04 November 2019

Parveen Bhatia is the Operational Manager for Perinatal Health Services in Tower Hamlets. She is a fit and healthy young woman and yet she started 2019 as a patient in Intensive Care having contracted Influenza Type A.

Parveen is keen to encourage colleagues in the Trust to look after themselves by having the flu jab to ensure they stay well, avoid a serious illness and don't spread the flu virus - to enable them to be healthy at work to support patients. If you have a respiratory condition or a long term health condition, and are uncertain about having the flu jab, read her story.  

"It was Christmas Eve. I’d been shopping in Wolverhampton for items for our family Christmas dinner. I felt drained but I put it down to the fact that it was the run up to Christmas and I’d been busy. I still managed to cook Christmas dinner for 16 people on Christmas Day so I was functioning well at that point.

Severe Tiredness and Lethargy
On Boxing Day, I felt really weary and tired. I stayed on the sofa most of the day. I went to bed at midnight and to my astonishment, I woke up the next day … at 5pm in the evening! I thought my body was just resting and catching up. My family thought it was a hangover! I went to bed a few hours later at 9pm as I felt so tired. Once again, I slept through till 5pm the next evening. 20 hours!  It was a strange sort of tiredness. I felt I was sinking into the mattress. I had no appetite, and felt intermittently sweaty and then shivery.

Getting Medical Advice
I came back to London on 28 December. I saw a doctor who listened to my chest but didn’t suggest an X-ray. He prescribed antibiotics but I felt no better. I cancelled my New Year’s Eve plans. My friends were so worried that they came round to see if I was OK. They advise if I felt worse to call 111.  I did and they sent an ambulance as I was talking nonsense to them, going on about cooking the Christmas turkey. 

The crew assessed me in my flat. They thought I was essentially OK and needed to continue with the antibiotics. But the female crew member had a puzzled look on her face and said something didn’t feel right. They did more tests in the ambulance. I had deteriorated further in that short space of time and the next minute, the ambulance blue light was on and I was being sped to A&E. 

As any NHS worker will know, New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest nights of the year in an A&E department. I felt terrible and was apologetic for wasting their time, because at this point I felt great. I was delirious apparently, still going on about cooking Christmas dinner for 16 people!  The medics were completely puzzled but took an x-ray which revealed that I was in serious trouble. I had severe pneumonia and my left lung was almost completely opaque with very little oxygen exchange going on. I went on to deteriorate progressively. I started to feel I couldn’t handle it all anymore. I actually had a sense that there was a light above and the ceiling was opening up and the light was becoming larger, warmer and peaceful. I thought I was dying and I probably was. And then, something gave and I could breathe again.

My condition kept fluctuating but I eventually stabilised after 5 days. I was so weak, that I could barely walk and I had lost a lot of weight. I was very traumatised by what had happened. 

Three Messages
Now I’m back on track but it took six months for me to feel myself again.  So I have three messages for my colleagues at ELFT and anyone who has a high risk condition:

1. Have the flu jab. Even if you feel a bit rough after, it is nothing compared to the fight your body has to put up with if you contract flu.

2. Don’t minimise your health needs. Listen to your body and act to get help. It’s natural to be stoic and not want to burden NHS services because we are the NHS.

3. Put your health first. It’s easy to put other things first when patients and colleagues rely on you, and you care about doing a good job. But you can’t help others if your own health is poor.