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Take Covid-19 seriously – it’s not over yet

Dr Nini

Consultant physician, Dr Khin Nini, headed off to work at Darlington Memorial Hospital on the morning of Thursday, 16 April, as she does every working day.  Little did she and her family know that within days she would become desperately ill with Covid-19 herself, later requiring admission to the intensive treatment unit.  

Dr Nini is sharing her own experience as a reminder to us all to take Covid-19 seriously and not be complacent about its impact.  She says, "Since early March I had been caring for patients admitted with Covid-19. I know, both from my own experience of being ill and from how very ill it made the patients I cared for, that this isn't something you want you, or your loved ones, to get.  Although it seems to have a worse effect on older people and those with some underlying health conditions, I cared for people in their 30s and 40s who had been fit and healthy, some of whom very sadly died. The distress this virus can cause families, is something that will stay with me. Some younger people have underlying health conditions they're unaware of so, as infection rates increase, we should all be doing everything we can to limit the spread.  

"At home I was eating and sleeping in a separate part of the house from my husband and daughter because, although we had PPE at work, caring for Covid-19 patients was always going to put me at greater risk. 

"The first symptom I noticed was when I walked up the stairs at work on 16th April, I was unusually breathless.  I checked my oxygen saturations - which were normal - so wondered if I might just be tired.  

"That night, however, I felt much worse, my temperature rose and my whole body was in pain.  As a clinician myself, I kept an eye on my symptoms to see how they progressed.  

"I stayed at home the following day, Friday 17th April, apart from going for a Covid-19 test which, within a few hours, came back positive. I felt very unwell and we got an oxygen monitor so I could see how I was doing.  My symptoms started changing on Monday 20th April when I could smell a dog - even though we don't have one!  I also lost my appetite and developed sickness and diarrhoea. My temperature became normal, but rose again on Wednesday 22nd and remained very high.

 "Although I started to stabilise, after a week my oxygen saturations were staying worryingly low. As a clinician, I knew that this means the blood isn't getting enough oxygen to carry around the body - a bad sign in patients with Covid-19. My instinct was not to come to hospital instantly and waste the time of my already very busy colleagues but, fortunately, I did go in when my oxygen saturation wasn't improving.  

"I was admitted to Darlington Memorial Hospital - where I work - just for overnight monitoring initially.  A chest x-ray and blood tests were normal but I was needing increasing amounts of oxygen and paracetamol was not bringing my temperature down.  Around midnight on Saturday 25 April I became very unwell and was taken to the intensive treatment unit (ITU) the next day, where I was ventilated but not intubated.  I know that hospital teams, from medicine, ITU and others were caring for me and I'm immensely grateful to them.  At that point though, I knew the odds were beginning to stack up against me. 

"Having been the consultant caring for Covid-19 patients it felt unreal to become one myself and the severity of my illness was a surprise.  As a specialist in care of the elderly, I am used to dealing with life and death situations and, while I didn't for a moment give up, I prepared myself for the possibility of dying.  By far the hardest part was the impact my situation would be having on my husband and daughter - how distressed she must be - and the fact they couldn't visit.  

"After 12 days, I was discharged from ITU and, after two days on a ward I was able to go home on Friday 8 May - VE Day - and returned to work a month later.  Many people seem to be experiencing 'long Covid' where some symptoms persist, delaying their recovery. I was one of the lucky ones. 

"Since my recovery, my daughter has begun telling me just how distressed and afraid she was.  It's up to all of us to do all we can to minimise transmission, so more families don't need to go through what mine did.   Up to 60% of people with Covid-19 don't even have symptoms so spread it unwittingly.  Please wash your hands and really limit your social interactions and wear a mask - in years to come will you be able to look back and know you did the right thing?"

Ends

Published 14th October 2020

'In recent times, I have utilised admissions to Richardson for respite direct from my fracture clinic, even at weekends. I have never worked anywhere with this efficiency before - it is reassuring and invaluable for the patient.'

Patient, Lowson / Starling Wards, Richardson Hospital