Recovering in her bed at the New Cross hospital in Wolverhampton it’s been a terrible 10 days for Lisa King.
Her breathing is slowly returning to normal but it was touch and go at times.
The 51-year-old wishes she’d had the vaccine and is now urging others to get the jab.
And as she speaks the impact of what she’s experienced becomes clear; tearfully she explains how painful her experience with COVID has been.
“I fell ill at my daughter’s, she called the ambulance, because obviously I was struggling to breathe,” says Ms King.
“So they brought me in, and they physically did, and to be fair… I’ve never experienced nothing like this in my life, and it’s nothing I’d want for anyone else.
“I hadn’t had my vaccinations purely because I’ve been having a lot of medical conditions, I’ve had operations and all since January.
“So my vaccinations have been put on the back burner, kind of thing. But I never thought I’d be in this position.”
The flow of COVID patients at this hospital has been relentless throughout the pandemic, but with two epidemics coming now on top of each other – Delta and Omicron – they are preparing for worse to come.
Inside the intensive care unit they are coping at the moment but – as the new variant takes off in the community – the fear is hospital admissions will rise sharply.
The patients in ICU most likely all have the Delta variant.
‘If I hadn’t been vaccinated I probably wouldn’t be here’
In one of the beds we meet David Colley. He’s a fit 39-year-old and despite being jabbed he still ended up seriously Il.
But the doctors have told him without the vaccine his wife would almost certainly now be a widow and his children would be growing up without a father.
“I go to the gym three or four times a week, mountain bike, never off sick. It’s just knocked me off my feet,” he says.
“It’s easy to say ‘I don’t think it’s going to happen’. I’ve been double-jabbed as well – May and July I was vaccinated – and they did say if I hadn’t been vaccinated I probably wouldn’t be here.”
These are frustrating days for the medical staff. The vast majority of patients in ICU and on the COVID wards have not been vaccinated.
Intensive care consultant Shameer Gopal tells me that with another big wave of infections coming they’re worried about the next few weeks.
Government scientists say Omicron infections are moving at a phenomenal pace.
Coronavirus has been the daily reality here, for medics, for nearly two years.
Exhausted staff ‘absolutely devastated’
At the start of this new wave Sister Lisa Hazeldine, who has worked on the COVID ward since the beginning, says they’re already exhausted and she is personally “absolutely devastated”.
“I think it feels like we’ve been here for so long, going forward with the pandemic how are we going to cope?” she asks.
“But it is devastating, and hopefully everyone will do what they can to try and contain the virus so we can all have Christmas, this year and next year going forward – it is heartbreaking.”
The infectiousness of Omicron also brings new challenges.
As well as making more space for patients there’s the risk to those on the frontline and the possibility of significant staff shortages.
“At the height of COVID last year without vaccination we had around 15% of staff off sick and that causes real stresses and strains on the system,” says the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr Brian McKaig.
“I do think this is going to be a huge challenge for the NHS workforce, because of the numbers of people that we anticipate coming through the door and also the impact that this will have on on numbers of staff available.”
No one here knows what Omicron will bring over Christmas.
They hope the explosion in infection rates will not lead to a surge in admissions, but the data is not looking good.
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