A nurse from Broomfield Hospital has shared her harrowing and emotional experience of being admitted to hospital twice with COVID-19.
Jo Smith, who is the matron of the respiratory ward at Broomfield Hospital, has been at the forefront of the fight against COVID since the first cases began to arrive at the hospital in 2020.
Jo described how she was admitted to her own ward, after contracting COVID-19 last December when she had been heavily involved in treating COVID patients from across Essex. She found out that a member of her team had tested positive and subsequently got tested herself, to find that she too, was COVID positive. As her breathing deteriorated, she was admitted to the ward that she normally worked on:
Jo said: “By that time, my breathing was not great and my partner took me to the hospital – and I knew I might never see him again. To have to say goodbye to somebody in a car park… you just don’t know if you’re going to be OK or not.”
Jo had first-hand experience of caring for patients who did not survive the illness and she knew that the deterioration could be rapid. She described how patients whose observations were fine, suddenly passed away less than half an hour later without warning.
Jo described how she was greeted by her colleagues: “My oxygen levels were not good and no one would meet my eye – and that was scary; that people I’d known for a very, very long time were looking over my head or away from me…I found myself saying ‘I feel ok, please don’t worry about me, I’ll be alright’, and then seeing that movement of their eyes across your head, which told you that you might not be.”
“I remember the absolute lethargy of just breathing. I’ve never felt anything like it. In the back of your head you’re terrified because you only see the people who don’t make it.”
Jo recounts waking during her first night in hospital to an alarming scene: “I remember my first night, waking to the all the lights coming on and hearing ‘medical emergency’ and I realised that emergency was me, and that I might really, really die. The nurses that I normally look after were looking after me and making sure I was alright.”
Fortunately, Jo stabilised, but was moved to intensive care the following day. Sadly, two of Jo’s friends and colleagues of 30 years died in intensive care, but Jo survived.
“I was a very real representation to my staff that they could get this, and they could die. Until you see someone with it, sometimes that doesn’t hit home. I still have friends of my family who say ‘well, it’s not that bad, is it?’ because they don’t know anybody who’s had it that bad but these nurses, and porters and these doctors, and the people who take their blood see these people, so they do know it’s that bad.”
“You don’t go to work, to expect to die.”
Jo was eventually discharged from hospital but a short time later her oxygen levels dropped while at home, leading to her being re-admitted. The re-admission meant going back through the same heart-wrenching process of saying goodbye to loved ones for a second time. Despite this, Jo is now back at work in the same ward that she was treated in, continuing to care for patients, some of whom have COVID. She has re-joined her team, the very people who worked so hard to save her life and care for her.
Jo said: “They are still scared and they are tired, most of all tired, that utter exhaustion. If I can do one thing where I speak to the relative of a family to make them feel better; if I can make one person come into the job because they think I can do that, one person take the vaccination, this is worth all the crying in front of a camera and I hope it does some good.”
To support Jo and her colleagues, please get vaccinated and boosted this Christmas. You can find more information on appointments available here.
Some clips of Jo’s story can be found below.