Dominic Compagnone lives in Bexhill and runs a video production company based in Battle. This is his Covid-19 story.

I am totally sick of the disregard for the lockdown rules I’m seeing in the very limited time I am able to leave my house. Rather than sit and watch and hope people do the right thing, I want to share my story so maybe someone somewhere listens, stops and thinks about what they are doing, who they are seeing, where they are going and perhaps takes it all a bit more seriously. It’s deadly serious and scary – and, if you’re not careful, it will affect you. 

I am 43, probably a stone overweight, I like good food, gin and wine in moderation, play tennis a couple of times a week, work, and am generally quite active. I’m classified on my NHS Covid record as ‘fit and healthy’. I‘ve no idea how or where I caught Covid – I was just unlucky.

 Dominic Compagnone

I felt unwell, tested positive on December 7th and spent the first week at home. Then flu-like symptoms kicked in – extreme fatigue, whole body aching, the most excruciating headache I’ve ever experienced and blurred vision. I didn’t have a high temperature, or lose my sense of smell or taste, though the textures of some foods were off-putting, and I soon lost my appetite. 

One morning I woke feeling sick and dizzy. I sat up and could feel myself getting hot as you do when about to be sick and I wanted to get to the bathroom. I stood slowly and took a few steps to the door… and then probably no more than a couple of minutes later, I came to on the floor. What I thought was sweat was blood running down my head, a deep cut on one side of my forehead which, it turned out, needed paramedic attention to glue the wound back together again.

(As an aside, it was nearly three weeks later when I realised that in this moment when I felt so awful, blood pouring down my face – I took a selfie! I found it on my phone just before new year with no recollection of taking it or why.)

The rest of that first week did not get any better. Physically weaker, I ached everywhere, and the headache hadn’t gone. I forced myself to drink fluids but knew it wasn’t enough. I was so bloody tired and then I started to notice my breathing was getting laboured. 

Among the questions 111 ask is whether you can look after yourself: If you were hungry, could you go to your kitchen and cook a normal meal? Can you get yourself to the bathroom without feeling breathless? I live alone and had been self-isolating because of the Covid test – apart from deliveries of items and small plates of food that weren’t being eaten (from my mum), I was fending for myself.

By the Sunday I had to admit defeat, I could no longer look after myself. The paramedics concluded I needed to go to hospital for fluids. In A&E, I was wheel-chaired through a bit I didn’t recognise into the ‘red zone’ where all the Covid patients are taken, immediately cannulated, put on a drip, had a blood test, had another Covid swab test. I remained in the red zone for about 14 hours because there were no beds available. An x-ray showed that I had pneumonia in all six zones of my lungs and a mild case of pleurisy as a little bonus… 

Apparently three weeks prior to my admission, there had been 15 Covid-positive inpatients in the hospital. When I was taken to the ward, I was listed as Covid patient 71. 

Covid is dangerous and there is no predicting how or who you could get it from or what impact it will have on you

That first day in hospital was awful. It was loud, busy, permanent prods and pokes, tests for blood pressure, heart rate, blood oxygen – I was tired and frustrated and weak – and then the impact of Covid really hit home: John, opposite me, early 70s, didn’t move or say much: Stephen, late 40s/early 50s, nil by mouth and obviously poorly but who laughed and joked with ward staff; and, to his right, Anthony, late 60s – only awake at mealtimes. Stephen had been awake around dinner time and then he fell asleep.  An hour later he had died gently and peacefully in his sleep. 

That night, Anthony let out a breathless but loud call for the nurses. He was in severe distress, waving his arm hoping someone would come to him. Within moments, the cardiac crash team rushed in, but Anthony passed away about 10 minutes later. They both had underlying health conditions and witnessing their deaths was horrendous. They spent their last days alone and I find myself thinking of their families. 

At least four others died that day. 

My breathing deteriorated further on Day 2. The ITU team put me on CPAP – a machine that blasts air into your mouth to keeps your airways open. Over the next 24 hours, I had three sessions. Between treatments, I had to wear a permanent oxygen mask. I had to be helped to walk the five metres from my bed to the bathroom and wear a portable oxygen mask to get there. CPAP was the last stage before intubation, so I only just avoided that. 

One time, during my first painfully slow wash, my oxygen tank ran out. I called for the nurse between breaths. Luckily, John from the bed opposite noticed I was in trouble and called for help. By the time they got there I could barely breathe – they got me into a chair, found another cylinder and helped me get back to bed with my regular oxygen supply. 

They let me go home when I could walk from my bed to the bathroom unassisted and without oxygen, having spent eight days in hospital. The last thing my doctor said to me was, “Be extra careful, you’re leaving here with the lungs of a 70 year old. It’s going to take months to fix them.”

I was wheeled out of the ward, my mum greeted me, and I burst into tears. She gave me a hug I will remember forever, and she cried too. I was home in time for Christmas, but Christmas didn’t really happen. I share a birthday with my dad on the 29th, and, by coincidence, John from the hospital ward shares the same birthday and I was delighted to get a message from him wishing me well and letting me know he was home, too. He had spent 33 days in hospital, the first 14 of those he was in critical care.

I’d been told to walk daily to aid recovery of my lungs, but it was difficult. The stone I lost was mostly muscle and it really impacted my legs. It has taken me nearly 3 weeks to get to the point where I can walk a couple of miles again. 

PICTURE: Hazem Asif/Unsplash

My lungs are slowly healing, though I get occasional blurred vision or spots in front of my eyes. But then there’s the effect on the brain. I have little memory of the latter part of 2020. Putting dates to things is quite difficult. I have been told of conversations I had which I can’t recall; I remember things that happened in the days after I went into hospital but, apart from the fainting episode, not a lot before. It’s really patchy. I’m told and I’ve read that it might come back but it’s not certain.

I have trouble with brain fog and concentration. I can’t talk to people for long and have to watch movies in short chunks. Then insomnia kicked in. Some post-Covid patients develop PTSD – it remains to be seen if that happens to me, but there’s no denying the trauma of the last 38 days since I got ill and how scary it is.

Covid is dangerous and there’s no predicting how or who you could get it from or what impact it will have on you. As the youngest person on my ward by at least 20 years, I should not have been affected like I have been. I have never feared for my life before this. Monitored, with oxygen blasted down your throat, and witnessing two people die from the same illness you have is the scariest thing I have ever dealt with. Apart from the drugs and the incredible care from the medical staff, you are helpless. 

It is a shitty, horrible time for all of us, but if people don’t stop being so selfish, then my story will become other people’s stories, and soon we will all know someone who died from Covid. Please just stay at home unless it is an essential trip and please take every precaution. To all those at South Coast Ambulance Service and at the Conquest Hospital, I know you hate being called heroes, but you are the reason I am still here. THANK YOU.


UPDATE

Our above article featuring Dominic Compagnone’s experience with Covid-19  was widely read and prompted the following comments on our website: 

“Thank you Dominic for your truly useful personal story about getting Covid. You have suffered and done a service to this community. My heart goes out to you, to those Hastings patients who died and to their families, and to the aNHS staff who continued working tirelessly, many of whom have been traumatised by losing so many in their care.” Rosie Brocklehurst

“Excellent article. I’m so sorry you suffered so much but thank you for sharing your experience of Covid. Your description of being in hospital and witnessing the deaths around you was vivid and moving. A powerful portrait of a terrible disease. Best of luck in your recovery.” Katy Colley

This prompted us to ask Dominic for an update on how he was doing and he said: “Physically, I’m doing well. Yesterday I walked 6 miles (in two walks) which makes me think the lungs are recovering well. I’m awaiting a follow-up x-ray to check this, but I feel good.

“The cognitive function is still very much impaired. The brain fog that I wrote about is very real: I’m working on improving my attention, focus and concentration and waiting patiently to see how my memory improves over the coming weeks and months – I’m really hoping it gets better than it is, but time will tell. I still can’t feel the two toes!”

We wish Dominic all the very best and a speedy recovery.


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