As children, my father taught us the essence of community work, and the value of serving those less fortunate than ourselves.
He moved to London in 1969, answering a plea from the NHS to come to the UK. A newly-qualified pharmacist, his first post was Whittington Hospital in London, though he later moved to a community pharmacy where he served the Essex area for 35 years. His was the first pharmacy to open seven days a week. and the first pharmacy to offer home delivery to the elderly on his bicycle. Countless community awards followed.
Most want to retire at 65, but not my father. Instead, he started a national chain that provides NHS dental, GP and pharmacy services. He was still actively working 12 hours a day this year.
Then he fell ill with coronavirus.
When Covid-19 hit our shores, my parents began isolating – at 80 and 74, I knew if either caught the virus, it could be deadly. So, I made sure they were ready for the isolation period ahead: sanitisers were installed, pulse oximeters delivered along with plenty of PPE, which I advised them to wear if they received any deliveries.
“Not sounding himself, I persuaded my father to let me take him to get tested... His Covid-19 swab was confirmed as positive.”
Unfortunately, I contracted coronavirus. Assuming a median incubation period of five or six days followed by seven days of symptoms, I contracted the virus around the same time hospital admission data shows Covid-19 was beginning to spread in the capital. Around the same time we were sleepwalking into an epidemic.
By late March I recovered, and was calling my parents every day to ensure they were showing no symptoms. Not sounding himself, I persuaded my father to let me take him to get tested. Blood tests, a swab and a chest radiograph were taken and he was isolated in a room, where I stayed with him for the next five days. His Covid-19 swab was confirmed as positive, and was diagnosed with pneumonia.
On the ward, I could see how underprepared the NHS were for the tsunami that was coming. Two days after my father joined the half-empty ward, it was full – as was the ICU. The government had plenty of warning of course, they just chose not to sound the siren to let us know. In my view as a doctor, the government failed to capitalise on the vital weeks after the first confirmed cases. NHS staff on the were falling sick and positions struggling to be filled. I saw how consultants were stretched, with a lot were off sick unable to get tested. My father was visited only briefly each day for a five-minute review with the consultant.
At the time, no overall protocol had yet been reached as to how to treat Covid-19. No trials were underway and there was no agreed methodology for treatment. It’s thankfully the norm now – but for my father it was all too late.
Five days after admission his condition deteriorated further, and he was moved to ICU. It would be the last time I saw him conscious. I remember kissing him, and telling him how much I loved him. After two days in ICU, the hospital said they needed to return him to a normal ward as they needed the bed in ICU. Under normal circumstances he would not have been moved. My father gave 45 years service to the NHS and was still contributing and working in society – and yet the decision was made to move him. Just hours later, his condition worsened and he was readmitted.
There was no doubt that my father wanted to live. He enjoyed life and had never been happier. Not once had he contemplated he was going to die while in hospital. He had faith that his son – that I – would get him home.
“I did everything I could to protect my family. But I was too late.”
But four weeks in ICU with multiple hospital-acquired infections had destroyed his lungs. He would be dependent on oxygen, and constant care, and would never have been able to leave the bed.
My father had taught me one thing that he would never like to be dependent on anyone as he was a man of dignity and integrity. And so, in the interest and wishes of my father, I decided to turn the ventilator off. I held his hand and apologised that I was unable to keep my promise of taking him home.
At home, my 74-year-old mother recovered from Covid-19, as did my pregnant wife. Both of which are high risk groups, and I could easily have lost all of them.
I did everything I could to protect my family. I was being proactive by isolating my parents weeks before the government-mandated lockdown. But I was too late, and I failed to protect the people I love most in the world. I saw how NHS staff acted bravely and valiantly – but so many lives have been lost unnecessarily due to our government’s inept decisions.
How could the government not have known keeping airports open as the Covid-19 outbreak went global – without proper quarantine measures and track and trace community testing – was going to lead to huge community transmission in the UK. When the virus in London was becoming rampant in the community, guidance did not come quickly enough. Testing capability was albeit limited, but why was it not picked up? The warning signs were all there – I have no choice but to believe they were ignored.
My father contributed so much to this country – and in exchange the government failed to protect him, and thousands like him. It’s unacceptable.
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