Covid-19 patient wakes from month-long coma to learn mother died from the virus

Sohail Anjum spent 25 days in an induced coma with severe symptoms and came round to find his life changed

After 25 days in an induced coma battling a severe case of Covid-19 with a 50/50 chance of survival, Sohail Anjum awoke to find a changed world.

Not only had the virus's grip on the UK taken a far stronger hold since March 20, but in the weeks that he'd been unconscious, his mother had also been admitted to hospital and had lost her own battle with the virus.

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It was my mother's prayer before she passed away that saved my life

Mr Anjum was brought out of his coma about two weeks ago and has only just regained his speech. Now recovering at Croydon University Hospital, he's faced with the prospect of relearning how to walk again, as well as developing his motor skills, regaining his sense of taste and coming to terms with the fact his mother is no longer around. He's watched two patients die from beds beside him.

The ex-Dubai resident, who moved back to London in April 2019 to be closer to his elderly parents, has just one message to the wider public after his ordeal: take Covid-19 seriously.

The 47-year-old isn't sure how he contracted the virus, assuming it was probably from using London's tube system at rush hour each day to get to work, but first began feeling ill in early March. "People really need to be aware of this disease and how dangerous it is," he tells The National. "It is not just the flu."

The symptoms began with a string of migraines and an itchy throat. As he hadn't had migraines before, he recalls thinking it was "a bit strange".

In the end, it was a tweet from Idris Elba, informing the public about his own dealings with Covid-19, that prompted Mr Anjum to try to get tested. However, that proved difficult.

"I was trying to call the NHS hotline and I couldn't get through. A week passed, and my symptoms were getting bad, I was feeling really ill."

After being sent home from work with a headache, Mr Anjum went to see his doctor, but was told he likely had a viral nasal infection and to "take paracetamol and you'll be fine".

Over the next few days, as his symptoms and fever worsened and he developed a cough, he called the NHS hotline again and waited two hours on hold to be told again he likely had the flu and to take paracetamol. After another call to his doctor a few days later, on March 20, he was told to wait a few days more and if his symptoms persisted, to go to hospital.

Instead, Mr Anjum called his brother and went straight to the hospital immediately, where he was admitted straight away and placed on a ventilator.

"That was two months ago," he says.

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A doctor came and said 'we need to put you into an induced sleep'. I was so ill at the time I just said 'do what you have to do'

"A few hours later they sent me up to the ward. A doctor came and said 'we need to put you into an induced sleep'. I was so ill at the time I just said 'do what you have to do'.

"My oxygen levels were dropping, they just said 'your life was touch and go'. I could have gone either way.

"They put me under and I don't remember a thing after that."

Eight days after Mr Anjum was admitted, his 81-year-old mother, who he was living with, was also taken to hospital with Covid-19. Two days later, she was dead.

Mr Anjum's brother was allowed in to see her the day she died. He later told his brother that she was praying for his survival; a notion Mr Anjum takes solace in, as the reason his "life was saved".

Mr Anjum spent 23 days on a ventilator in an induced coma. He was then placed under sedation, waking up a couple of days later. His doctors told him later that he had a 50/50 chance of survival.

 

"Nobody wanted to tell me about my mother because of the trauma I had gone through. I don't know how to explain it but I just had this vision that my mother was no more.

"That really really hit me hard. I'm still trying to grieve."

Over the last two weeks, Mr Anjum says he has been trying to come to terms with his mother's loss, while also attempting to regain his own strength. He cannot stand, can barely use his arms or hands, has trouble remembering things, and cannot taste anything. He calls himself "Gandalf the Gray", due to his new hospital-induced salt-and-pepper beard and sallow complexion.

The hospital was both critically short of ventilators and nurses, he says, though he asserts that the nurses are "amazing" and are attentive to the coronavirus patient's needs. He's now recovering in a ward with four other patients – he's watched two die from the beds beside him.

"Doctors have to make big, big decisions here about whether to keep ventilators on or switch them off.

2B1NEX0 NHS Croydon University Hospital (formerly Mayday Hospital), Greater London, England, UK. Alamy

"One night I saw this old man trying to climb out of bed at 2am. Then he just slumped back onto the bed and was still and not moving. I pressed the emergency buzzer and a nurse came running. He saw that he wasn't breathing, and then a whole bunch of other nurses run in, they drew the curtains around. A couple of hours later they took his body away."

On Tuesday morning, the patient in the bed next to his was found dead when a nurse came in to do morning observations and found he wasn't breathing.

Mr Anjum hopes to be out of hospital in a couple of weeks, after a few more rounds of physiotherapy, to continue his recovery at home. He's been told it may take him six months to fully recover. He hasn't seen his wife in three months, as she was in Pakistan when he was admitted, and arrived back into the UK two days later.

Mr Anjum believes his father, who is 85, and wife could be asymptomatic carriers of the virus, as they all live together.

"For my wife and father, it was such a tragedy because they didn't know with me which way I would go. So it would have been a double tragedy for them. They're holding up, though."

Though he believes the virus is being taken a lot more seriously now than it was when he contracted it, Mr Anjum believes social distancing is vital moving forward.

At the time of writing, the UK has 149,569 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and 20,319 deaths, accounting for 10 per cent of the global death toll.

"At the moment my hands tremble when I type. A glass of water is too heavy. The doctors are happy with vitals but concerned with heart rate as it's too fast and they can't figure out why. But I'll get better," he says.

"I'll go home to a house where I need to get used to seeing my Mum not around anymore. It's hard.

"But it was my mother's prayer before she passed away that saved my life."

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