am making good progress, hobbling around using crutches due to footdrop. I am told it will be months before normality returns. My wife had a much harder time than I. All I had to do was sleep through it all.


  • Hasuben Parmar, 13/07/2020

    Dear John I know you from Newham. Sorry to hear you have been through challenging and tough time. Thanks for sharing your experience. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  • Suzannah Russ, 12/07/2020

    Wow John. Having only recently ? early March ? bumped into you in the corridor (after many years!!) I was shocked to have heard of all that you and your family have been through .. eloquently relayed. So relieved that you have endured. Take care and best wishes

  • loraine , 11/07/2020

    so proud of you x x x

  • Gill Williams, 10/07/2020

    Dear John I was so shocked and saddened on hearing you were so I'll but it's wonderful to read about your recovery though I don't underestimate what you and your family have been through. Sending you all my best wishes and hope to see you back where you belong Gill

  • Imran Miah, 10/07/2020

    You're a superstar!!! Hope to see you soon John.

  • Lynn Slattery, 10/07/2020

    Dear John, So glad you are on the road to recovery, thank you for sharing your blog. My thoughts are with you and your amazing family.

  • Caroline Ogunsola , 10/07/2020

    Wow what a story.....Only John will go through such a harrowing experience and still talk about safer staffing and drop humour into it! So efficient and funny! What a lived real experience you shared with us..Thank Hod you are on a road to recovery now.....wishing you a smooth and speedy recovery . Things can only get better now. Take care of yourself and stay lifted pal!

  • Donna Willis, 09/07/2020

    During those dark days I used to light a candle for you (and others) on my desk at home, encouraging you all to fully recover. My best wishes to your family, especially your brave and resourceful kids! You must both be incredibly proud of them, be sure to tell them :)

  • Patrick Bogue, 09/07/2020

    A very touching piece of writing John. I sincerely hope that you and all the family are doing well.

  • karl marlowe , 09/07/2020

    Dear John, having worked over the decades with you, it was with both sadness and joy that I have been able to share your story via this intimate blog. keep strong,.

  • Daisy, 08/07/2020

    So delighted you won the battle of all battles! I wish you a speedy recovery John and thank you for sharing your moving story. xx

  • Shannon, 08/07/2020

    Seeing this blog as the headline in today’s staff update is possibly one of the best moments of the last 16 weeks! It’s great to hear from you John and reading your words I could hear your phrases as if you where speaking them. Glad to hear you were advocating for yourself and I hope now that you’re back home you can sit back and recover a steady pace.

  • George Phillips, 08/07/2020

    Glad you are home John and recovering well. That is quite as story you have told. Thanks for sharing it

  • Shirley Young (crisis team, Luton) 8/7/2020, 08/07/2020

    So sorry to hear of your incredibly difficult and unwell time with Covid-19. It is great news that both you and your wife have recovered from it, although you still have a way to go before you are fully recovered. Fingers crossed you will be running around before too long.

  • Franklyn Bonne-Commey, 07/07/2020

    Hi John, thanks for sharing your journey with the virus and being back home to your wife and children. I must say it was when I heard of your hospitalisation that I took the decision to shield as I initially refused and continued to go to work. Reading your story says it all. We have some amazing Angels in the NHS. Stay safe and wish you a speedy recovery.

  • Helen Cunningham, 07/07/2020

    Hi John. So delighted to read your recovery story. I had heard from Janet that you were very ill in hospital and that it wasn’t looking good. I recalled the many times at Elcmht when we debated the right thing to do, both of us coming from a different perspective, but we (nearly) always found a way through. I still talk to people about you; the man who wore 2 hats fabulously effectively and a brilliant union rep. I’m so glad you and your family are well. With very best wishes. Helen

  • Bernice , 07/07/2020

    Hi John, Thank you for sharing, so glad you fought as hard as you did. Praying for your full recovery. Thinking of you and your family during this time.

  • Irfaan Ibne, 07/07/2020

    Thanks for sharing John. You have been in our thoughts and I was glad to hear that you are well on the road to a full recovery. Take care and best wishes to you and your family.

  • Taiwo Okubule, 07/07/2020

    Thanks John for sharing your experience. I am glad to hear you are progressing in your recovery. Look after yourself and best wishes for future.

  • Muhammed PUTHILAKATH, 07/07/2020

    Your determinations is helped.

  • Princess, 07/07/2020

    John, I remembered the day we were told and the tears rolled down my cheeks. I prayed for you and your family. Reading your story is scary and encouraging. I am so glad that you made it through and continue to pray for a speedy whole recovery for you.

  • Jillian Dabbs, 07/07/2020

    Hi John, So sorry to hear this, but thank you for sharing. What wonderful news that you and your family are all safe. Hoping that you continue to get stronger each day and hoping to see you soon. Take Care!

  • Derrick Rainey, 07/07/2020

    Dear John, So sorry to hear this. I hope that you continue to get stronger and stronger. This is a really horrible virus. Thank you so much for sharing your journey through this.

  • Jeanette Hammond, 07/07/2020

    Dear John I am so pleased that you are home with your wife and family, I was shocked to hear that you were in ICU and very unwell, early mornings is not the same without you in your office and me in mine along the corridor. It was difficult to get any update on your condition but Alan Clarke and Alex kept me up to date with your recovery. I hope all is well with you John and get well soon and come back to us. Jeanette Hammond and her team of Monitoring Officers

  • Niah Gaynair, 07/07/2020

    Best Wishes John for your continued recovery. Nursing, Allied Health Professionals and Health Unions need your clear sighted critical mind and years of experience in these difficult times and your story brings home yet again the seriousness of this disease. Reminds us all not to take risks with ourselves, each other or our patients.

  • Anna, 07/07/2020

    Dear John thank you for sharing your story and enlightening us on the devastation of Covid19. What a journey you and your family have been through. Stay strong and remember you are in our thoughts.

  • Muna Williams, 07/07/2020

    Dear John Thank you for sharing your story. I have seen you around the Trust and was sadden by your story and pray that you continue to get better and stronger. My thoughts are with your family, stay strong.

  • Aderonke Tairu, 07/07/2020

    OMG. Your story is quite moving. I have known you for as long as I can remember and the last time I saw you was almost a year plus when we sat at the Butabika conference. You have always been a gentle soul as well as very proactive and supportive to all. You are very fit and with very good energy and it is sad to hear that you got unwell but also exciting that you are making a tremendous recovery. Your story took me through a journey of how you must have been feeling. There you hear guys for those who thinks this is a myth. It is the isolation, the preparation for your family, the what is to come, the not knowing and all that is quite touching and feeling alone to plan all that? Lets be kind to one another and wear PPE if this is recommended unless it is a danger to your health then get a room to yourself!

  • Richard Fradgley, 07/07/2020

    Hi John, thank you for sharing your experience, it is a difficult but in the end a hopeful read. Like Betsy, I was stunned and shocked when I heard you were in hospital, and have thought about you, and our various conversations over the now many years, every day since. Its a deep pleasure to have read your blog, and to hear you and your family are on the mend. Hope to catch up again when the time is right.

  • Dudley, 07/07/2020

    Dear John, It is so good to hear that you are on the road to recovery. We were all rooting for you. Thank you for your brave and moving account and for your honesty. I think it is a really important story for people to hear. With very best wishes for your ongoing recovery.

  • Lisa, 07/07/2020

    Dear John, I am so pleased to hear you are on the mend and recovering well. We would always ask for updates on your recovery on our daily COVID calls, and we were all so pleased to hear you were starting to recover. Look after yourself and my thoughts are with you and your family

  • shanta, 07/07/2020

    Hi john. Sorry to hear that you and your family have been through so much. My thought and prayers are with you and your family and I am wishing you a speedy recovery.

  • Claire Mckenna, 07/07/2020

    What an amazing account Helps others to walk a mile in your shoes

  • Joanna Kujoth, 07/07/2020

    Dear John, it was lovely seeing you on Sunday. You and family have been through so much, thank you for sharing. Glad you are on mend. All the best x

  • Denise Mervish, 07/07/2020

    Dear John - thank you for sharing this with us. It really shows how this virus takes hold and what you have been through. so delighted that you are well on the road to a full recovery. Kindest Regards

  • Tina Collins, 07/07/2020

    John, thank you for sharing your experience and so glad that you and your family are all ok now. Look after yourself and hope to see you soon.

  • Alison Wright, 06/07/2020

    John, I was both shocked to read this post as I hadn't heard you were unwell. This must have been so traumatic for you and your family. I am so glad to read that you are recovering I hope you and your family are doing better now. All the best.

  • Carrie Battersby, 06/07/2020

    Hi John. What a shocking time for you and your family. I am so pleased you are on the mend, though it's a long road. Just wanted to send my best to you - as you know, you were the first Newham person I met. There can only be one! Warmest wishes to you and your family.

  • Shannon, 06/07/2020

    Seeing this blog as the headline in today’s staff update is possibly one of the best moments of the last 16 weeks! It’s great to hear from you John and reading your words I could hear your phrases as if you where speaking them. Glad to hear you were advocating for yourself and I hope now that you’re back home you can sit back and recover a steady pace.

  • Betsy Scott , 06/07/2020

    Dear John, I was stunned when I heard you were in hospital, you and the family have been in my thoughts, staffside colleagues have kindly given regular updates. What a terrifying experience for all of you and yet you have managed to retain your sense of humour. What a timely reminder not to become careless or ambivalent with the social distancing being relaxed. I will be wishing you to make a full speedy recovery and I look forward to when we can meet again in your office and discuss putting the world to rights. Stay safe - all of you xx

  • jennifer french, 06/07/2020

    Hi John, I'm so sorry to hear you've been unwell and thank you so much for such a riveting account of the shocking and astonishing and saddening experiences of you and your family. Sincerely hope you will all continue to recover from the impact of the virus and the physical and emotional toll it takes. Wishing you hope and strength in these difficult times.

  • Maxine Sacks, 06/07/2020

    Dear John, I am pleased to learn that you are making a good recovery and thank you for sharing the news. It sounds like you had a really tough time but your description will help us to help others as a lot of people have similar experiences in ICU. Look after yourself.

  • John Cookson, 06/07/2020

    Thanks. Well written. You have had a terrible time.

  • sophia zuberi, 06/07/2020

    Dear John I remember you from Newham. I pray that you recover from this horrible virus. My thoughts with you and your family.

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