By Liz Crudgington
When QEQM ward manager Pat Johnson was lying in a hospital bed battling Covid-19, at times she was not sure she’d survive, let alone get back to work.
Yet that is exactly what she’s done – despite still suffering some psychological and physical after-effects of the virus.
Her phased return started six months after she was on a ventilator in intensive care, and although she stepped down as manager of Bishopstone ward at the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother hospital in Margate, she is now part of the team working on the new elective orthopaedic centre project.
Throughout her recovery, one theme has emerged: the kindness and support shown to her by colleagues across the QEQM and beyond.
Pat said: “I have been overwhelmed by people’s kindness. I can’t walk down the corridor without people saying how glad they are I’m back.
“Liz Shutler, the deputy chief executive, who had been our executive buddy for Bishopstone ward, came to welcome me back and everyone, from my staff, to my managers and senior leaders, has been so supportive and understanding.”
Pat still suffers from breathlessness and fatigue, but it is the psychological effects of the virus that have been the most difficult to deal with, for Pat and her whole family.
She experienced flashbacks at work, and her family still feel anxious whenever she is on shift.
Pat said: “I have had counselling, and I don’t mind if people know that. My whole life has changed. My children get anxious and my husband has been through hell.
“I think it is going to take a long time for him to be completely at ease with me at work, and I really do understand that.”
Pat’s first flashback was when she saw someone who had nursed her in intensive care, while others have been on seeing acutely unwell patients in the corridors, or when being fitted for a face mask.
She said: “In that moment I was in that bed with the tracheostomy tube in my throat, feeling scared and not knowing what was happening.
“When I see people wheeled past as I would have been it’s hard. But I can manage them now. Thanks to my counselling I have strategies and I can use them.”
She is expecting the upcoming anniversaries of her illness to also be difficult, particularly if the country is still facing strict lockdown restrictions.
Pat said “I have three grandchildren I adore, plus my children and their partners. It was devastating not to spend Christmas with them, even though we understood the reasons why.
“Easter will be the hardest anniversary, because I was in ITU and intubated last year. But I have to get over it.”
Pat has had her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and is waiting for her second, and encourages everyone to take up the offer of the vaccine as a first stop to easing restrictions.
She said: “I would try anything to keep the virus at bay and get some sort of life back.
“It really upsets me when I see people who blatantly flout the rules. They have no idea what it is like to have your life completely changed or what my family went through.
“I think I am always going to be wary of crowded places now, and it has made me look differently at life and holidays and the things we took for granted before.
“But my motto is to focus on what I can do, not what I can’t, whether that’s my health or with the restrictions at the moment: I can still go for a walk, I can work and I can videocall my family.
“There were times when I wondered whether I would ever be me again, but I am stubborn and I kept pushing myself, and the small successes and progress turn into big ones.
“It has been painfully slow but I love my work and I wanted to come back and I’m so glad I could.”