Royal Pharmaceutical Society

I survived COVID-19 - but it was touch and go

By Davide Compagnone, Advanced Pharmacist in Surgery, Royal Glamorgan Hospital

It all started on the Good Friday. Walking with my little girl, I started to feel light headed. I work as a hospital pharmacist close to Cardiff, so knew I had probably been exposed to COVID as part of my work across different wards. I wasn’t scared, thinking that I’d get over it in a few days, but I soon got short of breath, and after nine days, knew I needed medical help.

Saving my life

With a temperature of 40 degrees, I was admitted immediately to a hospital isolation room. Being in hospital reassured me, but my symptoms didn’t improve. For days I was gasping for air and couldn’t sleep. It was exhausting, so, I was relieved when a doctor told me I was going to go on mechanical ventilation, my first thought was ‘at last, I’m going to have some rest.’

But my condition deteriorated further and a last-ditch attempt was made to help me by transferring me to St Thomas’s Hospital in London, where I was put on an ECMO life support machine.

That saved my life.

Frightening delusions

When I woke up, I was delusional, which is very common after you’ve been on a breathing machine. It was frightening: I saw and heard things that weren’t there but felt very real to me. I was transferred back in Cardiff, but when I saw my consultant, Matt, my delirium meant I thought he was a wasp because he was wearing blue and yellow scrubs. Eventually I regained full consciousness and was able to understand what was going on.

The road to recovery

I was discharged home to my wife and daughter, where my long road to recovery began. The follow-up appointments with the hospital kept me busy and after four months I wanted to return to work to give something back. After a few weeks the second surge started, so now I work at home, trying to help as much I can remotely. I do medication histories over the phone for elective surgical patients, reviewing and writing policies, helping logistics with drug usage calculations and attending virtual meetings.

I’m now completely well in my body and mind. I’ve learnt to take things as they come, and not to push myself so hard. I used to be quite a worrier, always planning things, putting everything into a box and ticking it. My experience has taught me I don’t have to be so in control all the time - and that really helped my recovery. We tend to be very hard on ourselves, but sometimes things don’t go as planned – and maybe that’s the beauty of life.

The importance of compassion

Sometimes as pharmacists we focus on the medicines and not the patient. When I talk to patients now, I always try to put myself in their shoes and ask how I would feel if I was them. We can show compassion to colleagues too, and also to ourselves. I now truly understand what compassionate, patient-centred care means and will continue to try and make others understand it too.

As a pharmacist, I’ve truly learned the value of compassion. Do you experience or practice compassion? When I was in hospital, the compassion of my carers had a profound effect on me. It’s changed the way I practice.

Some memories will never leave me. The health professionals who surrounded my bed in hospital were covered in PPE and all I could see were their eyes. Eyes which felt, saw, and mirrored my suffering. A nurse came to my bedside out of the blue with my favourite newspaper, it made my day. Another helped me to shave when I was too weak. Their compassion was my saviour: it made me feel the human connection at the worst time in my life.

Compassion is now something I value constantly in both my personal and working life.

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