I’ve fought coronavirus at home and on the NHS frontline – no virus has ever made doctors feel so helpless – The Sun

WHEN cardiologist Harmandeep Singh and his wife caught coronavirus, they were so terrified they trained their three-year-old daughter to call 999.

As workers on the NHS frontline, they had seen first hand how Covid-19 could cripple patients, but even they were shocked by how brutally it struck them down as they isolated at home.

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Four days after his symptoms began, Dr Singh, who works at London's Ealing hospital, found himself unable to climb a single stair in his house and forced to sleep with four pillows propping up his head at night.

Now thankfully recovered and back to work, the 36-year-old here reveals the gruelling reality of fighting the virus – both as a victim and a doctor – and how medics are having to tear up the rule book as they learn more about its deadly potential.

'I'd heard of these symptoms over and over'

Dr Singh says: “The illness came up all of a sudden and started with a fever, extreme tiredness and severe body aches.

“It was exactly the same symptoms I'm hearing over and over again from various patients I have seen. So I knew that it was going to be Covid.

Although I didn’t know it, on the same day my wife, Ravpreet, who is also a doctor and was at work in Reading, was suffering the same symptoms.

I'm a human being as well as a doctor so obviously I was worried. I’d seen the worst it can do – and even seen people in my age bracket die.

You don't know how you're going to land on the whole spectrum of disease.

As soon as I had the symptoms I contacted my colleague, a consultants in infectious diseases, to seek advice.

My wife and I were monitoring each other's breathing at home, checking whether we were able to complete full sentences, which is one of the markers

We have two young children – aged three and 18 months – and, while I was reassured they were unlikely to suffer severe symptoms, we were worried we would be too ill to look after them.

I suffered four days of fever and body aches, which got better with paracetamol but came back as soon as the effect wore off, then nothing for two or three days.

Then the difficulty in breathing started.

'I couldn't climb a single stair at home'

I couldn't climb a single flight of stairs in my house and I had to sleep on four pillows, sitting up, at night.

My wife and I were monitoring each other's breathing at home, measuring the respiratory rate and whether we are able to complete full sentences, which is one of the markers.

I realised the next 10 days were going to be hard, so I ordered a whole load of takeaways in one go, which would last for at least a week

At one point, Ravpreet ended up in A&E with respiratory distress.

She had a chest X-ray which showed some changes, but we decided it would be better to monitor her at home and she got better 24 hours later.

Luckily, the nights were worse than the days, so we were able to take turns in looking after the kids because we don't have family around to help.

The first day we had symptoms, I realised the next 10 days were going to be hard, so I ordered a whole load of takeaways in one go, which would last for at least a week or so.

The breathing difficulties lasted until day 10 then literally, within 24 hours, there was significant improvement.

By day 12 I was completely fine. By day 14 I was back to work.

'Elderly patients tell us they know they'll die'

Since returning to the wards, I have been on the ITU wards treating coronavirus patients because we’re all one big Covid team now.

The ward rounds are really sad, to be honest. It is emotionally challenging for all of us seeing so many people dying.

This is not because of lack of resources, a lack of manpower or lack of machines.

It’s the way the disease is presenting itself which makes us helpless.

Day eight to day ten are the crucial period and that's when we prefer to monitor patients in hospital, because that's when we are seeing them getting worse.

Whatever intervention we use – intubation, non-invasive ventilation or any other support – it is only a select group of patients who are coming out the other side.

In some cases we are actually prolonging their suffering, which is terribly distressing to see.

Some patients, especially the elderly, realise this is the end and they will tell you ‘I don't think I'm going to live through this but I don't want any suffering’.

London's North West University Trust, where I work, is the UK's second worst hit with the virus, with 522 deaths.

But the good news is that we're discharging around 30 a day of all ages.

I recently saw a 99-year-old who went home and I've discharged two who were over 90, so it is variable.

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'This virus leaves doctors helpless'

One of the toughest things early on was seeing somebody dying alone because they can’t have loved ones around them.

We had a meeting with the trust and a palliative care consultant and we are now allowing one family member to visit the patients, and they can have a video chat with the rest of the family.

They can also record messages, which serve as a memory for bereaved families.

I'm not trained in pandemic medicine. I don't think any of us are, so it is emotionally stressful, particularly seeing the patient change in condition quite rapidly.

As a cardiologist, I am trained to deal with emergencies and make quick decisions, but this leaves you feeling helpless.

Our intervention is not helping the patients who deteriorate, but at the same time you don’t feel completely satisfied when a patient improves and goes home, because it’s not our treatment that makes it happen.

They're just getting better with oxygen and paracetamol and some antibiotics.

'We're trying things we've never done before'

We are all still learning about the virus and how the body responds to it.

We've been using non-invasive ventilation for a while, but now we’re discovering different ways of getting patients better, such as proning.

Normally, in a hospital, you see patients lying down on their backs with masks on their face, but with proning, they lie on one side or on their tummy.

It is something we’ve never done before, but it seems to help in Covid-19 cases and it is saving lives.

Every week, we are monitoring staff to test morale and, on the whole, they're not afraid of work.

They are very tired but they're still enthusiastic to work.

We know there’s a long road ahead but everybody in the NHS agrees they're up for the fight.”


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