Michael Knight (no, he is not the ‘Hoff’ and doesn’t have a cool talking car called Kit), or Mick as his mates call him, is a 78 year old who has suffered from asbestosis for the past 35 years, has arthritis in most of his joints he has to take pain killers for, and recently survived a horrendous, protracted, and simultaneous bout of COVID19 AND pneumonia.
If you think this coronavirus is just another flu; you need to hear Mick’s story. If you are curious about what it is like to get COVID19 and what you should do if you, or someone you know gets it; you need to hear Mick’s story. If you are one of those people who doesn’t think they need to abide by social distancing norms; Mick says you’re a “f*cking idiot.”
“I can’t emphasis this enough,” Mick said sitting next to his lovely wife, Sue who could not have agreed more. “They don’t know what they are letting themselves in for.”
You should listen to Mick. They don’t get much tougher than him.
They don’t get much tougher than Mick
Lots of people would like to think they were conceived under the kitchen table with the earth shaking and siren’s blaring… Mick actually was. He was conceived in an air raid, under the kitchen table in Portsmouth, the United Kingdom (UK) back in 1941.
After sharing the womb with his twin for seven months, during another air raid they decided they needed to get out of there early. Again, the earth was shaking, the bombs were falling, and the paramedics told his Mum to keep those babies in until they made it to the hospital. Those little boys were fighters, and kicked and fought to get out even though they were scandalously two months early. Unfortunately Michael’s twin brother died during the erratic childbirth and young Michael was a dangerously tiny two pounds and two ounces. In the hospital he went straight into the incubator where he would spend the first six months of his life toughening up.
He had a little brother join him in 1944 who he loved dearly and was the clear choice to be the best man at his wedding to his first wife. Two months before the big day, he died in a motorcycle accident in a head on collision around a blind corner.
In 1988, at the age of 47, Mick had divorced his first wife and was holidaying in the Isle of Wight with his then girlfriend. They went on a short walk and Mick suddenly became short of breath.
“Did you used to work with asbestos?”
“What’s that?” she asked hearing the raspy noise.
“I’m having trouble breathing,” Mick said.
“It’s not much of a walk,” she said with concern.
“Did you used to work with asbestos?” she asked.
“Yes,” he confirmed. He had worked in maintenance at St James’ Hospital where he was heavily exposed to asbestos dust definitely without the “bloody space suit” safety gear those dealing with it today wear.
“Well put the claim in. Get things moving,” she instructed wisely.
Mick found himself a solicitor, scrounged around to pay the up-front fees, and put in his claim. Four years later when he met the woman he would marry and share the next 28+ years with, he was still fighting the claim. Eventually he settled, and although his asbestosis wasn’t too bad at the time, there is no cure, and his lungs have slowly deteriorated over the years.
He can’t walk for long distances without taking his trolley which has a little seat on it, and stopping many times for a break. Hot showers in change rooms are an issue for his breathing too, as he struggles to get enough oxygen through the steam.
“I don’t feel well”
On Thursday 12 March this year, about a week after they came back from a five-day holiday, Mick told Sue he wasn’t well. He sat in his favourite chair for two days feeling rotten. On Saturday he didn’t get out of bed. He was exhausted, had no appetite, and wouldn’t drink anything. Sue called 111, the National Health Service number in the UK, and they told him to take a paracetamol, take bed rest, and stay hydrated.
By Monday he had deteriorated further, but was doing okay. On Tuesday Mick woke up soaking from head to toe with a horrendous fever. Sue thought it wasn’t right, but waited until Wednesday when he lost control of some bodily functions, before calling 111 again. There was no answer so she called an ambulance.
The ambulance came within five minutes and the two masked paramedics came in to tend to him. One waited by the door and the other went upstairs to see Mick. They tried to reach a doctor and waited with them the 20 minutes it took for one to get back to them.
“Do you think it is the virus?” Sue asked one of the paramedics.
“No, we wouldn’t have been here that long if it had been the virus,” he said reassuringly. “We would be long gone.”
Diagnosed with pneumonia
They told them he had pneumonia and the doctor asked if she thought she could take care of him at home if they sent some medication back for him. Sue said her back wasn’t up to all of the sheet changing and tending to that would be required, so they took him to hospital. Mick remembers walking down the stairs, getting helped onto a trolley in the passageway, and being crashed out the door like he was in a bumper car.
When they arrived at the hospital, Mick was taken into a new priority assessment pod set up to assess suspected cases of coronavirus. Sue was not allowed to enter the pod, but found out he would be tested for the virus, and the results would be back in two days.
In the meantime, he was finally moved out of the pod and Sue was able to visit him in his own room as long as she wore a mask. He definitely had pneumonia and was completely “out of the game; off with the fairies.”
She went to visit him on Friday and they had moved him to the respiratory ward. She was relieved as it made sense that he would go there with his asbestosis and pneumonia.
Mick was in lucky bed number 13 in ward E7, with three other patients. There was one “youngster” who was in a really bad way opposite Mick. He thought he must have had some kidney or liver problems because there were bags of blood hanging around the bottom of his bed. The other two were “old fellas” with Alzheimer’s who were suffering and crying all the time. Sue assumed they all had COVID19, but when she asked the doctor, they couldn’t discuss other patient’s diagnoses.
She masked up and one of the nurses caught her on the way in.
“You do know he’s been tested positive, don’t you?”
“You do know he’s been tested positive, don’t you?” the nurse told her.
“What to pneumonia?” Sue asked, confused.
“No, the COVID 19 and pneumonia. But unfortunately he’s got underlying health problems,” she said referring to the asbestos.
Sue immediately broke down in tears. One of the doctors came to talk with her.
“We can treat the pneumonia with everything we’ve got, but the COVID19 will be down to him,” the lovely doctor said to her gently. “When you’re calm, go back in and say, ‘See you later.’”
Sue spent some time composing herself and then went in to see Mick. He looked even worse than the day before.
“You know what you’ve got, don’t you?” she asked him
“Don’t you bloody leave me! Don’t you dare leave me!” she said, and then left.
She then sat outside the hospital for about 20 minutes and cried her eyes out. After that it was time to tell the family. Sue and her two children from her first marriage were devastated. At that point they didn’t hold out much hope. But Mick’s sons were incredibly positive.
“He’s a strong old bugger, he won’t give in. You know what the old man is like,” one of them said. They, and some other optimistic friends, kept her thinking positively.
Enter the dragon
Meanwhile, Mick was going through an incredible trauma of his own in hospital. He was drifting in and out of consciousness. Nothing was clear, his head was fuzzy, he was having hot and cold flushes, and was constantly dying of thirst. He was hallucinating and sometimes didn’t know where he was, or even who he was. He felt each time he needed to go to the bathroom he was going to have to break his neck to get there.
“You’ve got to keep drinking and drinking and drinking,” Mick recalled. “I was drinking 5 large bottles of water a day and my mouth was like the inside of a coal miner’s bucket. I’ve got stainless steel false teeth; stainless steel and plastic. They didn’t come out the entire time I was in hospital. But when they did come out when I got home, they were black. I don’t know what they fed me or what they had given me or whether it was the oxygen or what, but it is a horrible sensation.”
I asked him if there was anything that helped him through it. Mick said there were two things. The first one was music. One day when a doctor was visiting him and he was drifting in and out of consciousness, he spotted the little television / radio gadget over his bed.
“Is there any way we can get that music going?” he asked the doctor.
“It helped me hold it together because I thought I was going mad,” he told me.
When things were really tough with his breathing, he used to breath in time with the beat in order to keep going. He doesn’t remember what kind of music it was, but assumes it was the hospital radio station. For the record, Mick prefers jazz, rhythm and blues, or Bob Marley, but pretty much anything goes in a COVID crisis.
Music to my ears
The second thing was “the Mrs’ last words.”
“You’re not f*cking leaving me,” Mick recalled Sue saying.
“I didn’t swear,” Sue protested, but looking back she may have used a slightly different swear word! Either way, completely warranted in such a situation!
“That’s what I clung to. That and the music. That kept me sane,” he said.
Sue wasn’t allowed to visit Mick, but she called the hospital three times a day religiously to get updates on his condition. After five days on the Tuesday morning, they told her his temperature had stopped spiking and he was looking a lot brighter.
Mick remembers waking up that morning and chatting with the youngster in the bed opposite.
“I thought we were going to lose you last night,” the youngster said to him. “You were making horrendous noises. I’d given up on you. But you’re here this morning. Well done.”
Although Mick was much better, he was still in a bad way. The hot and cold shivers were still there, but now he remembers he could sit up on the side of his bed when he was feeling the heat. The next minute he would be wrapped in blankets freezing.
On the Wednesday morning when she called the hospital, they said he was off the oxygen and drips, was still on antibiotics, but he could come home that evening. Sue was elated.
“I never thought I’d see you walk out of here”
As Mick left, the youngster across the room looked at him again in awe and said, “I never thought I’d see you walk out of here.”
He came home but was still very ill. He was still having hot and cold flushes, and very little appetite, but his breathing was back to normal.
“I didn’t look very handsome,” Mick noted cheekily.
“He had this really scraggy, hobo beard that did not do him any favours,” Sue concurred.
“My country and western look,” Mick beamed with his signature cheeky smile.
At the risk of inspiring some people’s partners to attempt to get them infected, another interesting side effect is that Mick no longer snores! In every cloud there lies a silver lining!
There were a number of protocols they had to follow when he returned. Luckily they have quite a big house, and had been staying in different bedrooms for the previous four years so ‘social distancing’ wasn’t too much of an issue. Sue had to wear a mask and hand any food or beverage to him wearing gloves. They had two different entrances at the back of the house, so Mick could use a different door to go and enjoy the backyard when he felt like it.
Rest and recovery
Mick is almost back to normal now, is eating again, but has lost a stone of weight. His family couldn’t be happier. Sue’s daughter made the NHS poster which is in the picture for this post. Mick’s son Gary, who is apparently a clone of him, has a theory on why his Dad survived against considerable odds.
“Well I reckon the COVID19 went into your lungs, and the asbestos said f*ck off, I was here first!” he said like a true philosopher.
Mick felt compelled to call up an old friend he has known since his 20s to see how he was doing and if he was still around. They were both best men at each other’s first weddings, and served together in the army. It turned out he was in the same hospital with the coronavirus the week before, and went through the same thing! He was an ex-smoker and only has one lung, but somehow got through it as well.
“That is the true British spirit, innit. The bulldog breed. Grit your teeth and go for it,” Mick said.
Gratitude is everything
What is really evident talking with Mick and Sue, is how grateful they are Mick pulled through, and that they can be together again. Every Thursday night at 8pm they go outside, clap, take a baseball bat to the recycling bins, and make some noise to celebrate the day and time he got out of hospital. They have erected a flagpole with the Union Jack in their back yard, and have also decided to make a significant donation to the hospital where he recovered.
“No matter how much money we have in the bank, which is a sizable amount, it would not have brought Michael back to me,” Sue said.
“If it wasn’t for the NHS I wouldn’t be here,” Mick said sincerely.
I asked Mick if he had any advice for anyone who might get COVID19.
“Drag yourself back and make yourself do it”
“Be as stubborn and nasty to yourself as you can, build up the willpower to fight. You’ve got to sit and fight. You’ve got to sit on the side of the bed, and do exercises and put you mind… Try to remember all of your details: your birthday, your phone number, and things like that. Try to keep yourself focused on reality; on real things. It’s willpower. It’s exhausting. Especially when you can’t think more than a nine-number telephone number and you can’t remember more than the first three. Drag yourself back and make yourself do it. It is hard work. I was exhausted,” Mick suggested.
“I feel for the families,” Sue said. “My husband survived, but I feel for the family because for seven days I did not have any contact with him. And you knew that if he was going to go, you can’t say goodbye. You can’t. And that is the horrible thing.”
“To watch it as an observer is horrendous,” she continued. “Because I know he has difficulty breathing anyway, but to watch him in that bed, lifeless, gasping for breath was something I would never ever want to repeat.”
Mick won’t soon forget the trauma he just went through at the hands of the coronavirus, but he is pretty sure he will be around for a while yet.
“I’ve been to the pearly gates, they were rusted up, but I didn’t have my WD40* so he told me to piss off and go away,” he said, smiling that cheeky smile.
*WD40 is a rust removing, decreaser and lubricant.
UPDATE! June 2020
Mick is such a fighter! Last month he was back in hospital with a mystery infection which saw his temperature soar to 39.6 in the evenings but return to 36.6 each morning. They don’t know what it is, but he was tested and it was not a return of COVID19.
His wife Sue tells me he is slowly getting better and is close to perfection, but not quite there yet! They have been allowed out of the house now, but remain cautious. They are looking forward to taking some shorter trips again when it is safe to do so.
Keep fighting Mick! Sue needs you!! Those holidays are not going to take themselves!!!
Until next time!